Thursday, March 15, 2012

O Sensei was a space alien

When I was a child, one of my imaginary friends was a space alien that had been sent to Earth to study our curious culture.  It had monitored our transmissions for years and thereby learned many of our words and figured out our syntax and grammar, but it still couldn't understand much.  A typical conversation with the alien (it had an un-pronouncable name) would go something like this...
"What is that... thing?" (pointing a tentacle)
"Oh, this? This is an apple."
"What is... appul?"
"It's a fruit.  It grows on a tree and we eat them."
"What is... froot?"
"Trees make them and we eat them."
"What is eeet?"
and so on and so on ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
Our problem was, even though we understood the same words, we came from totally different backgrounds.  We were alien to each other.  We had no context and despite our best intentions and our best efforts, we couldn't figure out how to manufacture a context.  We ended up building spaceships and laser weapons and destroying each other's home worlds.  That we understood.
In what sense might you say O Sensei was an alien?  He lived in a newly-industrializing country just emerging from feudalism, while many of his students lived in agrarian and industrial societies and now we live in a technological service economy.  His education and religious practices were pretty different from ours.  In the immortal words of the venerable Hootie..."You and me, we come from different worlds..."  Maybe an easier question would be, "Was O Sensei like us at all?"
The most important difference was not cultural or environmental but the fact that he and his contemporaries habitually used their bodies differently than did the generation after him and the generation after them.  They sat on their knees on the floor - we use chairs from infancy.  They climbed and crawled up and down hills - we use elevators and escalators and peoplemovers.  They walked - we drive and fly (in seated positions). They tended their animals and plants - we buy our food pre-processed and packaged.  They chopped wood for cooking and heat - we push buttons.  They worked in many varied postures - we sit and perform the same small motions repetitively.
Even the most active of us are a far cry from the most sedentary of them.  They simply had a completely alien body experience when compared to ours.
So, when O Sensei says something that sets our B.S. meters off, like "I am the Universe!"  Maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt that maybe he was expressing something physically, tactically useful based on his body experience instead of something annoyingly etheral.  Maybe that was something that his contemps would have understood better because of a different body of kinesthetic aposteriori knowledge.
The question then arises, how do we translate knowledge and teachings from an alien kinesthesia so that they will be useful to us?  We need a kinesthetic Rosetta Stone, so to speak.
Stay tuned, Dear Reader, and I'll tell you about this Rosetta Stone!
Patrick Parker
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