Every Head is a World
Every Head is a World
The principle of complementarity
Take a good look at the background video above. Which direction is the dancer spinning in? Does she turn to the left or to the right? Do all three versions of her turn the same direction?
Quantum mechanics explains that light behaves both as a wave and as a particle. It is both, it is either, depending on who is observing, and how it is observed. In the image at left, there are multiple ways to see this picture. In one view, two people are sitting in a brightly lit room, where one plays the guitar. In the other, the elbow that strums the guitar becomes the nose of an old man, staring at an old woman. Can you see them both at the same time? Will your eyes allow this? Or does the image shift back and forth between these two images? What does it mean to know that both seeings are real? What is it about our human perception that makes it so difficult for us to simultaneously hold different perspectives or interpretations? Why do we need to settle on one meaning?
Many times, when we are relating across difference, and difference can really be anyone who is not us, it is like this. We behold, validly, different worlds. The fact that we speak the same language tends to bolster the illusion that we exist in the same reality, but the Spanish phrase after which this practice is named, Cada cabeza es un mundo (every head is a world) reminds us that this is not so. We exist and perceive reality through the lens of our embodied experience, which is inextricably linked to our development, our trauma, our social location...everything that has contributed to making us who we are. Children born to mothers who have endured starvation come into the world at a physiological level knowing in their bodies that it is a place of scarcity. A study of children born in the Netherlands during World War II discerned that children's whose mothers had survived the starvation winter that preceded V-Day, while the babies were in utero, had a physiological baseline in starvation that informed their developmental trajectory through their lives, even though they had actually been born into a world where abundance was restored. In this life, I can only really know what it is like to be born into the body I was born into, which exists in a society that differentially allocates privileges across lines of race and gender. So in our interactions, there are moments when it is almost impossible to say what has really happened– is it two people sitting in a café? Or two old people staring at eachother? Yes.
What this means, in part, is that we may never agree on what happened. The question then becomes whether or not our relationship with this other person is what matters. And this is both a question of physiology and of connection. Because if they are the Other, with a capital O, if they stand outside my circle of compassion, then I am trained not care. I am trained to prioritize my own perspective, believe that it is right, that it is justified, and move on with my life. If, however, I really deeply recognize that there are no Others, and that my job is to be in reciprocal relationship, I have the opportunity and responsibility of recognizing that the other person's framework is valid, relative to them, and that if we are going to stay in relationship, I have to understand it and focus on the impacts. If we don't know what really happened, our only hope is to work to understand and heal the harms we have caused to one another.
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Teach me how
Humans have probably always been awed by the natural world.
More about this if we know it...
Video: Distill | Photography: Stein Egil Liland | Licensed from Pexels.com, used with permission.