Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Museum of the Mind

As soon as you give something a name, you endow it with limitations.  You start to relate it to similar ideas and topics, and from there you develop categories.  Soon, in order to determine what does or does not belong in the category, you create rules, based on the similarities.  Some things are included, some things are excluded, and everything begins to feel smaller.

We feel comfortable with labels and categories because it keeps us organized.  Our entire education is based on the concept of labels and categories.  We go to museums that focus on single topics, such as Natural History or Space or Technology, and there we can learn more about whatever it is that piques our interest.

One day, our furry, lovable pal Grover took a trip to a museum that changed his life: the Everything in the Whole Wide World Museum.

This is going to take a while.

This strange building has multiple rooms, each with a sign that states what is to be found inside that room.  Grover decides to begin with the "Things You See In the Sky Room," featuring planes, balloons, rockets, and birds.  There are no descriptions about these items, just simple name cards.  He moves on to the next room ("Things You See On the Ground") and we realize, that's it!  Hope you enjoyed that first room with birds and planes because you aren't going to see them again for the rest of the trip.

Well, one more bird appears, I suppose.

Each room follows the same pattern.  Grover opens door after door of "Things That Are [Adjective]" and continues his path.  But things take a turn for the weird(er) when he discovers a carrot in the "Long Thin Things You Can Write With" room.  He realizes that the carrot is out of place and moves it to the lone, barren, "Carrot Room."

Why?  Why is this a room?  Why is there a lone light bulb?

This is the second most important page in the book.  The carrot stands alone.  It isn't in the "Vegetable Room" or the "Things That Are Orange" room.  It's just a bare, windowless room with a pedestal for one solitary carrot.  What makes it scarier is Grover's assurances that "this is where it belongs."  It has no reason to co-exist with other objects.  It gets a room all by itself.

This is labeling at it's worst.  When we decide that things must adhere to their labels because it is "right," things start to get very tricky indeed.  This idea takes hold of Grover as he then starts to search for where other things "belong."  His next task involves moving a heavy boulder out of the "Hall of Very, Very Light Things."

 Oh, Sisyphus.

Why were these items misplaced anyway?  Who is running this establishment?  Clearly, the museum was trying to make a point about relativity.  While the boulder may be heavy to Grover, others may consider it to be very, very light.  Why must things conform to Grover's way of thinking?

It suddenly becomes so clear.  This isn't an actual structure.  We are looking at the inner workings of Grover's mind.  He is the one deciding what belongs in which category.  And, being the addle-brained character he is, he must sort that which gets misplaced.  The human brain works like a computer database.  We store related memories in "compartments" that are tangentially related, which allows us to recall things with great speed.  Although it may be incorrect to label certain ideas in public, our brain must do this in order to make sense of the world.

Even Grover must eventually find a category for himself.  He settles on the "Things That Are Cute and Furry" room because, hey, he's the star attraction in his own mind.

But even Grover knows that it is impossible to think about everything in the whole wide world.  He can sort and compartmentalize all day long and he still has an infinite number of things to process.  So, what does he put in the last "room"?  Why, "Everything Else" of course!

Also known as the exit.

The whole world cannot be confined in a neat, little package, no matter how hard we try.  The universe is too big, new items are created every day, new people are born with their own set of ideas, and at a certain point we just have to stop labeling and start experiencing.

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