What contributes to a sense of place? With sensory inputs, personal attachments, and associated knowledge, ‘space’ is converted into ‘place’. A process:
- Spacial perspective and objective familiarity.
- The phenomenon of a well-known place seeming smaller.
- Sub-conscious cues of the navigation and spacial recognition centers of the brain.
- Emotional mindset’s influence on perspective.
- Senses colored by emotion.
- Prior knowledge influencing engagement.
- Prior to experience, information learned from other sources about the place or from one’s own engagement in the past with other places (by basis of pre-comparison, the grounding of one’s experience in the world as a series of experiences in space).
- Associations, a priori (2 and 3), and a posteriori (direct, current learned experience) shaping the idea and thus the engagements with a certain site, in senses both abstract and tangibly historical, and its object inhabitants. That is, both the learned and affectively influenced associations coming into engagement and resulting from engagement.
- Evaluations, formed a posteriori but perhaps influencing future a priori senses of place. The evaluations also feed current or future emotional colorations of 2, and thus there can be a feedback loops between emotion and the senses, with sensory input from the place then influencing the emotion, and so forth. Associations, ideal as related to prior knowledge or current evaluation of function, and concrete as relating to aforementioned sensory inputs from the place, then feed into 4, which in turns informs the evaluations of 5.
Stages of Acclimatization
When I find myself in a new place, it’s as if I’m returning to the world of my childhood. My surroundings are unfamiliar, and as a result the place seems large, incomprehensible, even if it’s, relatively speaking, small and accessible. Through some modes of experience, especially direct and hands-on, an intimacy is bridged as figure and ground merge, and associations, both visceral/abstract and tangibly historical memories memories embed themselves in the sense of a place, and quite possibly of my sense of future places and how I interact with and conceptualize places in general. Such associations give a place life, in the sense that we create our own.
There’s something sad about this process of familiarization with environs, just as with the evaporation of childhood, when familiarity takes root and the mystique, innocence, curiosity, fixations on the unknown, the ‘other’ are assimilated into the structure of comprehension as an understanding is steadily forged. Such is the reason I’m drawn to travel and engagement, new faces and landscapes.
On the other hand, familiarization can also lead to a deeper engagement. Just as intimacy can change our minds about people we encounter, so can the forces play on our relationship with a place. In retrospect, a force curving back in via reflections upon our present perception of a place, memories color our perspective.
Travel is so exciting because so long as you keep moving and lay down shallow roots if any you have the perpetual state of excitement brimming at the surface (so long as basic necessities for survival are met and thus don’t detract from the view), and don’t fall prey to the deeper layers. Engagement more deeply does lead to more lasting, long-term relationships like friendship and work but can be risky — failures or incompatibility can become the next progression. The first stage of acclimatization is a brush with whatever apparent or superficial geography lies in a place — cultural and physical, especially the latter because it is more obvious. The nuances of the social realm are realized in stages depending on comfort, integration, awareness, and the obvious of the traits observed. In turn, the knowledge adds to the sense of place as memories, and even prior knowledge and emotional states, color one’s perspective in a loop of continuous feedback.
The Traveler’s Addiction: An Excess or Deficiency of Internal Spirit?
I can’t tell if my need for adventure stems from a deficiency of life within me, some faulty element of psychological self-reliance, or a heightened ability to appreciate an excess of spirit. Do I lack an inner source of satisfaction? Knowledge of the means to realize it? Or is such a concept the result of solipsistic wishful thinking, for where would human progress stem from without new experiences and collaboration? What would a world of people who stuck only to what they knew — if that — and stayed wrapped up int heir own selfhood, shielded from intrigue but he mighty guise of complacency? Could there be any “progress”?
A certain type of person, for whatever reason of will, upbringing, or neurochemistry, is inclined toward the life of the voluntary wanderer. They seek to imbibe in the constant excitement of travel and novel experience, or perhaps seemingly novel experience, merely detached from context. Adventure, freedom are among their central values. They flee deep ties and commitment and static, entrenched perspectives. They dote upon ephemerality, seeing the withering of a time limit as inversely increasing the value of the experience; on the other hand, limits are also observed with a weary eye and shunned in an embrace of the excitement of not knowing when a trip is set (if anything is ever truly set, fixed, configured, as if by the force of our will and belief to mold circumstances) to end. They also praise fleeting scopes.
Bubbles and Familiarity
The bubble is the counterpoint to unchecked wanderlust, its thorough opposite.
The ‘bubble’ brings from its roots in familiarity negative aspects as well: a limitation of perspective, most immediately geographical, warped by human senses to enclose all things relating to one’s knowledge of immediate space and time (worlds presented through media like TV or stories being excluded), and, by association, sociocultural. Of the bubble’s influence on affect one is forced to question (at the very least) or challenge (for those daring souls) the lure of complacency, of maintaining a static perspective tied to the comfort of a home. Such a familiar setting can be recreated almost regardless of place: think ex-pat groups who create bubbles within lands foreign from their origins, colonizers with a closed cultural circuit.
The more ‘essential’ attachments one holds (family, work, memory, romance), the more fundamental an incorruptible series of roots holding one to a place must be, assuming one isn’t part of a nomadic society in which ‘home’ has no definite place, instead changing with the seasons or necessities. The overwhelmingness of novelty, or spectacle, of which novelty is an intrinsic part, can cause a forgetting of self. Comfort is the enemy of intrigue and excitement; conversely, immense discomfort paints life overwhelmingly with the struggle of survival, also distracting from the view.