Ideas as intersections

When I try to think about thinking, for instance retracing where an idea of mine came from, the limitation of English force me to say that “I” produced and “idea.” But none of these things are stable entities, and this grammatical relationship among them is misleading. The “idea” isn’t a finished product with identifiable boundaries that one moment sprung into being — one of the reasons artists so hate the interview question, “So what was your inspiration for this?” Any idea is actually an unstable shifting intersection between myself and whatever I was encountering. By extension, thought doesn’t somehow inside of me, but between what I perceive as me and not-me. Cognitive scientists Francisco J. Varela, Evan Thompson, and Elenaor Rosch back up this intuition with fascinating scientific studies in The Embodied Mind, a book that draws comparisons between moden cognitive science and ancient Buddhist principles. Using examples like the coevolution of vision with certain colors that occur in nature, they fundamentally complicate the idea that perception mere gives information about what’s “out there.” As they put it, “Cognition is not the representation of a pre-given mind but is rather the enactment of a world and a mind.”

Jenny Odell, How to do Nothing, p. 142

Ecology as comfortingly anti-essentialist

I find something comfortingly anti-essentialist in the way ecology works. As someone who is both Asian and white, I am an anomaly or a nonentity from an essentialist point of view. It’s not possive for me to be “native” to anywhere in any obvious sense. But things like the atmospheric river, or even the sight of Western tanagers (a favourite bird) migrating through Oakland in the spring gives me an image of how to be from two places at once. I remember that the sampaguita, while it’s the national flower of the Philippines, actually originated in the Himalayas before being imported in the seventeenth cenutry. I remember that not only is my mother an immigrant, but that there something immigrant about the air I breathe, the water I drink, the carbon in my bones, and the thoughts in my mind.

Jenny Odell, How to Do Nothing.