Thursday, August 08, 2013

Holiday Paradox



The view of The Wye Valley from a pasture in Llowes, Wales

Recently I had an epiphany concerning the finiteness of the human experience. I began to weary of the rolling verdant views wherever I looked and I thought how could that be? How could you tire of magnificent beauty after only a few days, especially after lamenting the greyness of a modern concrete and asphalt city with more pickpockets than kindness?

Then it occurred to me. The beauty of Wales, and of the world in general seems infinite but my capacity to appreciate it was finite. In fact, much of our capacity of experience is finite. We are limited by what we can taste, but that doesn't mean there are limits to flavours. Put another way, there are more frequencies of sound than we can hear and there are more colours in the light spectrum than we can see. The Universe may seem infinite, yet really it is finite to us as so much of it is imperceivable to our limited senses. In other words, I shouldn't worry when part of my brain looks over a beautiful landscape and says, "oh — another sheep…"

What I've also come to realize and accept is that new experiences are far more valued by the human mind than simply sheer beauty. Thus "novelty" is its own kind of beauty. I would even say I like returning home to a routine after a holiday because at some point I tired of "novelty". Too much newness is fatiguing.

A New York Times article on new theories of our perception of time and the compression and expansion of time suggests that new experiences or lack of them are key to our experience of time. This is probably what prompted my epiphany in the first place. The idea is that we experience time in different ways depending on whether we are doing something now or remembering it later. For instance, while you are waiting for a bus, time expands — in that the bus's arrival seems to take a long time — 2 minutes feel like 10. But if you think back to waiting for the bus it seemed like nothing; you probably can't even recall it. When you go on vacation and days are very full of engaging experiences (swam at the beach, had a new kind of cuisine, heard a new language) the days seem to slip by very very quickly. Yet in recalling the vacation later when you are back at work, that week long vacation may have seemed like a month. The longer you think back on it, that week may feel like a whole summer despite the summer being filed with other boring things such as waiting for buses etc.

The theory goes on to suggest if you want your later years to feel longer rather than race by, the key would be to not fall into routines but break patterns with different experiences. That's a long way of saying "variety is the spice of life".

Another thing I've become concerned with on this or any other trip is spending too much time looking at the places I'm visiting through a glass (sorry Google). I have taken a lot of photos but I've tried not to be the guy ignoring spectacular views while looking up "spectacular views" on a smartphone. Or as Jonathan Franzen has said, walking in a beautiful landscape while listening to music and imagining yourself in a movie with a beautiful landscape. So this afternoon, after a short bike ride and walk I simply sat in a pasture and looked, and didn't think of other things, didn't imagine anything else, and didn't take any photographs. This holiday has been so busy and full of things to do, paradoxically, it was a like a mini-holiday from my holiday. How's that for a Holiday Paradox.

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