Daily Archives: July 13, 2011

The Science of Placeness: When Worlds Collide

One of the greatest difficulties of living in this world (you make your list of 100, I’ll make mine, and I’ll meet you back here in five minutes) is living in this world. That is because we are, essentially, incompatible with or, if not incompatible, exactly, at the very least at odds with our surroundings.

You see, we humans are chemical reactions (and if you’re in a mood, you might say, and correctly so, we think, that we are merely chemical reactions); all life began that way, evolved that way and continues on that way, our cells going along happily dividing themselves (or unhappily misdividing themselves), ingested chemicals interacting with or disrupting the course of other chemicals, until the experiment is over and the post-life chemical theatrics take over and polish things off. (Sorry, creationists, religionists and the irrational hopefuls – no comfort to be had in that sentence, or from this corner.)

Trouble is, this self-aware chemistry set that we are exists (if we do indeed exist) in a world (or multiple alternate worlds) that operates by the rules, such as they are, of physics. That is, what we are is one thing, where we are is another – elements and their mutations on the one hand, forces of attraction and repulsion on the other, somehow shoehorned together – we, destined to dwell nomadically on this primally alien and antithetical landscape, Vladimirs and Estragons, waiting for the unified field theory to show up. 

It’s the reason why we often feel out of place in a place – our world – that ought to feel like a second skin; we are in it, and of it, but not fully with it – a speaker of one language in a bilingual country. And we always seem to feel, in the back of our mind, that there is something more out there that we are not perceiving because we don’t have the tools, or we are made of different stuff.

And, yet … I would propose that what we feel when we feel that sense of placeness in a location or spot that we come upon, and which affects us deeply, is somehow a point of conjunction  of the two disparate worlds. In past arslocii entries, we’ve called that feeling  “empathy,” or some form of essential recognition. Perhaps what it really is, or another way of saying it, is that these places of placeness are like those portions of a Venn diagram where circles intersect, if only for a short space, a tiny sliver, an unexpected overlap – where something exists that not only melds but heightens the reaction of the chemical with the forces of the physical, and, with a motion that takes our breath away, they become one. And it is there that the mystery of how a chemical soup can become something with consciousness, and where the mystery of how the bending of light and the pull of bodies can affect time and location – it is there, where gravity becomes gravitas and where physicists look to a Higher Power to explain the unexplainables and the “inconsistencies” … it is there where placeness and art, and we as witnesses and participants, merge. It is where the magic of being exists, and, too, the power of love. 

And, somehow, believing this, or surmising it or postulating it, does not reduce the wonder of the experience to equation or formula. It is what everything is about, and what makes some things in this difficult and incompatible world worth the being here for.

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