A couple weeks ago while reading Laurel’s, “The Six Elements and the Causal Relations Among Them” I had a bit of a moment at
…the orthodox view of Aristotle’s definitions of spectacle and melody leaves out too much material. As scholars are wont to do, I will blame the vagaries of translation, figurative language, and mutations introduced by centuries of interpretation for this apparent lapse and proceed to advocate my own view.
As I went through that passage I thought about Aristotle starting the discussion over 2000 years prior, but rather than focusing on Aristotle as a conscious, active agent, my brain took an interesting twist. For a brief moment the message itself, in this case, a conversation regarding the nature of drama, was a full fledged organism. Living, moving, evolving. It depended on Aristotle for survival, without a medium, a message is… I will leave that as an exercise for the reader, but regardless, to the message, Aristotle was no different than the cells that make up our body are to us. Sure, I know without the cells that make up my body I (whatever “I” is) wouldn’t exist, but I don’t particularly care WHICH cells are part of the structure that my “I” sits on and likewise, this message about drama was indifferent to the fact that Aristotle was Aristotle. In fact it probably didn’t even bat an ‘i’ when it hopped off of Aristotle onto its next host, morphing a bit in the process, and onward until at some point in its ongoing life, Laurel happened to pick it up and it experienced yet another one of countless moments of evolution.
To the lifespan of an idea, at least the potential lifespan, a human life lasts a mere instant. Whether or not a message experiences a lifespan that long depends entirely on its survivable in the environment at the time. Yes, this sounds a lot like Richard Dawkins’ concept of a meme and no doubt the thoughts about memes that I had bouncing around in my head played some part in triggering this shift in perception from the human carrier as the source/center/agent to the message itself as the agent.
And it was a humbling experience. To an immortal message human lives are blinking in and out of existences continually. And just as we shed cells that are replaced by new ones, so too do new brains fill in the gaps to hold the message aloft as old ones die off. If we view the message as a collection of juggling balls it is alive and well while the balls are in the air. Someone has to be there doing the juggling, but it doesn’t particularly matter to the message who that is, just as long as when the current entertainer reaches the end of his/her short time someone else is around to catch the balls before they fall. Viewed from above then, the planet appears to be covered in morphing, swelling sea of color, that upon closer inspection is made up of countless individual juggling balls seeming to float around and interact with each other on their own accord.
And what if that’s all any one of us, as an individual is, just a medium for the message?
I suppose depending on your frame of mind that could feel like a depressing thought. To me it wasn’t and isn’t. In fact, I would go far as to say I draw upon that metaphor to stay motivated and find meaning in my own life. Because if it is true that I am a medium, and the message is what matters, then I’m part of something bigger than I could ever grasp on my own. I have the potential to contribute to something that will have lasting effect on the world and while my individual life may be relatively short, it will not be without purpose.
P.S. This turned out to be way more meaning-of-lifey than I had intended.