Saturday, October 29, 2011

In Defense of Daydreaming

The title of this blog, The Peripatetic, is a word not normally found in common usage. (To this day, I can never remember exactly which vowel comes after that second "P" - Peripaaaaahtetic.) That's part of the reason why I love it as a title and a word unto itself. And, I don't mean that in a "I'm smarter than you because I know more words" kind of way -- I am and I do, but that's not the point. No, I love this obscure word because the meaning is not cemented in everyday usage; it is still broad enough to hold many meanings, and there is a use in that breadth.

A fact that even an amateur linguist knows is that language is a descriptive exercise, not a perscriptive one. That is, if we all woke up one morning and decided to start calling coffee "tea" instead, that wouldn't be "wrong" in any sense of the word. Granted, the dictionaries in our bookshelves wouldn't match our spoken language, but words are what we make them. Contemplating the old, rarely-used word in my blog title is an activity that yields fun results. Depending on what's happening in my life at any given moment, the word has a different meaning for me. If you look up "peripatetic" in the dictionary, you'll see that it refers to wandering about or walking, and when I first changed the title from "The Unbidden Pen" to "The Peripatetic", that was similar to the meaning I had in mind, being the type of person who tends to travel a lot. (In my adult life, I've yet to live 13 months in the same location.) The word is a direct reference to Aristotle's Peripatetic school, and the style of teaching he employed, which supposedly was to walk and talk. Because of this, I began to think a little bit differently about being a "peripatetic". If Aristotle was teaching while traveling, that must mean his students were learning through travel, throughout travel. And furthermore, what does that word "travel" mean, anyway? Not to get overly metaphysical here, but when we study science, aren't we "traveling" through this world, discovering its secrets? (These latest meanings can be reflected in the most recent blog posts, which have a decisively different tone and goal than my earliest writings.) Lately, however, I've stumbled across another meaning that fits.

The story goes that the great mathematician and cool dude Archimedes was approached by a king with a metal problem. You see, the king had recently asked a blacksmith to create a crown of pure gold for him, supplying the gold for said venture himself. The blacksmith made the crown, which was definitely a gold color, and presented it to the king. Exercising a curious degree of prudence for a man who wears custom-made gold hats, the king then wished to know if the crown was indeed pure gold, or if the blacksmith had snatched some of the king's gold for himself and replaced it with a lesser metal, like adamantium. He approached Archimedes with the aforementioned metal problem.

The problem lied in the king's stupid head, which was not a perfect rectangle or square, but instead a goddamned spheroid. See, if you have a block of metal, you can measure the volume, and then weigh it. If it weighs like gold should, well then congratulations, you're a Greek scholar and you got gold. If not, well then somebody better get to executing that blacksmith. But the crown, being a crown, was not a square or a rectangle, and the goofy shape of it made it hard to determine the volume, so nobody had any idea what it should weigh.

In my head, Archimedes is approached with this problem and promptly stumped by it, for days, at least. Maybe that's the way it was told to me, maybe I just like the story better that way, maybe it's because the problem can only be thought its way out of itself. Regardless, Archimedes is trumped by what seems to be a pretty simple problem: How big is this thing that I'm holding in my hands? Dejected, tired, and beaten by a stupid yellow hat, Archimedes shuts his brain off for a while, and draws a bath. His mind goes peripatetic.

While sitting down in his bath, Archie notices that the water rises upon contact with his wrinkly old ass and grandpa balls, and he suddenly realizes that the volume of water that has just risen is equal to the volume of his disgusting body dipped in the tub. According to legend, he jumped out of the tub and ran naked through the streets yelling, "Eureka!" Greek for "I found it!" (The historical scholars I've talked to about this inform me that there is no evidence of Archimedes first using the bathtub water to measure the volume of his genitals, but I remain convinced of his fact.) The crown was then measured in terms of displaced water. The volume discovered, the crown could now be accurately weighed, and it was found to contain traces of silver.

And that's the power of daydreaming. One of the smartest human beings alive, while setting his mind to something, couldn't handle this relatively simple problem, but yet when his mind starts wandering, great things happen. I have this weird habit of taking time out in my day just to think. Sometimes I attempt to cover it up with other stuff (listening to music, taking the bus) or sometimes I'm pretty blatant (strange) about it, like when I pace in my apartment, or find myself staring out the window. (I don't have a lot of friends.)

I've had a lot of good thoughts during these times, and sadly, did not share them. And that's where my new, concurrent definition of "peripatetic" comes in: learning through the wandering mind. There is a certain elegance to working through one's own cognitive dissonance, and others can learn from that as well. Although I work hard to continue learning and strive to, at the very least, always be accurate in what I say, I think I carry far more weight as a daydreamer. I hope my mental wanderings converted into text can help nudge a few people into figuring things out for themselves. Thanks for reading.