phantom limb

5th December, 2006

I’m going to climb out on a limb and suggest that space is real (epistemologically – it is a genuine aspect of my experience) and true (ontologically), and time is real and false – which is to say that when I experience something as being in the past that feels utterly correct, yet it is actually a description of a spatial relationship I have with something that I am connected to but is somewhat physically distant from me.  Things really change, but whether they change in relationship to an invisible, intangible framework such as our common understanding of time makes me wonder.

I’ve been thinking lately about sight vs. scent; how sight is though to be somehow tied to short-term memory (which is, physically, where exactly?), and scent is not.  Perhaps whatever we experience as visual is something that we can describe because it is somehow archived, however briefly, in what we call our short-term memory.  I’m wondering if this sensation of an ability to think about, to consider, to archive, doesn’t suggest a physical/experiential distance – whereas something we smell (again, our sense of smell is understood as having minimal to zero short-term memory, this is why it is so difficult to imagine a scent the way we can imagine something we’ve seen), or something we experience intuitively, even impulsively, is much physically closer, so there isn’t enough spatial separation – it is too close to describe or memorize.  When we see something in our mind, when we remember something it is “simply”, perhaps that much farther away from us – and distance is a measure of the degrees of complexity to which the elements in our environments can affect us. The qualities or “suchness” (the latin root of the word quality can be translated into “suchness”) of viewing something are different than the qualities of touching or smelling something.  To me, at least, the qualities of touching and smelling are more complex in that, generally, they seem to induce less controllable, and more intuitive or impulsive responses – a mixture of the anticipated and the unimaginable, it is much more difficult to accurately predict my response to that which I touch or smell, and it is much more difficult, in turn, to remember haptic or scent experiences at will.  Scent and smell seem to be significantly more immediate and my experience of them seems less controllable. Of course one can learn to avoid touching something really hot, or that, in general, smelling certain things will, probabilistically, have higher potentials for inducing a pleasant experience or not, but I seem to lack an ability to internally and remotely conjure up scent, and touch memories as I can with something visual – like my recollection of the apartment I grew up in.  These differences suggest, to me, a gauge of proximity to a focal point within a shared space that we understand as “I”.

 I realize that I need to consider these ideas further.  I write them now as they seem to have come up in an association with the dream I described below.  I think that my will to touch things in the dream as a means to determine whether I was awake or not is significant in this regard.

 Lastly, a few months ago I saw a film called investigation into the invisible world (enquete sur la vie invisible). It is a French film shot in Iceland about the apparent, and general (of course there are skeptics) , cultural acceptance of various paranormal activities, ranging from ghosts, to sprites to ufo.  I found the film interesting, and the title extremely apt.  I have no clear opinion on the so-called paranormal, but what occurred to me while watching the film is that there is often a call for proof when someone experiences something unusual, and that proof seems to often be requested in the form of a photograph of something that someone describes as having seen – a “ghost” for example.  We all know that photographs of such apparent visual phenomena are rare or perhaps non-existent.  What occurred to me is that we privilege the eye, and seeing, to such an extent in our culture (I realize Icelandic culture has its unique components but we share quite a bit) that I wonder if we don’t describe certain experiences as visual, to ourselves, when, perhaps in fact, they are not solely or specifically experienced via the eye.  What we do is “remember” and describe such experiences as visions, when in fact they are complex, perhaps multi-sensual responses to stimuli in an environment that we describe (and even remember) as visual simply because we lack the language to describe them more accurately.

 Our current belief that our senses gather specific frequency data somewhat independently of each other (which really sounds more reptilian than mammalian, doesn’t it?) might need some further study, especially when there are experiences, perhaps many experiences, that are simply being dismissed rather than actively considered in such a way that would encourage a broadening of our understanding of ourselves towards an increasingly accurate description of our experience.

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