Let's take it outside.

The indigenous resistance to the westering anglos as they punched their way over the Appalachian Crest for the seizure and enclosing of the continent was led by a young Shawnee warrior, Tecumseh. Invited into the governor's mansion to negotiate, Tecumseh refused: "Houses are built for you to hold council in: Indians hold theirs in the open air." He also refused to take a chair when offered one, saying that he would repose on the bosom of the earth. There is a resonance here with the spirit of Occupy, and its mode of inhabiting space.

Popular protest takes to the streets because that is the space that remains. To be sure, most of the major events in history have happened outside, in the sense that the decisions taken inside—in the chancelleries, the boardrooms, the smoke-filled backrooms, etc.—are ultimately conditioned by things that happen, or do not happen, in the open air. Tecumseh's retort to Governor Harrison points up the significance of spatial and political form, and of the different architectonics of societies rooted in common—as opposed to private—property.

The spaces of modernity are shaped and dominated by private and state interests; under modernity public space is a subordinate category, residual even, and confined to what is left once land has been commodified and parceled into private lots. What remains is the open air. Literally. The air itself treated by economists as and "externality" (in the language of the business schools), which are commons of a peculiar capitalist kind. The air becomes a sink for the waste produced during the manufacture of commodities. This amounts to the theft of a common, though it is sometimes hard to see since it doesn't happen all at once, nor everywhere. Like many other things, pollution is very uneven, and has a class geography.

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As more and more of modern life moves away into a representation, as the image-world comes to dominate civil society, and as the spectacular state gets drawn further into the day-to-day management of consumer obedience, internal policing, and the prevention of riposte to its lies, so the problem of image politics and of the very possibility of making spaces for strategic discussion takes on critical importance. (...) Given the de-realization of human collectivity under conditions of spectacle, these brief interruptions—the occupations of the squares and critical mass rides—produce real manifestations of community, albeit fleeting. Yet in each case it's a move beyond the horizon of representational politics, and takes life off the screen for a moment.

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The remembered present.

No genuine stereo perception is possible if one has lost an eye or an ear. But as Dr. Jorgensen observed, a remarkable degree of adjustment or adaptation can occur, and this depends on a variety of factors. One of these is the increased ability to make judgments using one eye or ear, a heightened use of monocular or monaural cues. Monocular cues include perspective, occlusion, and motion parallax (the shifting appearance Of the visual world as we move through it), and monaural cues are perhaps analogous to these, though there are also special mechanisms peculiar to hearing. The diffusion of sound with distance can be perceived monoaurally as well as binaurally, and the shape of the external ear, the pinna, provides valuable cues about both the direction and the asymmetries of sound reaching it. 

If one has lost stereoscopy or stereophony, one must, in effect, recalibrate one's environment, one's spatial world—and movement here is especially important, even relatively small but very informative movements of the head. Edward O. Wilson describes in his autobiography, Naturalist, how he lost an eye in childhood but nonetheless is able to judge distances and depths with great accuracy. When I met him I was struck by a curious nodding of the head, and took this to be a habit or a tic. But he said it was nothing of the sort—it was a strategy designed to give his remaining eye alternating perspectives (such as normally the two eyes would receive), and this, he felt, combined with his memories of true stereopsis, could give him a sort of simulacrum of stereo vision. He said that he adopted these head movements after observing similar movements in animals (like birds and reptiles, for instance) whose visual fields have very little overlap. Dr. Jorgensen did not mention any comparable head movements in himself—they would not be too popular in a concert hall—but such movements might well help one construct a richer, more diverse soundscape.

There are other cues that stem from the complex nature of sounds and the vicissitudes of sound waves as they bounce off objects and surfaces around one. Such reverberation can provide an enormous amount of information even to a single ear, and this, as Daniel Levitin has remarked, has an essential role in communicating emotion and pleasure. It is for this reason that acoustical engineering is a major science and art. If a concert hall or lecture hall is badly designed, sounds may be "killed," voices and music seem "dead." Through centuries of experience, the builders of churches and auditoriums have become remarkably adept at making their buildings sing.

