Thursday, January 08, 2009


I am more and more convinced that we relate to each other by the objects we hover around. I used to think this was sickness or shallowness, but I am more and more convinced that objects are the glue that connect us. They allow us common experience.

I mean object broadly defined: God, TV, book, ideology, a holiday, religion, sports, whatever. We use objects to mediate and to connect.

Of course two people can connect to an object without connecting to each other, but I don't know if it works the other way around. Think of the last friend you made and how it happened. Think of most of your meaningful memories with others. Wasn't there generally an object that bound all of you?

Like I said, I used to think that objects were kind of like scaffolding, but more and more I find them to be like joists or studs, the actual structures.

This actually helps me redeem formality. You see, I generally eschew formality. It's laughable at best and repressive at worst in my mind. I mean seriously: Putting on forms? It's like theatre. But perhaps forms are just objects that can allow us to experience something together.

I do not miss Christian worship music. Most people who have left the "formal institution" of the church miss this aspect. I am convinced that, aside from music's sheer emotional value (of course here music is the object), it's this formality of singing together, as in a choir, a sort of theatre, that is the object. Of course, some will say the object is God and that's fine and all, but there's more there is all I am saying.

And all I am really saying is that I find myself in this strange spot of cognitively valuing objects, and therefor forms, while still finding them personally jarring, awkward, and disingenuous. But what to do? Hmm.


John said...

Yep. Rise, take and eat.

Dan said...

Yep, I think you’re definitely on to something about the importance of objects.

Another angle to take is to conceptualize these objects as additional parts of one’s mind or body.

In modern cognitive, computational psychology, there is a thesis of the “external mind,” which asserts that we need to rethink our old ways of conceptualizing the mind as some private, internal theater where we experience our representations, emotions, etc. This is a very old way of thinking of the mind as inner. Rather, we should re-conceive the mind (or spirit or whatever) as having mereological parts that extend into the spaces that we cognize. So, for example, the keyboard I’m typing on is not just used by my mind but rather becomes a part, in a fairly straightforward way, of the actual cognitive process, which no longer should be restrained by what now may appear to be an arbitrary boundary marker (e.g., the bone of my skull). On its face, this seems counter-intuitive, but our gut intuitions (as well as what we call “common sense”) are themselves products of contingent historical circumstances that, had they been different, would have resulted in drastically altered assumptions about the nature of the cognitive life.

Hence, there is a fairly straightforward explanation for why it is that altering the nature of objects alters the mind, since altering objects affects cognitive processes which at least partly compose the mind.

This becomes even more obvious when you think of your own body as an object in this technical sense... which is why it’s an interesting thing to see religious phenomena like “body prayer” and other “spiritual disciplines” coming back into practice, especially in light of the advances in computational psychology.

Another way to think about it: maybe we’re all recovering from some form of proto-gnosticism that somehow suggests that “the important stuff” (e.g., spirituality or character or whatever) is and should be sharply and categorially distinct from physicality.

Alright, that’s it. Quit writing interesting posts! You lure me into deeper thoughts when I should be shoveling snow.

Bob Carltom said...

there is a lot of writing on what are termed social objects - ideas that track completely with what you are saying

Anonymous said...

This is good thinking. It echoes some things I have been reading about approaching everything in our lives as gifts. How we choose to value these objects and how we choose to define that value in the context of our faith is the differentiator.

Objects are quite often the "sticky stuff" that brings us together into relationships. The way we use those objects in constructing our relationships determines the "adhesive" qualities and the strength or superficiality of the relationship. There are a lot of different commodities in the relationship economy: objects, music, experiences, demographics just to name a few. For Christians, we should see these as gifts. We can allow them to remain superficial "pocket change" by making them "stuff" in our life and attaching our value on the thing. Or... we can see them as gifts intended to bring us to a place where we can invest in deeper faith and relationships.

The key part is that we actually see them from that perspective and actually utilize them for that purpose rather than just using that as a crutch to justify the objects we surround ourselves with.

Michael said...

Someone asks himself "How are Things", and then spends a year wondering how it goes for things. Borrow a copy and read the first chapter on the bowl. The idea of the bowl as an extension of the stomach has floated with me through time.