Tuesday, November 15, 2011

some notes on the concept of perspectivism

            Imagine a billionaire who has a fleet of Mercedes Benz cars, his own jet, his own helicopter, servants, whatever money can buy. Now imagine a poor man. He works double shifts but still can’t pay the bills nor get out of debt. He plays the lottery as some sort of impossible fantasy that he might be rich one day, but deep down knows he will die in debt and won’t be able to afford his funeral. Chance happens to them both: the billionaire loses all his money and goes bankrupt. He liquidates his assets, and comes out a few years later, living in a middle class lifestyle, with only one car, and a regular job of no great distinction; the poor man has beaten the odds --- it being more likely that he get hit with lightening twice than winning the lottery then – but after the taxes, and paying off his debts, getting an education, and buying a house, ends up in a middle class house, neighbor to the previous billionaire, working a similar job. The previous billionaire is bitter towards life, the previous pauper believes he is blessed. From one perspective, they both make the same money and have the same sort of job, so presumably on that account, they should be happy, but from another perspective, one has advanced in life and the other lost in life.

            There is a simple experiment you can do at home, if you don’t mind a little discomfort. Put out three bowls, the one on the left with ice water, the one on the right with near boiling water, the one in the middle with room temperature water. Put your left hand in the ice water, your right hand in the hot water, and let them sit for a few minutes, though it will be painful. Wait the full mark. Then submerge both hands in the middle water. The room temperature water will seem to be both very hot and very cold at the same time.

            The first cold day in October, when the temperature drops to 60 degrees (in Michigan) is the coldest day of the year, and we pile on the sweaters. The first warm day of spring in March, which rises to 60 degrees is the warmest day of the year, and we put on our short sleeves and strut through the park.

            Having a special needs daughter who may never speak, when I heard a coworker in tears because her kid had to take retake kindergarten, I didn’t feel pity so much as quiet amusement. She thinks she has it bad? Her kid can tell her she loves her, will one day go to prom, marry, have a job. She should count herself lucky. But then I see a man pushing his daughter at the store in a wheelchair, and the kid is crumpled up, moaning, having no comprehension at all of her surroundings, no awareness that she has parents. Then I imagine a mother whose son drops out of med school to be a poet, and how discouraged she is, and how she curses the day she had a child, or the father whose son has left Catholicism to be a protestant, and the shame of it all. Hmm. It is easy enough to say that these people are victims of their perspective, and that again would be our own perspective, no more relevant than God’s, the Universes, or anybody’s, except in relationship to an individual consciousness and its needs. It is useful to try to see life from different perspectives, to look at a thing in different ways, but sometimes it is best to hold to one view.

            Novels and narrators give unique viewpoints. We can see the world as Scrooge sees it, we can see the world as God sees it, we can see the world as Hamlet sees it. We put on a new pair of eyes. We could even forge a document supposedly written by a president, or a friend, or God, and convince many people of its authenticity, because we are able to predict how another would think, talk, and write. Some scientists look at the earth as a speck of dust, imagining themselves to be a galaxy, I suppose, and some novelists criticize our society by having aliens talk about us, or the far future, as when Spock goes back in time to save the whales, a concern of a couple decades ago, and doctor McCoy, a future physician, calls one of our doctors barbarous for wanting to cure an internal injury with invasive surgery, preferring to wave his technological wand and immediately curing it. “How the other side sees us” might be interesting and helpful, but it has limited use. Those who speak for God like to “judge” humanity, as when Pat Robertson immediately claimed that the terrorist attack of 911 was God’s judgment on American homosexuality; and how natural disasters, which are inevitable and regular, are given some theological interpretation, which amounts to nothing more than a moralist’s viewpoint looking for grounding in an unrelated event. The hurricane that hit New Orleans a few years back was claimed to have been God’s judgment against some political decision we made in Israel, cutting funding or something. There is no lack of wacky interpretations, auguries, and such. These again are foreign perspectives which try to make themselves plausible. They are sometimes helpful, sometimes distracting.

            A perspective is a mask, or a “me as.” We internalize all the people around us, the groups, the gods, the nations, and put each on as a lens, so that we can “plug in” our “persona for” them. We understand their perspectives, at least a bit, and know how to put on the right face to present to them, and what to say, and what not to. I am going to avoid certain jokes with my religious friends, and jokes altogether, at a funeral. We anticipate the results of all actions and sayings, so that watching a character on tv about to say something stupid, we cringe because we know what will come next.

            The central I of the mind, the focus with with power wills a thing and with energy selects different things, is the pure consciousness, unaltered by habits in itself, but only able to see through the lens of habits, from the world of desires which gives it light to see what is relevant to our needs. The truth is not in any one perspective, but trying on many perspectives, and arranding them in a hierarchy relative to our needs and interests. The universe is not intelligent without us, but intelligent through us, through all sentient beings. Our ideas and minds are each a neuron on her larger brain, so that among all the trillions of planets in the billions of galaxies, she has nerves spread throughout her whole body.

            Yet even if we could divine her thoughts, they would not trump our own, but merely be one more perspective, to sometimes accept, and sometimes dismiss.


Daniel Christopher June







No comments: