Sunday, November 28, 2004

Narratives Collide

Last week I had a wonderful (phenomenological) experience. First, some background: I’m currently reading two books with very different stories. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (‘Trilogy’) is a comical philosophical tale of a man’s journey through space/time, while Still Life with Woodpecker is an amusingly clever, quirky story about how to make love stay, set against a backdrop of personal and socio-political desires and self-reflective writing.

What had happened was that I picked up Still Life after just reading Hitch Hiker’s Guide, but, apparently, did not consciously notice the switch. Consequently, I read 3 or 4 lines of Still Life and began to think, “What the heck happened to Arthur, Zaphod and Trillian (characters),” “This makes no sense at all!” A split-second later, realization dawned. I laughed a little, delighted at remembering the feelings before, during and after the event: those shifting from confusion to understanding, to attempted understanding of the shift itself. I had entered Still Life with a whole narrative concealed within my brain, which obviously conflicted with a narrative that is separate and was not appropriately retrieved/activated.

This particular situation highlighted how many ‘unconscious’ processes are happening as a book is picked up that one has been reading.

I managed to stop reading a book, put the book down, move rooms with the book, and then pick up another book. Obviously, I looked at the book as I picked it up so I could find my place, open the book, move to the top of the page and begin to read.
Yet I still didn’t notice the switch, even with Hitch Hiker’s Guide being 5 times thicker than Still Life. Fascinating! As I was reading both books relatively consistently over a short period, the background info wasn’t that clouded which in turn made the experience all the more prominent.

It was delightful to witness how much ‘priming/accessing’ is occurring by just picking up a book (i.e., much more than I would have anticipated). It is even more amazing to think that this ‘preparation’ is happening all the time while your being reacts to everything within your sensory/perceptual range (with attention as a mitigating factor, of course).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike here...

It’s been a couple weeks since I read this post, but I had a similar experience that I simply had to share:

I was laying in bed with the lights out, listening to my computer play an audiobook. Deciding to go to sleep, I turned on lampy (a large lightbox sitting to the right of my bed) and leaned over to the left of my bed to shut down my computer. Because I had an msn message, the process was interrupted slightly and when I “came back” to the process of shutting things down and going to sleep, and interesting phenomenon occurred. The computer was off and I wanted to shut off the light surrounding me so I could go to sleep, yet instead of turning to my right where this giant lightbox was glowing away, I kept my attention to the left, saw my bedside table lamp (which was off), reached over and turned it on! I remember a slight feeling of puzzlement as I was reaching for the on-off switch and then almost immediate recognition of the mistake as the light came on. I laughed to/at myself for a while then found happiness in the thought that I now had content to post to your blog :o)

7:25 AM  

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