Wednesday, June 23, 2010

up is good down is bad but they both need each other in the end

Being very interested in the way we talk about our lives and how that effects our perception of interacting with reality, the project sad hat | happy hat struck me as really interesting on an awesome metaphorical level as well as neat way to mess with our familiar ways of seeing.
The authors of this project have this to say about it: "...we have a tendency to look up when we are happy and down when we are sad. We want to bring emphasis on the ground and the sky, amplifying one’s mood. The “sad hat | happy hat” can be worn in two different ways, happy (looking up) or sad (looking down). The reflective surface inside multiplies the perception of either the sky or the ground."
Also emphasized is the fact that the individual wearing one hat is prone to injury; the second individual is necessary to help provide the additional perspective that will allow both individuals to successfully navigate their journey.
Not only do we tend to look down when we are sad or up when we are happy but our language also mirrors this tendency. The English language uses up as a direct correlation to happy, and the same with down in relation to sad. A formerly common phrase as obvious stating unhappiness would be to describe a person as "down in the dumps". In contrast if things are going well a indidvidual might respond that "things are looking up" from their previous lower position inferring that life/circumstances/etc are getting progressively better. (Tangentially wrapped up into this idea of up=happy is related to forward as good. Moving up and/or forward are closely tied in our discussion of technology, among other things.)
In biblical language the psalmist discusses "going down to Sheol" (Psalms or in Proverbs where the son is warned to chose wisdom because to choose otherwise one will find themselves in the company of those whose "steps go down to the pit." (Proverbs )
Down has been a traditionally bad direction i.e. Dante and his circles of Hell. Death is down. We bury our dead "six-feet under" and we "put our animals down" while the economy gets "flushed down the toilet.".
Living is traditional understand as an upwar movement. Kids "grow up", adult aged humans are referred to as "grown-ups". Often paradise/heaven/eternal life is considered to exist above us in a transcendent place that in order to access we ascend from our current location aka Jacob's Ladder, Babel or even
"When I die and they lay me to rest,
I'm gonna go to the place that's the best.
When they lay me down to die,
I'm going up to the spirit in the sky." (Norman Greenbaum

We say "don't look down" which invariably we do in direct defiance while calling out the warning "heads up" to pay attention to whatever is coming falling out of the sky. We call people who are constantly looking up optimists or those who are constantly looking down pessimists. (This view of language is not unique to me-definitively indebted to Lakoff and Johnson's work in More than Cool Reason and Metaphors We Live By.)
All this to say that there is a necessary dialectical relationship between these two terms and between the two hats. Each individual wearing his hat in this performance piece, if you will, could take off their respective hat and navigate perfectly well. however the exercise of only looking in one particular direction accomplishes two things.
1) Since what is familiar tends to be transparent, focusing on one direction for a set amount of time allows the viewer to marinate deeply in what has been not been focused on because of the necessity in having to deal with looking in both directions.
2) As cliched as this will sound, the formation of community by allowing one's perspective to be informed by the knowledge of the other. The nice thing about these hats is that they are so obviously blinding. You know that you can't see. Note that the inside of the hat is reflective so trying to look down/up, depending on your hat, reflects back your face rather than the desired direction forcing the viewer to rely upon the other [individual] to communicate directions.
It's a great physical example of our need for one another as well as demonstrating our dependence on metaphorical language to perceive reality.
Besides being great epistemological tools they would probably be a great therapy tool, for families, for engaged couples, for anyone.

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