Dr. Jorgensen says that he believes his good ear is "better than should be expected from a seventy-year-old." One's ear, one's cochlea, cannot improve as one gets older, but as Jacob L. clearly demonstrated, the brain itself can improve its ability to make use of whatever auditory information it has. This is the power of cerebral plasticity. Whether or not "hearing fibres may have crossed in the corpus callosum" to the other ear, as Jorgensen suggests, is questionable—but there most assuredly have been significant changes in his brain as he has adapted to life with one ear. New connections must have been made, new areas recruited (and a sufficiently subtle brain-imaging technique might be able to demonstrate such changes). It seems probable, too—for vision and hearing normally complement each other and tend to compensate for each other if one is impaired—that Dr. Jorgensen, consciously or unconsciously, is using vision and visual data to map the position of instruments in the orchestra and the dimensions, spaciousness, and contours of the concert hall, as a way of reinforcing a sense of auditory space. 

Perception is never purely in the present - it has to draw on experience of the past; this is why Gerald M. Edelman speaks of "the remembered present." We all have detailed memories of how things have previously looked and sounded, and these memories are recalled and admired with every new perception. Such perceptions must be especially powerful in a strongly musical person, a habitual concertgoer like Dr. Jorgensen, and imagery is surely recruited to complement one's perceptions, especially if perceptual input is limited. "Every act of perception," Edelman writes, "is to some degree an act Of creation, and every act Of memory is to some degree an act of imagination." In this way the brain's experience and knowledge are called upon, as well as its adaptability and resilience. What is remarkable in Dr. Jorgensen's case, at least, is that, after such a severe loss, with no possibility of function being restored in the ordinary sense, there has nonetheless been a significant reconstruction of function, so that much Of what seemed irretrievably lost is now available to him again. Though it took some months, he has, against all expectation, been able to recover in large measure what was most important to him: the richness, the resonance, and the emotional power of music. 

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The truth about reality.

Reality is everything that exists. That sounds straightforward, doesn’t it? Actually, it isn’t. There are various problems. What about dinosaurs, which once existed but exist no longer? What about stars, which are so far away that, by the time their light reaches us and we can see them, they may have fizzled out?

We’ll come to dinosaurs and stars in a moment. But in any case, how do we know things exist, even in the present? Well, our five senses – sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste – do a pretty good job of convincing us that many things are real: rocks and camels, newly mown grass and freshly ground coffee, sandpaper and velvet, waterfalls and doorbells, sugar and salt. But are we only going to call something ‘real’ if we can detect it directly with one of our five senses?

What about a distant galaxy, too far away to be seen with the naked eye? What about a bacterium, too small to be seen without a powerful microscope? Must we say that these do not exist because we can’t see them? No. Obviously we can enhance our senses through the use of special instruments: telescopes for the galaxy, microscopes for bacteria. Because we understand telescopes and microscopes, and how they work, we can use them to extend the reach of our senses – in this case, the sense of sight – and what they enable us to see convinces us that galaxies and bacteria exist.

How about radio waves? Do they exist? Our eyes can’t detect them, nor can our ears, but again special instruments – television sets, for example – convert them into signals that we can see and hear. So, although we can’t see or hear radio waves, we know they are a part of reality. As with telescopes and microscopes, we understand how radios and televisions work. So they help our senses to build a picture of what exists: the real world – reality. Radio telescopes (and X-ray telescopes) show us stars and galaxies through what seem like different eyes: another way to expand our view of reality.

