Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Seeing Eye to Eye

We used to think that if we knew one, we knew two, because one and one are two. We are finding that we must learn a great deal more about 'and.'
—Sir Arthur Eddington

There is an enormous reservoir, a concrete water tower, on the edge of the village I grew up in; it is shaped like a champagne glass, with a tall stem and a top rather like that of a mushroom.
My brother's significant other grew up in a different country with a more varied range of water supplies; as a result she played regularly in a flat, canal-like reservoir close to her home.
When my brother visited her family for the first time somebody suggested they all wander down to the reservoir and go for a pleasant swim.
My brother was at first mildly puzzled, then his concern grew.
"But how will we climb up?" asked the poor bewildered fellow finally, afflicted with trembling visions of imminent danger and of splashing about in precarious, prohibited champagne glasses.
He was faced with an unexpected response: one of equal confusion.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, how will we get in there?"
Nobody was sure what my brother meant by his question; they all had an ordinary image of a grassy embankment with a source of water beyond it; my brother could only see the water tower of his village with its unscalable height.
"We'll just climb down."
That made not a drop of sense to my brother. Surely one had to first climb up in order to climb down into the bowl of the tower?
It was a rather good idea to go first to the reservoir before attempting to unscramble any more of the obfuscation. The chaos was cleared, the matter was solved, and a good laugh was had by all, quite rightly so.
Such mental sketches were present from childhood and each member of the group had formed their own indelible idea of what a water reservoir ought to look like.
It stands to reason that we carry with us personal definitions and descriptions of what is familiar. It is commonplace that those assigned meanings are firmly fixed in position until the very moment we encounter people from another society or a different corner of the world and we come to learn that there are many ways of seeing the same thing- none of which are necessarily invalid.
We naturally base all that we are sure of on what we can see and hear within the particular confines of our lives.
Still, sometimes a reservoir is shaped like a champagne glass, and sometimes it resembles a canal; and once in a while we are apt to be reminded that people everywhere are the same, though their ways and convictions are outwardly painted with a different brush.


julochka said...

it's not only about perspective, it's also about language isn't it? although chair or table is a generic term for many kinds of chairs and tables, we all have a picture of a particular one in our minds. chair or table is just the agreed-upon signifier. very interesting! :-)

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Julie, that's true- because in this case there were actually two water towers, two images. Neither was wrong, but each was the right one only in its own context. It sort of challenges the definition of what a water tower should look like ;)

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