Thursday, April 12, 2007

Assigning Value to Beauty

As we move about our daily lives we interact with the world around us based entirely on information provided by our senses. We evaluate, consider and retain this information on both conscious and unconcious levels. We then use it to make decisions. All of our decisions. If I feel a raindrop while I'm getting out of my car I may grab the umbrella out of my trunk. If I open a gallon of milk and smell an unpleasant odor I pour it out and buy more. While not every response is as directly reactionary all conscious decisions are based on information gathered by observing something or someone in some way. Even if we recieve complex verbal or written advice it must pass through the filter that starts with our senses and ends with our thoughts.

Consider the following: "We deal with the universe abstractly, as images and concepts created by our mind. We organize our lives around ideas, words, and other abstractions that never equate with reality. Because abstractions are about the world but not of it, they are always subject to interpretation, a process unavoidably dependent upon how our subjective mind has organized its accumulated experiences." Butler Shaffer

This idea can lead anywhere from simply reevaluating perspective to the fictionalized tale of The Matrix, where control of our senses is used to determine our perception of reality. Once this realization has occured it seems to beg the question: If everthing in our lives is based entirely on our senses why is it so many take them for granted? Sure, we use them to navigate our way through life but what about appreciation for the act of observing in and of itself? Who really stops to smell the flowers and how often? When was the last time you reveled in a warm summer rain? Where were you the last time you stopped everything just to sit back and admire the view or closed your eyes and just enjoyed the sound around you? Maybe the most important question is how much time each day have you alloted for such things? Or more succinctly, what value have you assigned them? As humans it's natural for us to identify something we value so what name do we ascribe the vivid sensations and emotions brought about by direct observation? At their best, I think of them as beauty.

Being a photographer and someone who is enamored with light, I revere visual beauty in all it's manifestations. While I spend considerable time photographing, crafting and viewing art I also travel the back way home from work more often than not. It takes less than 5 minutes longer but leads me through residential and rural areas as opposed to business and commercial zones and their ubiquitous American franchises. I know several people who travel to and from the same general areas and none of them take my route. Why? Because it takes 5 extra minutes and measures a couple of extra miles.

What is done with those extra minutes that makes the less pleasant course worth driving? People like to talk about how that time adds up and you can save hours or days by traveling the most direct route. While saving hours or days over time sounds exciting and romantic the reality is, unlike milage on an automobile, those minutes are not cumulative. They cannot be saved and added together for future use. You must live each moment as it comes and 5 minutes isn't very long... Hell, you just spent 5 minutes reading this.

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