20080617

Taxonomy

I'm currently in a coffee shop in the Elmwood Village in Buffalo, NY. The band is currently overstaying its welcome at our friend Bobby's house.

I love this town. Timothy Leary once remarked that the "space you occupy defines the time you're living in." While I don't know if I feel like I'm living in a different era, the space I'm occupying is definitely shaping my perceptions. To use another Leary term, my "reality tunnel" has been shifted.

People often ask me why I like to travel so much, or how I can stand to live in a van for three months at a time. It is precisely this shift in perception that spurs me do it. I forget the exact percentage, but our brain discards a large percentage of the signals that are sent to it. This is an evolutionary advantage; it behooved primitive man to ignore all the pretty little flowers and allocate more of his attention span to the large tiger in front of him. Luckily for me, I don't have to worry about saber-toothed cats, so I can devote a little more processing power to the "unimportant" things.

Tigers or not, however, my brain still manages to throw away much of what I "see". How much attention to I pay to the trees I pass every day on my way to campus? How often do I really look at the details in the buildings I see daily? We are pattern-matching animals, and we are exceedingly good at it. As soon as I have a word--a name--for something, I will never perceive that thing in the same way again. No longer do I see the historic brick building with interesting paint on the side and a unique wrought-iron fence covered in lush ivy that is beginning to encroach on the antique leaded windows that have seen a few too many years. Instead, minimizing what it has to devote attention to, my brain sees the building, matches it against a stored memory, and BAM!
I see The Old Factory.

Thus, I find travel very interesting; no pre-existing symbols for my lazy mind to fall back on--I'm seeing it all with fresh eyes.

What I love so much about Buffalo is how much it reminds me of Iowa City. It gives me perspective; many of the things that I enjoy about Buffalo, upon further contemplation, are very similar in IC. Every time I return to IC after a summer of traveling, I see things in a new way. For a month or two, it's almost like I'm in a new city. Of course, I'm just paying more attention to everything I've previously taken for granted. Inevitably, though, I slip back into the routine of daily life, and my perceptions begin to atrophy. What I'm really interested in is finding a way to keep things new--to see everything with new eyes.

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