Thursday, August 30, 2007

123 LOST!

Message no. 123[Branch from no. 119] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Friday, January 26, 2007 9:16pm Subject: Lost!

Hi Adrienne, and all:

There is a method to my madness! Indeed you should should feel lost! This is why we start the course with mapping. We view the world in this class as a series of imbricated ("overlapping") environments and assume that environments affect behavior because they evoke feelings of comfort or anxiety. We move toward comfort and away from anxiety, right? New environments evoke the "fear of the unknown" (there could be danger around every unknown corner, either to our physical or emotional or social selves) and familiar environments evoke warm and fuzzy feelings. But when environments become too well known, they elicit feelings of boredom and this leads to understimulation anxieties. Thus we see that there are what our textbook calls "optimal" ranges of stimulation.

Once upon a time, our external environment consisted only of what our five senses could directly pick up. We saw it, we heard it, we felt it, smelt it, tasted it. Before we developed language it affected our behavior only insofar as it impacted those five senses, with the important addition of the effect of our "dreamtime" environments. You will note that your dogs twitch and move their legs as they dream, playing out an imaginative interpretation and remixing of all the stored environmental information in their brains.

Language changed everything. It enabled us to literally create environments with words and "surround" other people with them. (Keep in mind that the word ENVIRONMENT means "that which surrounds". It comes from the verb "to environ" from the French "environ", or "around").

Have you ever had the experience of not being able to eat dinner because somebody said something that made you feel sick? My Dad would never allow anybody to say "shit" at the dinner table because he said it made him think of feces and he would literally experience the memory of it. Words are powerful environmental stimuli, pulling memories out of storage that can feel as real as real sensory input.

Once we started putting words down on paper we invented a whole virtual world of environments. Books could take people on journeys to places they had never been, and they would return feeling as if they had really travelled.

Then we invented picture books and took it another step.

And then we invented moving pictures. And then moving pictures with sound, and dialouge. In color. With SURROUND sound. And then 3d movies were invented. And then virtual reality.

Think about this: When you go into a darkened movie theatre, are you going into a "room" (a square box with four walls) as an environment, or are you entering a jungle, outer space, someone else's living room, a new city, ancient Rome, whatever environment happens to appear on the big screen?

These are all environments and they affect us deeply. How many times have you walked out of the movies feeling excited and ready to conquer the world? Which ones? What about leaving a movie depressed and disturbed about life? Which ones? How is it that a bunch of two dimension moving images on the screen can affect us in this way? Are movie environments more powerful in affecting our behavior than "real ones". If so, which is "more real"?

Now back to mapping -- if we are to be able to make sense of all the "real" and "imagined" environments around us, we need guidance. We need to be able to navigate. We need maps. Maps really do more than lead us places. They tell us where one thing stands in relation to another. They establish relationships and usually have a little sign somewhere (implied or real) that says "you are here". This keeps us from getting lost. At least we know where we stand.

When we don't know where we stand the psychological term for it is "ANOME" , a sense of normlessness, rootlessness. It can be terrifying and depressing.

Nowadays new environments are being thrown at us every minute. This course throws new environments at you on a daily level -- every time we write each other we are evoking images and ideas that are new or unfamiliar. And the authority figure, your professor, is challenging you to join him into these new territories.

Some of these territories are so unfamiliar they evoke a sense of panic. Particularly when they contain elements that seem familiar but aren't. New concepts and vocabulary words are like that. We can all read the words, but we don't know what they really mean in this new context. And worse, when some people seem to catch on and feel comfortable it can make the rest of us feel even more lost -- as if we are missing something that everybody else is in on.

I imagine that those of you who tried to slog through my Ph.D. papers on environmentalism felt even more lost. A doctoral program has its own special vocabulary and nuances and ways of presenting things and it can be a very alienating experience. But you are safe -- I merely want to expose you to all the types of linguistic, ideational and interpretive environments that one gets exposed to in this line of work, dealing with "The Environment". It is deep and rich and wonderful and confusing and scary.

I offer you the immortal words from "The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy": DON'T PANIC!! (And always carry a towel ! :) ask your kids about that one if they know the books or the movie!)

We are all going to get through the swamps together and get to the safe shore on the other side!

For now, we have our newly developing mapping skills. We will learn, in time, how to use them not only to navigate "real environments" such as those we can see out our window, but virtual environments as well -- even the ones that exist only in our minds and that we use language to express to others.

Welcome to "the matrix".

Happy mappin'!


No comments: