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If We Can Think It, Do We Also Experience It?

Oct 12, 2007
I was eating in the dining hall and seated across from me was a pale, wiry guy eating his food methodically and with great precision. He looked like an eating machine.

'How's it going?' I asked.

'Fine', came his reply, 'except I almost missed dinner. That happened last week and I had to go out to Elsie's to get dinner. I can get distracted in the stacks and lose all concept of time.'

Stacks meaning library stacks and Widener being one of the world's largest libraries. He finished his meal and neatly crossed his knife and fork even though we were supposed to bus our own table. Even the blue bloods.

'I am a researcher and I spend all my time in the stacks. I go there when they open at 8:00 in the morning and leave when they close at midnight. The only time I'm not there is when I eat or go back to my apartment to sleep. And when they close for Christmas. I assume you are a student?'

'Freshman with the pretty usual stuff. Classes and study and parties on the weekend. Don't you go to any parties?'

'What for?' he laughed, 'I'm privy to all sorts of fascinating stories and histories and why go to a boring party?'

'Girls,' I laughed, 'that's the best reason I know.'

'And while you are out carousing or whatever you call it, I'll be buried in some ancient text that is spelling out the secrets of the universe. I don't really go out.'

'But don't you miss out, you know, with all the politics and activities and girls?'

'I get to look at a continuum throughout history and that is something your silly frat parties don't do for me. I get to see the best and worst and most interesting of human action and thought; what would I gain at a frat party?'

Obviously not a date, I thought.

The guy excused himself, stood up and left.

I sat there for a minute trying to collect my thoughts and concluded that cat had some crossed wires. Life was for living and it was not possible to live in a library. It was a great big world out there and one simply could not experience it vicariously through the writings of others.

It had to be hands on. There was no other way but to go out into the world and directly experience it. Besides, all the Beats said so, no?

For many years that argument made sense.

And that's how I left it; the creepy researcher living out his life in dusty stacks of old books and papers when all around the world was teeming with life and excitement making stacks of paper look so very dreary.

I went my way and I'm sure he went his. I traveled the world and he most likely dug deeper into the stacks.

The years passed and I stopped going to frat parties and political demonstrations. Even girls became impractical when I picked up a wife. Whenever I would read about a frat party or demonstration my brain would automatically fire out the warning 'Been there, done that!' Besides, even if I wanted to go my wife wouldn't let me.

I've come to realize that people can have powerful experiences even though these experiences aren't what are typically known as hands on big-time adventure. Back in my traveling days I thought adventure meant exotic faces in exotic places. It still is but now I know it's more than that.

On the other hand, I've also come to the conclusion that some folks can delude themselves so well that their delusions become real. Reality is what you think it is. Or something like that.

And as the years went by my thinking that the researcher's reality was flawed began to be less certain.

Since then I've come full spectrum and concluded that neither of us was right on that Cambridge night so many years ago. Experience is what sticks in the head and craw and that can be what we think as well. Or read. It can be what we find in the jungles of Maya Mexico or in the archives of Widener Library.

But does it really matter? Can't the human brain adapt to almost any circumstance and condition?

The neuroscientists are now telling us that experience makes up 75-80% of our psyche. In other words, given a full deck of genes, we become what we experience. What they don't say is what kind of experience and if it matters.

It has to matter. Given that 'experience is us', several questions float immediately to the surface.

Can we program experience? What constitutes a good or development enhancing experience? If we have junk experiences do we become junk? Can I trade in some of my junk experience for some quality experience? Where do I hang my materialism and most importantly, what do I do with all my stuff?

And so on. For his sake I hope my dining room amigo got out into the world more and felt the great rush of energy and excitement that is to be found everywhere. For my sake I should probably find a good library and bury myself in research for a couple of years. My wife would approve as long as there are no dancing girls. It all seems to tend to a state of equilibrium. Ying and yang and what not. Do the years even things out?

In the end I now realize we were both a lot more alike than different. Sadly, it took me a lifetime of experience to find that out, though better late than never.

I doubt neither of us would have traded places but that's OK too. To each his own and his own experience, and we should always be thankful when we are fortunate enough to gain a little insight into the psyche of others.

And we don't have to go to exotic places.
About the Author
Jack D. Deal is the owner of Deal Business Consulting. Related articles may be found at http://www.jddeal.com and http://www.freeandinquiringmind.typepad.com
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