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  • Writer's pictureDan Thompson

Northwestern: Theory of Place

The importance of Meaning and Purpose in one’s relationship to Place

To illustrate the points to follow, it will be useful to consider the mythological symbols and analogies used by mystics and indigenous cultures to rationalize and explain the peculiarity of the world and its creation:

A snake with its tail in its mouth, turtle on an alligator’s back, the world hoop, turtle island, a mountain in the middle of the earth.

Now, after the age of discovery and exploration, we have the experience of going around the world rather than falling off the edge, thus proving the convictions of these pre-modern cultures several millenia after the fact.

It wasn’t the roundness, in the sense of a physical object that inspired these ancient cultures, but the resonance of the physical sphere with its mental counterpart. The idea of the thing in its hyper-dimensional form (i.e. the Platonic solids). The roundness of the planet being an aspect, in three-space, of its higher dimensional properties, which along with its mass, warps spacetime and binds objects to its surface. Ideas being subjective, and matter being objective. Without the ideas, there would be no object, but without the object, the ideas would only be insubstantial ‘things’ without correspondences or expression of any kind, just potential.

This discussion of forms, and of the planet itself, is where we must begin in order to explain our place on a planet (a closed system) that exists within a much greater system of stars and galaxies.

            One solution to the unification of higher-dimensional forms with their three-dimensional counterparts, is gravity. Gravity, in addition to being one of the four forces yet to be reconciled into a Grand Unification Theory, is also what is known in object-oriented ontology, as a hyper-object. A feature of reality that we typically do not see, or do not recognize that we see, but is always, already there, just as the ground is always, already when we walk out on it. We never think about how it got there, or where, exactly, in the universe it is. Rather we take it for granted in order to fulfill the various tasks and obligations that would seem insignificant, perhaps too insignificant to complete, if we constantly thought about them in terms of the bigger picture. Instead, we substitute the world for the cosmos and the objects within it as the heavenly bodies that make it up. Like the planet, these objects are abstractions of higher ideal forms, brought into existence through our experience of Place; what Heidegger called, Dasein; Being in Time.

Place being a theory of everything (TOE) or TOP; theory of Place, where one inhabits the zeitgeist, the spirit of the time, in the place they happen to live. The time changing, while the place remains more or less the same throughout many cultural and historical periods.

The same place at different times, but only one at a time. To find oneself at odds with the spirit of the time, is natural, and indeed universal, but to try to force change in order to make it agree with one’s own subjective time, is detrimental only to oneself. Rather than being a closed system, naturally resistant to the entropy that pulls everything apart—what we usually refer to as change—one is opened up to the same processes that result in the destruction of physical objects.

Therefore, the best way to deal with change is to exist, without conflict, in the time in which one lives. Establishing a basis in that which doesn’t change, while change continues to flow around us, because to resist flow/ change causes trouble, just as getting swept up in it does. Here one becomes solid, rather than static. Static is to be unreceptive to change, while solid is merely staying still, and choosing when and where to move. Aware that no time will be time for long, and that one’s own authentic time is the only real time.

My own experience of the ‘Time of the Place’ and ‘Purpose in Place’ comes from my location in the Pacific Northwest, hitherto referred to as Northwestern. Not just a geographical region but a phenomenological and literary style, where everything that happens either emerges from, or contributes to the energy of that particular place.

Both the environment and the process of writing are a source of purpose and meaning that I absorb through the embodiment of place, and which are projected back into it, so the process is never interrupted, the spell never broken.

This exchange bolsters me on a being level against unfriendly environments and invites me into more benevolent ones. This goes back to some of my deepest convictions and experiences; that we learn as much from our environment as we do from any other source, in fact our environment may be the true, original source.

            Purpose is what provides one with a sense of belonging or place, while at the same time, belonging (place) provides one with a sense of purpose, but at this particular time, and in this particular place, I think many people feel that they have neither.

            Some would say that, this sense of detachment results from the way the world is; its challenges, dangers and uncertainty, and our lack of agency as co-creators in our world. But another way of looking at it would be as a revelation. The removal of the veil to see the world as it really is, what in Greek and later Heideggerian philosophy is called Aletheia; the truth of ‘what’s really out there’, of what really matters, which comes down to the distinction between Nature and nature, the natural attitude and the life world, the subjective and the objective.

             This apparent paradox of living in both worlds, both hostile and benevolent, shows us where we are, as opposed to where we were, or should be, and how we can get back via the relationship between time, space and place, where place emerges from the union of time and space and time and space emerge from the unity of place.

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