Tuesday, December 21, 2004

on fact and meaning

I place huge emphasis on the meaning of things, because my natural inclination is to gloss over meaning completely. My natural state is to be very externally focused - functional, present, and mechanical, but the more productive and mundane I am, the more life passes right before my eyes beyond my perception... The more externally alert I am, the more I feel like I'm sleepwalking.

When I was three or four years old, I remember first realizing how out of it I was in my natural state. I was great at putting names to colors and shapes... impressive to any humble pre-school teacher, but it was like I had a specific memory of facts, yet couldn't put the pieces together. When the bell rang, everyone else started running for the door... this caught me by surprise every time... it took me weeks to even see a pattern. I experienced everything for the first time everyday. I was in pre-school for at least two years... I could have sworn it was two weeks. One year was spent in one building, one was spent in one across from it; I had no idea that these buildings were even on the same lot until years later. They actually led to the same playground, but because they came from different directions, I never made the connection. When I finally started kindergarten, tons of my old friends from pre-school ran up to me, calling me by name and hugging me... only one of them could I recall having even seen before, and I wasn't aware that we had actually met. There must have been lithium in my applesauce or something.

That little weirdo is the Rand that people know and love... that's the one who gets things done and is your best friend. He's the one with a big heart, no dark side, and is the perfect man for any job. That guy's got potential.

Ironically, the Rand who actually feels awake and has the ability to connect the dots is the one who appears to be asleep externally. When I lived in New Orleans, I first learned to return to being externally productive after years of productive internal daydreaming. They loved me at work, but to make up for all the sleepwalking, I had to do some hardcore thinking on my breaks and my off-time. For a while, I was designing the formulas for a closed-box, complex artificial intelligence system that was made to illustrate my theories on how psychological decisions are made by humans. What other people saw was some nutcase at a table by himself in a coffeehouse staring mindlessly at the coffee cup that was sitting on the table before him, occasionally scribbling on a piece of paper. My cellist used to catch me in this state at times, and would snap me out of it with a bit of friendly teasing, supplying her narration for what she thought was going through my mind, "Hello, coffee cup."

In the past, if I was with you, my mind was not. This either meant that nearly all focus was being put on the external, and I couldn't touch the meaning of anything, or nearly all focus was placed inward, and I was unaware of anything that was happening around me. This wasn't the case when you were actually engaging all of my senses through a deep conversation that actually made me draw on my internal resources, but such conversations were hard to come by. When I reach such a state of 'connection', I'm probably as normal and human as is possible for me. Meaning and fact become connected, and I'm able to use the two in an interactive manner. Even when I was in such a state, I could be shocked out of it by being engaged too aggressively or passively. I was usually forced to be in one mode or the other.

Obviously, the natural inclination here is to build two distinct worlds that have little correlation. Because my perceptions of facts and meanings can potentially develop independently, there's no necessarily predictable course for either of them. Even if I grow steadily in both worlds, if my internal one becomes dominant, then when I'm in a state of connection, abstract meanings are likely to overpower my sense of factual reality. If my external world becomes dominant, I'll be confused and overwhelmed when in a state of connection. If either becomes dominant, even when in a state of connection, it will be almost as if I'm still fully in the one.

The coherence of this post is illustrative of the fact that I've learned to bridge the two worlds to some degree. I'm not always entirely in one or the other anymore, and have a certain level of control over that 'shift', as long as my anxiety is in check. I have in the past managed to purposefully trance out completely while performing menial tasks for ten to fifteen minutes at a time, and am able to regularly retreat completely into my mind to deal with imaginative and complex thoughts and introspection. I notice myself shifting slightly to different preponderances of each based on what I'm attempting to accomplish, or what's drawing my attention. I'm never completely static, but I think that's normal. My ability to direct this shift doesn't in any way guarantee that my factual world and my meaningful world line up, for there's no way to test this... instead of being one entity, they could very easily be two strangers shaking hands, but such is life.

I need to deeply understand anyone that I'm close to, and because of this, I place little value in casual relationships. I'm not content to just be your friend and 'enjoy the ride'... in order to truly be present, I need to provide meaning to my facts and facts to my meanings about you. Because this is done in terms of my prior understanding, what I perceive of you is entirely subjective... we're all victims to this fact, but in my case, if my perceptions of reality are wildly off, my concept of you will be as well. If you're going to truly be significant to my life, I need an image of you that I can implant into both of my distinct worlds. That way, when I do shift over to one or the other, whether intentionally, or because anxiety overwhelms my control over it, I still have a sense of you that can exist without a connective perspective.

If I'm walking through a crowded area, my tendency is to be overwhelmed by too much factual information... bits and pieces of conversations as people walk by, trying to navigate my course while predicting who's going to step which way, etc.... These are normal things that many are able to handle on a very thoughtless and instinctual level, but for me, it requires a constant conscious communication between fact and meaning, requiring a great deal of multitasking, and therefore causes anxiety. My natural tendency is to sleepwalk in response, but once I do this, I'm very likely to feel disoriented and forget where I'm going... if I'm following another's lead, this isn't a problem. If I instead choose to sense the meaning of the event (because I'm aiming my focus at the event, I'm still connecting to the external to some degree), I can sense a singularity to the meaning of the experience as a whole, which is suitable for leveling my anxiety... I am however probably going to run into a few people due to my slowed reaction speed. In neither of these states am I truly perceiving or participating with reality on an objective level.

In all of us, fact and meaning are completely disjoined in this manner. When one experiences something with his physical senses, he applies an imaginative meaning to it to make sense of it... the only difference with me is that I don't naturally gravitate toward an equilibrium between them. Creative action is done in the opposite order; a meaning is established, and something tangible is built to match. Because my comprehension of reality must be gained through more deliberate action than those who were able to see the connection between the bell and recess on a very simple and instinctual level, it's likely to assume that many of the cultural 'givens' will be lost in the process, but my insights may be of value for their unusual quality.

As much as I enjoy being human and present, I favor my internal world. This is where I find everything that fuels my art, and is my refuge to make sense of a universe that I know very little about. If I have the opportunity to put more emphasis on understanding the meaning of things, I'm able to take external stimulus in stride and truly make sense of everything that that comes my way... however, I won't be aware of everything that comes my way. Naturally, I realize the dangers of allowing my internal world to become dominant, but this is something that I'm conscious of and can direct strategically. I've spent seasons experiencing each world's dominance in the past.

I've been so preoccupied with the mundane over these last few months that I've been living far more in the world of fact than the world of meaning. I haven't been as bad as I was when I was very young, but if I neglect the development of my internal world, I will eventually regain that sense of disorientation. It's quite vital that I find the time to make myself wake up very soon.