Saturday Morning thoughts

1. Mind as Landscape

2. Eating as Improvisation


Organic metaphores for our cognitive process are pretty common. Artists from Ani Difranco to Marcil Proust have described our internal states (thoughts, souls, etc) in terms of the cultivated, dynamic and somewhat unpredictable nature of gardens. A landscape really doesn’t need our help – ecosystems will work themselves out without the deliberate interference of humans – but it can also adjust to the changes we make to it. More so than in many other art forms, gardening is the practice of building with uncertainty. If we install a rose bush it will likely grow; we can’t really tell it how to branch but careful pruning can influence where the plant sends its resources. The french garden style of sharply defined beds I find very uncomfortable because of the intense control placed on the life forms in attempt to keep them in some kind of stasis.

Anyway, I like the idea of the mind as a landscape, some mixture of deliberate and incidental, to capture the complexity of the nature/nurture effects on how we think and behave. Before we even start working with some piece of land, it has rules of interaction with weather, ground, plants and animals. We have the power to reshape a great deal, but only constant vigilance can stop stray seeds from taking root, and nothing we can do to keep out all the bugs and squirrels and deer that eat the fruit of our labour. If fact, if we did keep all these critters out, these minute uncontrollable factors, most of our flowers wouldn’t bare those fruit, and the soil would suffer, and growth in the garden would struggle to fill the void left by these participants. In other words, some degree of uncontrolled material is helpful to a healthy mind. There are a lot of factors that we do not understand, or can’t know directly, about the land we are working with, including the bacterial and fungal populations in the soil, air and water and the nutrient concentrations. We can influence these conditions without really understanding how they work (say by spreading fertilizers, or funguicides) and the same is for the mind – there are aspects, factors, whatever you like to call them, that we do not have much awareness of, but we can effect these states in our naive way, counting on experience (science and folklore) to give some prediction of impacts.

(this is one example of how I should never try to write while listening to singable music)


Improvisation is a artistic technique that is usually treated with awe. In some ways it is an amazing test of skill and understanding, to create on the spot some kind of experience that others will appreciate! They say it takes 10 000 hrs to become an expert at something, well, chances are we are all experts at eating, specifically eating in a way that we enjoy. I am not talking about satisfying our nutritional needs, no, I am interested in the sensual experience of injestion, where the instrument is the meal, and you are both performer and audience.

There are a bunch of constraints on how we eat: the shared food and air pathway, two hands, the physical characteristics of the food, and circumstantial etiquette standards. Within those constraints (like topics and rules in improv comedy, melody and tonality in jazz) we have a lot of options as to how we go about bringing in this material. We have practiced and found patterns we like (bite size, what to start with, path from plate to mouth) and by now these are mostly relegated to the subconscious. We are very sensitive to what we put in our mouth (flavours, textures, temperatures) and we satiate desires/expectations in the process of eating. The happiness of a mouthful (or full mouth), the captivating odours, the scrap down our throat as we swallow, these all take part in making food a satisfying experience.

Like may temporal experience, it is important for us to end the process in a state of comfort, when possible. There are likely strategic differences in eating to eat forever and eating to reach an end-state, though what those are a couldn’t tell you. I know what when I am eating, I often try “end with a finish”, saving a big tasty bite to go out on a high note. I am sure there is a huge amount to be learned by considering the patterns experienced and performed while eating; I just need to find a way to study it without being the creepy person taking notes at a restaurant.


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