Back to those dinosaurs. How do we know that they once roamed the Earth? We have never seen them or heard them or had to run away from them. Alas, we don’t have a time machine to show them to us directly. But here we have a different kind of aid to our senses: we have fossils, and we can see them with the naked eye. Fossils don’t run and jump but, because we understand how fossils are formed, they can tell us something of what happened millions of years ago. We understand how water, with minerals dissolved in it, seeps into corpses buried in layers of mud and rock. We understand how the minerals crystallize out of the water and replace the materials of the corpse, atom by atom, leaving some trace of the original animal’s form imprinted on the stone. So, although we can’t see dinosaurs directly with our senses, we can work out that they must have existed, using indirect evidence that still ultimately reaches us through our senses: we see and touch the stony traces of ancient life.

In a different sense, a telescope can work like a kind of time machine. What we see when we look at anything is actually light, and light takes time to travel. Even when you look at a friend’s face you are seeing them in the past, because the light from their face takes a tiny fraction of a second to travel to your eye. Sound travels much more slowly, which is why you see a firework burst in the sky noticeably earlier than you hear the bang. When you watch a man chopping down a tree in the distance, there is an odd delay in the sound of his axe hitting the tree.

Light travels so fast that we normally assume anything we see happens at the instant we see it. But stars are another matter. Even the sun is eight light-minutes away. If the sun blew up, this catastrophic event wouldn’t become a part of our reality until eight minutes later. And that would be the end of us! As for the next nearest star, Proxima Centauri, if you look at it in 2012, what you are seeing is happening in 2008. Galaxies are huge collections of stars. We are in one galaxy called the Milky Way. When you look at the Milky Way’s next-door neighbour, the Andromeda galaxy, your telescope is a time machine taking you back two and a half million years. There’s a cluster of five galaxies called Stephan’s Quintet, which we see through the Hubble telescope spectacularly colliding with each other. But we see them colliding 280 million years ago. If there are aliens in one of those colliding galaxies with a telescope powerful enough to see us, what they are seeing on Earth, at this very moment, here and now, is the early ancestors of the dinosaurs.

Are there really aliens in outer space? We’ve never seen or heard them. Are they a part of reality? Nobody knows; but we do know what kind of things could one day tell us if they are. If ever we got near to an alien, our sense organs could tell us about it. Perhaps somebody will one day invent a telescope powerful enough to detect life on other planets from here. Or perhaps our radio telescopes will pick up messages that could only have come from an alien intelligence. For reality doesn’t just consist of the things we already know about: it also includes things that exist but that we don’t know about yet and won’t know about until some future time, perhaps when we have built better instruments to assist our five senses.

Atoms have always existed, but it was only rather recently that we became sure of their existence, and it is likely that our descendants will know about many more things that, for now, we do not. That is the wonder and the joy of science: it goes on and on uncovering new things. This doesn’t mean we should believe just anything that anybody might dream up: there are a million things we can imagine but which are highly unlikely to be real – fairies and hobgoblins, leprechauns and hippogriffs. We should always be open-minded, but the only good reason to believe that something exists is if there is real evidence that it does.

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Fictions and facts.

A picture hung on the wall of our parlor. In it, a woman was taking a shirt from a clothesline. She had clothespins in her teeth and it was windy and a boy was tugging at her dress. The woman looked like she was in a hurry and the whole scene gave me the idea that, just outside the frame, full, dark clouds were gathering. But that was not what it was. It was paint. So I decided right then and there to see the picture as it really was. I stared at the thing long and hard, trying to only see the paint. But it was no use. All my eyes would allow me to see was the lie. In fact, the longer I gazed at the paint, the more false detail I began to imagine. The boy was crying, as if afraid, and the woman was weaker than I had first believed. I finally gave up. I understood then that it takes a powerful imagination to see a thing for what it really is.

(...)

Death is a funny thing. Not funny haha, like a Woody Allen movie, but funny strange, like a Woody Allen marriage. When it’s unexpected, death comes fast like a ravenous wolf and tears open your throat with a merciful fury. But when it’s expected, it comes slow and patient like a snake, and the doctor tells you how far away it is and when, exactly, it will be at your door. And when it will be at the foot of your bed. And when it will be on your flesh. It’s all right there on their clipboards.

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