friday, january 13th, 2023.
I've had this concept rattling around in my noggin for a little while now. I'm not even exactly sure how to put it, but I've got this notion that there's a sort of one-dimensional scale for human experience, as seen in the graphic below.
On one side, there's the surreal. I'd describe this as what it feels like to be drunk, or in a sort of malaise or stupor in which you don't have a good grip on the present experience.
Immediately to the right of it, there's waking. You're kind of getting a grip on reality. You're taking in your physical sensations and the world around you, but are only slightly aware of the present experience.
Further to the right still, there's the real. You're fully conscious, you understand what is going on. You're actively participating in the present experience.
And on the far side, there's the hyperreal. Not only are you present in the moment, but there's a deep focus on what is actually happening and things are easily remembered in this particular moment.
This scale is something tangentially related to medical definitions of consciousness, but I'm using it in a sort of philosophical context.
examples on the scale.
For the sake of this writing, let's affix a 10 point scale to this gradient of experience.
We'll say 1 is surreal, 4 is waking, 7 is real, and 10 is hyperreal.
Where might some example lived experiences fall on this gradient?
I'd say that idly scrolling on social media for just a bit too long in a daze would be somewhere around a 3. You're slightly aware of your physical surroundings, but perhaps it would take someone calling your name loudly to dislodge your eyes from your screen of choice. If you're the sort that can hyperfocus on knowledge work like a programmer, maybe being in the flow state would fall here, too.
What of, say, swimming in a lake on a nice summer's day? Let's pin that at 7. Perhaps you're acutely aware of the relief you feel when the water cools you after you've been sunning. You feel the wind on your face and that you can see that same wind gently blowing the trees to and fro.
Perhaps shopping in the grocery store or your evening commuting home might be a 4. Maybe your shopping list is short today and you can gather your things on a sort of mental auto-pilot. You're able to exchange pleasantries with the cashier, but you'll forget what you've said by the time you've put the canned goods away back at home.
a liminal & liminoid detour.
Liminal spaces became an internet phenomenon a few years back and something about the concept spoke to me on a deep level. There's some ineffable quality that I can't quite put my thumb on, but a good number of the images associated with that aesthetic leave me with a sense that I've been there.
"Liminal" refers to transitory places or experiences, so a great many of the photographs that fit the "liminal space" aesthetic tend to be hallways, empty offices, places that you would walk through that have this quality about them.
There is a related word, "liminoid," that describes places or experiences outside of society. I personally interpret this to be experiences outside of the worn grooves of daily life. If your routine involves work, home, the places you go on errands, and the restaurants you frequent, liminoid spaces might be more akin to a third place. Or even further, a space that you're in once and never again.
For me, liminoid spaces can evoke huge feelings of nostalgia for moments come and gone. Here's a music video from one of my favorite bands, Larkin Poe, that gives me serious liminoid vibes:
The carpeted, one-step pulpit of a rural southern church. The back seat of an old Buick. These images stir something in me deeply, because I've been inside places like these. Rarely, but I have incredibly specific memories that come up when I see this music video.
For me, liminoid feelings can also arise from objects (e.g. a mid-century Formica tabletop) or occurrences (e.g. hearing the birds outside of the university computer lab at 4 a.m. while pulling an all-nighter).
back to hyperreality.
One of the things I like the most about these liminoid experiences is that they snap me immediately back to the present moment. It's a feeling almost like déjà vu, except that this is the original moment. I become keenly aware of the minutiae in front of me. These details, this out-of-band experience, is intensely memorable.
Harry Lorayne has a name for the concept of using awareness to lock memories: Original Awareness. He wrote about how the uniqueness of a thought makes it easier to remember things in his book, The Memory Book.
It is these liminoid experiences, the ones that are so atypical and unique, that constitute the far right end of the reality & experience scale I introduced at the beginning of this writing.
One such example of a liminoid hyperreality experience that I'll share: We were standing outside of the music venue Terminal West waiting for the doors to open on a cool spring evening. We were there to see All Them Witches play. Charles Park Jr., the band's singer, came and stood next to us as we leaned on the velvet rope 50 people away from the door. He bummed a cigarette from C. and we spoke of the drizzly weather and how excited we were to be there.
I remember this like it was yesterday, but this show was almost 4 years ago!
I suppose what I'm getting at is this: these liminoid moments, the ones that exist outside of normal day-to-day life, are the ones that feel realer than real. And I'm so thankful to get to experience them. They make me feel alive.
Thanks for indulging me as I waxed poetic about this phenomenon— if you've any liminoid or hyperreal moments you'd like to share, I'd love to hear them!
Until next time, be well! :)