Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Yosemite Double Rainbow Guy: A Critique

Remember this guy?



It's important to emphasize that I'm not making fun of this guy. I am all for people reveling in the wonder and mystery of this universe, or at least the tiny corner of it we're lucky enough to be able to survive in and comprehend. Most of us could certainly use bigger helpings of exultation-in-the-wonder-of-existence-itself, and Double Rainbow Man certainly seems to be doing that. Good for him! (I mean that!)

But there was always something that bugged me about his reaction: it's the repeated "what does it mean?!?"'s toward the end. (I realize I'm picking apart someone's momentary hyperbole, but stay with me.) My reaction isn't a judgmental one. It's more of a puzzlement or even a sadness - that his direct sensory experience was diluted by a need to find significance in nature. The universe isn't a word or a tool. It has no purpose or semantic meaning. It just is. Insisting on meaning where there can be none can only confuse and pollute things.

Granted, it's maybe a little scary to imagine an even more unadulterated joy from Double Rainbow Man; the guy seems pretty intense already. Maybe what motivated me to post this is that there is a certain reaction provoked any time we express appreciation for some deeper structure in a part of nature that's amazing even on its face - "Wow, up here in the mountains you can make out the gas clouds blocking the Milky Way's disk! Wow, at mile 20 of a marathon the enkephalins really do noticeably kick in, and now that I'm across the finish line my nucleus accumbens is getting slammed with dopamine!" Invariably some wiseguy/gal steps in: "Can't you just appreciate it it for what it is? Why do you have to complicate it?" (It helps if you read that in a nasal, whiny manner.)

Apparently these people didn't get the memo: direct sensory appreciation of a thing is only enhanced by understanding it. Do they mean to tell us that if you explain to them the chemistry of the homebrew they're drinking, that it somehow becomes less enjoyable? Or understanding the mechanics of a pitcher's throw detracts from their appreciation of a game? Really? Seriously? The underlying principles, again, just are. So to Yosemite Double Rainbow Guy I respectfully submit: sir, you're doing it wrong. You could be even more amazed by the world and enjoy rainbows more by realizing they can't mean anything.

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