The Experience of Making Sense

There is certainly a kind of personal, affective, and somatic experience of having an idea. As the brilliant commenters have noted — we fidget, we are disoriented, we feel taken up, overwhelmed, the idea running through our blood and bones.

But I still wonder: What is the experience of having an idea? Not as much what happens to me when I think — although that, too — but what is happening when I have this idea?

One way to think about this thinking is to think about the experience of things making sense. I love this phrase, "making sense," because we use it to mean we understand a given idea when the phrase suggests we just created the idea: we made the sense rather than recognized it.

Anyway, what is this experience? I can't escape the architectural component: things — visible and invisible, historical and immediate, personal and societal, specific and general — seem to fit together in some scheme.

I want to say they fit like a puzzle but that's not right. There are hierarchies and contingencies that a puzzle does not have; this is not a flat database of pieces but a grammatical database with all sorts of rules. When I have an idea that makes sense, I have organized bodies with a series of logics — the logics of cause and effect and of hierarchy, of course, but there are other logics, too: the logics of sensation, of the varying flows of liquids, gasses, the materiality of things, the structures of other ideas such as Leibniz's monadology or Deleuze and Guattari's planes of immanence. All these things order, organize, distribute bodies — including my own body.

All of this shows me that the logics that I find immanent are, in fact, cultural and historical. But my next thought is that these things are not opposed: immanence and history are one and the same (sometimes).

And then there is that affective, personal experience — the exhilaration, the disorientation, delirium, waves, a feeling of being at once in control and out of control: the idea is driving now!

Having an idea, then, (which is different than an idea) is an experience that takes place between me and the world, between me and history, between me and ghosts past and present and future (surely an idea extends into possible future worlds, if not into actual future worlds; in some sense, the idea makes the future as it makes sense).

So I come back to my question: What is the experience of having an idea? It is a participating in the world, lending my body to the flow of different logics, logics that are material and conceptual and historical — all of it working within architectures and speeds, within moving shapes and how they might go together.

And then — boom — the idea. We are overtaken. We are gloriously delirious. But what's happened? Do I know understand the world? Does having an idea — does making sense of things — tame the chaos? Sure, to some degree. Having an idea is like being a very strange version of Moses — making laws of the land. But very private laws that nonetheless legislate everything. Yes, an idea is akin to a law.

But as we know the best ideas forge a certain vertigo, a delirium. A legislation, then, but one that wreaks a very special kind of havoc.

Is there a kind of achievement? Yes, there are great architectural feats of ideas — Kant's three critiques, for instance, or Leibniz's monadology, or D&G's thousand plateaus.

After having had the idea — after creating this moving monument, writing this weird law — do I approach the world differently? Yes, I imagine so. And this is what makes ideas so strange: they change the way we see and they change the way we act. As we said, an idea is a kind of law.

Maybe an idea is akin to a design — the shadow of an event, the ghost that moves between visible and invisible worlds.

Or perhaps I was right at the beginning and an idea is an image, a refraction of a sort. It takes up the world and gives is not just something seen: an idea, like any great image, gives us a seeing.


what the Tee Vee taught said...

That was fun. What do you have here? About 15 paragraph things. And you're all over the place... moving around like a wild-type.

Seems like it might lend itself to Gysin and Burroughs'.

Over the last few days, on a few occasions, I've enjoyed trying to reduce moments to their... uh, quantum-ness? Smallest part. It's fucking weird. A full physical and psychic exertion to slow time — pleasantly bizarre. It doesn't exactly "work", but it does do something... something to take a peek into what is/might be happening.

As for your pending chicken coop duty: you have a boy, surely you've at least some experience dealing with something that craps leisurely and follows you around — that's a chicken.

drwatson said...

Speaking of ghosts - Nietzsche says I don't think - it thinks - a thought sort of, hell I don't know, rapes your brain, invades your space- it is violent. It means business.

Camus (can I just say, the most underrated thinker of the 20th century in so many ways) talks about someone walking through a turnstile and having the most brilliant idea ever - no causal nexus - it just happens. That's what I love about thinking.

I can't answer your question because it's a good question, but I know thinking is about being overtaken, disorientated, on the brink of failure. I'll never forget as an undergrad in this post-analytic american philosophy class I took I literally felt like I was floating. I had lost my way, no grounding, totally distraught. And I was afraid. I literally could not think. Everything started to feel leveled. Why is this better than that? I couldn't answer. And thankfully this was the same semester I met the wonderful Orus Barker who had studied with Gadamer and met Heidegger in Germany in the 50's. In many ways, he saved me as an academic. He helped me relearn how to think. And that was even worse in many ways. I kept losing arguments. He won everyone single fucking one of them except for one. And the one I won wasn't very impressive.

I'm sort of rambling so I'll cut this short, but my point is that at a certain juncture one set of ideas left me totally floating and another set left me afoot. In both cases I was turned over and inside out - but both experiences had something to do with what religious people talk about when they use words like "awakening."

Two quick points - one: Orus is a career adjunct - he has a PhD from Duke but wouldn't play the game. The single smartest person I've ever met taught me how to think because he's not an academic and I'll never be able to thank him enough - but this goes back to old conversations about experts and outsiders.

And, well hell, I can't remember now. So just one addendum.

drwatson said...

I remembered the second thing - I like that you reference Kant. I always found reading him like cleaning my apartment. Everything is just in order and beautiful. It's not hard to read Kant - people always say that - it's slow to read Kant, but it's so wonderfully step-by-step.

I wrote a sort of response to all this on my blog. Maybe that says something about thinking - the birth of thought - the community it takes to really think - the back and forth and so on.

Pierre said...

there is a separation, suddenly, the idea gives a point of vue, a perspective to see the world, in the same way the perspective in renaissance made a distance between the painting and the one seeing it.

and there is a reintegration. Once you you have your idea, you are overwhelmed, refeeling the world.

nothing to say that the the time of autonomy, the short event is as long as 2 or 3 seconds.

It may be frightening to think that the autonomy we may hope lasts only those 2 or three seconds. reality is not always a piece of fun, having to deal with a so limited time of separation is terrible.

drwatson said...

I wonder if there' a distinction between a thought and an idea. I mean off the cuff the former sounds better. I don't like ideology - it's a trap - but the sensitive thinker is never an ideologue. Just a thought.

Daniel Coffeen said...

On the road, ergo my delayed replies....writing from the road....

@TV: Sign me up for chicken duty. And, yes, all over the place: just where I like to be. Sometimes. Trying to be less coherent.

@ Dr:Awakening is a great word, for sure. And Kant: I love how surreal it is within the order. There's a madness to rationalism. And, yes, there's a definitely a difference between a thought, an idea, a concept, a notion, etc. I want to say: an idea is a general abstraction such as love. A concept is a particular enunciation such as courtly love. A thought is...a virtual gesture of any sort. Whatever the fuck that means.

@ Pierre:Beautiful....an idea is always a point of view. And, yes, like you say: a view, a seeing. As palpable and fleeting as all sight.