Thoughts on Texture

My parents gave me marbles as a gift last night. They gave me 3 good sized ones I can rotate in my hand together which was pretty fun so I've spent some time paying attention to them. I've discovered a few interesting things about them: the difference in finger motion for 2 and 3 balls, how you need to warp your hand for clockwise vs anticlockwise motion each hand, the 3D rotation of each ball in addition to their combined movement across the "plane" of my palm. But most gripping is the imperfections on their surfaces. Placing one on your ear and spinning another one next to it is a fascinating noise, like the ocean.

The world is moving towards abstraction and Platonic smoothness, warm and easy moving consistency, like warm honey. The photographs are filtered and airbrushed to approach the same round ideal. The way people speak is blended and blanched across the web and leaks into the real world. The merchandise is obtained through the one company; so many different kinds of purchasable good, bought and packaged and delivered in just the same way. The videos all blend in with each other and turn in the same direction like a school of fish because they are all on the same platform, and instead of becoming art and talks and conversations, are "content" to "consume". A warm runny liquid ready to be poured down the gullet. The food is the same too, there are less meals and more foods, foods of the same classes, so often blended into one colourless cocktail of the same 5 flavours and the single round texture. The same, every time. And if not one, then one of just a few options.

The world is increasingly classes and not things. Classes are powerful and humans have always liked hierarchies. Knowing something is a lion is orders of magnitude more important than knowing which lion it is. Not thinking so hard is very valuable, a lesson for a world that prides itself on deconstructing heuristics (sometimes normatively derided as biases). But we can observe more for a reason. There is an optimal amount of detail that is unique to every moment and goal and thing. The problem is when there is a time to think, and someone else has conveniently done the thinking for you.

Consider politics. The shepherding of civilisations is among the most complex tasks humans have engaged in, and with the rise of the globalisation, with the information age and modern finance, it is arguably more complex now that it has ever been before. So why is political discussion so singularly one-dimensional? Today it just seems like there are only left and not left, and right and not right. Disregarding even any opinion we may have on bureaucracy, the voting public produces and is fed caricatures.

It's not just politics that has become like this. It's as though the whole connected world is turning into networks of beings processing billions of slices of reality just to spit out a binary OVER THRESHOLD and UNDER THRESHOLD. Neural black boxes with the goal of smoothing the surface of every edge and curve and contour to squeeze out a binary result or a single number. Nobody has collections of experiences to consider and make argument and art from, just a matrix of value that cause them to fall on one side of an identity or another - and that becomes "them". Not the whole swirling thing, but discrete categories plucked out of the air and compared like business cards.

Relish in texture. Marcus Aurelius had a good turn of word for its value - "When bread is baked the loaf splits open here and there, and those very cracks, in one way a failure of the baker's profession, are beautiful in a manner". It seems generally that the ancients tended to notice and appreciate more subtleties in the things around them, perhaps simply because they spent more time looking at them.

I don't know how much this affects other areas of thought, but it seems to follow that if one considers complexity and texture in what is around them that they are more able to elsewhere. That is not that they will (there are plenty of studies on the studious that show that even brilliants have the striking ability to be utterly incompetent in other areas of life, unlike the rest of us who are usually just incompetent) but that they are more able to. It is a meditative exercise, to employ when there is time. Not taking the time to ponder is also important, but you can have both, rather than one or the other. The only people that really bother me are the ones that still claim to be engaging in nuanced thought, that they should be taken seriously, whilst almost exclusively letting others think and have thought for them.

I was unexcited by my marbles because marbles are "a round piece of glass". I didn't even see them as particularly pretty; a polished navy blue surface with streaks of mustard yellow. But multiple marbles interact in interesting and ways, and the contours and ridges on the surface where the colours meet and curl around each other, like the surface of a face, or a beautiful blue planet, is really wonderful. The way the glass has mixed is totally unique to the marbles I have, too. The colours are similar on other balls, but the continents and atmospheric swirls and uneven sound they make when they roll across one another is utterly unique. There isn't a blank, unblemished Platonic marble capable of capturing any part of a marble that makes it worth having. Such a perspective only helps us identify marbles as marbles. But I could identify marbles without help, because I can look at a marble and say, "that's a marble". With a culture and a counter-culture both peddling elaborate theories of marbles, I wonder how many people just want to be told its a damn marble and that marbles can be cool too if you want to sit and look at them - anyone can do it, it's just a marble, you don't need to be a marble expert and you can have your own opinion on marbles and no one will really mind because it's a marble. What the hell is going on. Has everyone lost their marbles?