Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Where Do We Live?

The question strikes me as more complicated than it seems. There is, of course, the geographical fix on where our bodies are. But our bodies move about—and in this day and age of cars and planes, a precise answer would have to be calculated using statistics. Suppose we defined the location by the one where we spend at least two thirds of our time over the period of a year. With GPS technology and a little computer properly programmed, this sort of thing could be calculated. Using 66 percent, that would yield 15.84 hours in the same spot, that “spot”defined as one half of an acre. For those who do not work at home and those not yet retired, that target might be difficult to hit. And if we applied a cut off of 75 percent (18 of 24 hours), most people would have difficulty saying that they “live at home.” But now that I’ve managed to get you thinking about your body’s movements in space and in time, let me shift the subject slightly.

I propose that where we actually live is not where our bodies are; that “place” is another and more difficult-to-pinpoint “space”; it is where our attention is focused.  Granted that our attention is actually focused on the narrowly physical some of the time, that slice of time seems rather narrow, in part because we do so many physical things below the radar of attention. Do we as we have our morning shower think about soap, skin, water, and such? A little. But our minds are already in funny space contemplating the day ahead. We divide attention between that first cup of coffee and the headlines. The drive to work may be entirely occupied—there was a time like that for me—composing poems in my head and straining to remember, by frequently repeating, particularly pleasing lines. Or is the time devoted to NPR’s Morning Edition—and our mind all over the nation, all over the globe, embroiled in Supreme Court decisions and what Putin might be up to?

We live most of our time in funny space, the mental dimensions of Meaning. That particular geography is vast; it has its own continents, in fact; in the course of a working day we may visit a number of them—and may be “at home” in some much more than others. And even if our contemplation happens to be about some activity by definition physical, say sports, do we think of muscles, leather, grass or artificial turf? A little. Most of that time, too, will be in the realm of Meaning, contemplating endlessly abstract concepts like the Red Sox or Ohio State, coaches, players, league presidents, and such.

Thinking of these realms of meaning, Factual, the company, founded by Gil Elbaz, comes to mind; it is an outfit with trillions of data items growing by nanobits per nanosecond. Yet even Factual would fail in the effort to calculate with any precision in which Geography of Meaning each of us spends most of his or her time—even if some telepathic radar could feed our thoughts and feelings to that company in what is known as real time.

What thoughts occupied your mind the last time you did the dishes? Did each spoon get the attention it deserved? Or were your thoughts at rest in contemplating Order—or reminding you that the garbage still needs taking out?

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