Blog Post

Tangentials

 

Hello. The following composition was inspired by the construction of a syllabus for a Feminist Theory course in an M.A.T. program in English Education. While I make no mention of Feminism in the composition, I invite you to reach for and peer through the nearest feminist lense that you might glean from the ideas some sense of how tangentials might easily represent those thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, etc. that have long been ignored, oppressed, attacked, or repressed in arenas historically dominated by the patriarchy. I have chosen to offer this composition free of the feminist lense because I feel that mine is very much fitted to my own eyes, and therefore might in some way disagree with yours. Being disagreeable is no longer of interest to me. Rather, I offer this composition to you as a sort of dartboard at which you might hurl each and every sharp retort, whether it lands or not. Remember, nobody has an opinion more important or valid than your own, especially not me. Additionally, should you choose to consider this composition as something dramatically different than a dartboard, I both agree with and support whatever it is you decide to imagine it as, even if you choose to imagine it as non-existent. Now, if the mere suggestion that you needed my permission to consider the composition as you will, naturally, of your own accord, is offensive, triggering, upsetting, and/or disagreeable in any way, I sincerely apologize. With that, I hope you feel whatever you feel during and after reading the following composition, and that those feelings - or lack of - affect you or not in the ways which you most want to be affected or not. However, should you abandon the composition before reaching the end, I most certainly agree with your decision, regardless of what motivated it. Again, I recognize that my approval is unnecessary and perhaps even somewhat extended to you without invitation. I apologi……………...

 

Tangentials, in an abstract sense, are the things that occur to us without conscious effort, and that in some way are connected to what occurs in the moments during which they arrive. Tangentials, in an increasingly abstract sense, are the things that may or may not be consciously cognized, but which are likely connected to every past moment and therefore the moment during which they arrive and have previously arrived. They are in a perpetual state of perpetuity. Tangentials are essentially associations. They are information that has been concretized sufficiently enough to enter our conscious awareness in some profound sense, and thus, in such a way, they become somehow related to the information in the present that stimulated and activated those nebulous centers of association. Therefore, for the purpose of this conversation, tangentials and associations can be thought of as conceptually interchangable; both terms suggesting, to me, abstractions available for recognition and translation into something concrete, or able to be understood and/or connected with other information. Additionally, tangentials and associations will encompass all functions associated with perception, sensation, behavior, etc. which, if even mildly explored or alluded to here, would require much more extensive and lengthy discussions.

  I believe we tend to generally dismiss tangentials as fruitless distractions instead of the potentially connective strands that stretch across time and space, each strand its own realm of information often worthy of exploration, linking our uniquely personal histories of thoughts, ideas, and emotions. Instead, we promote and reward the most carefully composed, scientifically approached products of intellect. I believe this approach creates an internal schism that creates a hierarchy of information processing and valuing.

    It was Aristotle who first formally proposed that there are three laws of association at work in the mind when an image or thought arises: The law of similarity, the law of contrast, and the law of contiguity. Each law suggests that the mind will produce additional, successive images and thoughts that relate to the original image or thought in some way. However, it is the law of contiguity that I find most compelling. Aristotle claimed that the recall of any image or thought would immediately elicit the recall of images and thoughts that were originally attached to the experience in which those images and thoughts were first perceived. This means that what we think now, all of the associations we make regardless of our consciousness of the process, are somehow linked, however cryptically, first to the original thought, and then to each subsequent thought. The very first perception of a sound, an image, a physical sensation is with us still, in ways we may not accurately remember, but yet which somehow we experience again and again through memories, movements, utterances, and expressions supposedly under our conscious control. In this space, Tangentials - as a concept - operate as reminders that any attempts we make to ensnare and then control expressions will likely be futile, as our brain works in advance of our conscious awareness of our responses. (This has been extensively researched and tested using a variety of brain scanning devices. Check out Sam Harris’ youtube lectures on free will or a recent publication by Steven Frankland at Harvard if you’re interested.)

 

Just consider the word “Trump”. Do not make any effort to think of what the word represents, or what it relates to in any way. Just let the word float in your head. Were you able to let the word simply be there without any associations rising up?

 

    This simple word association illustrates the brain’s ability to defy our command, and to make associations using all three of those laws proposed by Aristotle back in 350 BCE.  What happened during that exercise is an activity repeated daily, subconsciously, during which we tend to consider those seemingly random associations that arise as either anecdotal or simply distracting chatter in our heads. We fail to recognize the potential connections being made because we don’t seem to be initiating them of our own free will. However, this is the space in which Tangentials become the early stars seen through the heavy fuzz of cosmik debris. Tangentials are of the stuff that matters if we let it. The stuff that we ignore if we let ourselves ignore it. The stuff that is as unconsciously significant as the stuff we consciously make significant. This is the stuff that whispers, lingers, floats, screams, and pushes within us all. I believe that this is the swirling soup of everything we have ever experienced. Often it seems like a chaotic, nebulous realm without any sense of order of structure. It seems like Borges’ library. One might reach for something recognizable only to discover upon further inspection that the things in their hands eludes their momentary understanding of it. However, I believe this to be a common experience due primarily to our avoidance of incorporating tangentials into conscious awareness and discussion. We tend to not value the stuff that lies below the surface until it arises without our intent.  David Hume, in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding wrote:

“And even in our wildest and most wandering reveries, nay in our very dreams, we shall find, if we reflect, that the imagination ran not altogether at adventures, but that there was still a connexion upheld among the different ideas, which succeeded each other. Were the loosest and freest conversation to be transcribed, there would immediately be observed something which connected it in all its transitions. Or where this is wanting, the person who broke the thread of discourse might still inform you, that there had secretly revolved in his mind a succession of thought, which had gradually led him from the subject of conversation.

...even where we cannot suspect the least connexion or communication, it is found, that the words, expressive of ideas, the most compounded, do yet nearly correspond to each other: a certain proof that the simple ideas, comprehended in the compound ones, were bound together by some universal principle, which had an equal influence on all mankind.”

In this vein, and in celebration of this sense of a universal, of an equal influence on us all, and in the spirit of intellectual, emotional, sensory exploration in the classroom, I propose that an active pursuit of and expression of tangentials through individual and group activities will not only encourage students to enagage in critical thinking, but will cultivate a lifelong relationship with metacognitive awareness and activity. Such metacognitive pursuits can be easily integrated with any assignment or activity in the classroom by simply focusing student attention on the process of the experience related to the content and all tangentials related to that experience. Students will learn to be more aware of those tangentials that seem to spontaneously arrive in their conscious attention, and to distinguishing between the variety of stimuli that affect their perception and cognition. Students will keep journals meant only for tangentials, jotting down anything that feels connected to the formal assignments, activities, exercises, and pursuits presented by the teacher. Each journal will function as an amorphous atlas, or perhaps a Library of Babel in some sense, simultaneously a siphon and reservoir. Students will be encouraged to think of themselves as rabbit-holes, ever-changing, ever-evolving, always dynamic, and infinitely capable. At each point in the time and space of learning, of acquiring and generating ideas and knowledge, of conscious attention toward a task, students will actively incorporate, if even within their own minds, the tangentials of their yesterdays into the form and formlessness of the immediate activity. Or, perhaps on occasion students will explore those tangentials either in conjunction with a text in order to experiment with the ways interpretation is inconsistent across individuals, or simply on their own to allow for the opportunuity to playfully explore the abstract realm of a self - a debatable notion - in constant flux. Just now, tangentials nearly interrupted this thread of thought with enough momentum to redirect the conversation to the idea of self, and caused my mind to immediately produce images at a near frenzied pace. Behold, the power of tangentials.

 

 

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