The Experience of Making Sense

There is certainly a kind of personal, affective, and somatic experience of having an idea. As the brilliant commenters have noted β€” we fidget, we are disoriented, we feel taken up, overwhelmed, the idea running through our blood and bones.

But I still wonder: What is the experience of having an idea? Not as much what happens to me when I think β€” although that, too β€” but what is happening when I have this idea?

One way to think about this thinking is to think about the experience of things making sense. I love this phrase, “making sense,” because we use it to mean we understand a given idea when the phrase suggests we just created the idea: we made the sense rather than recognized it.

Anyway, what is this experience? I can’t escape the architectural component: things β€” visible and invisible, historical and immediate, personal and societal, specific and general β€” seem to fit together in some scheme.

I want to say they fit like a puzzle but that’s not right. There are hierarchies and contingencies that a puzzle does not have; this is not a flat database of pieces but a grammatical database with all sorts of rules. When I have an idea that makes sense, I have organized bodies with a series of logics β€” the logics of cause and effect and of hierarchy, of course, but there are other logics, too: the logics of sensation, of the varying flows of liquids, gasses, the materiality of things, the structures of other ideas such as Leibniz’s monadology or Deleuze and Guattari’s planes of immanence. All these things order, organize, distribute bodies β€” including my own body.

All of this shows me that the logics that I find immanent are, in fact, cultural and historical. But my next thought is that these things are not opposed: immanence and history are one and the same (sometimes).

And then there is that affective, personal experience β€” the exhilaration, the disorientation, delirium, waves, a feeling of being at once in control and out of control: the idea is driving now!

Having an idea, then, (which is different than an idea) is an experience that takes place between me and the world, between me and history, between me and ghosts past and present and future (surely an idea extends into possible future worlds, if not into actual future worlds; in some sense, the idea makes the future as it makes sense).

So I come back to my question: What is the experience of having an idea? It is a participating in the world, lending my body to the flow of different logics, logics that are material and conceptual and historical β€” all of it working within architectures and speeds, within moving shapes and how they might go together.

And then β€” boom β€” the idea. We are overtaken. We are gloriously delirious. But what’s happened? Do I know understand the world? Does having an idea β€” does making sense of things β€” tame the chaos? Sure, to some degree. Having an idea is like being a very strange version of Moses β€” making laws of the land. But very private laws that nonetheless legislate everything. Yes, an idea is akin to a law.

But as we know the best ideas forge a certain vertigo, a delirium. A legislation, then, but one that wreaks a very special kind of havoc.

Is there a kind of achievement? Yes, there are great architectural feats of ideas β€” Kant’s three critiques, for instance, or Leibniz’s monadology, or D&G’s thousand plateaus.

After having had the idea β€” after creating this moving monument, writing this weird law β€” do I approach the world differently? Yes, I imagine so. And this is what makes ideas so strange: they change the way we see and they change the way we act. As we said, an idea is a kind of law.

Maybe an idea is akin to a design β€” the shadow of an event, the ghost that moves between visible and invisible worlds.

Or perhaps I was right at the beginning and an idea is an image, a refraction of a sort. It takes up the world and gives is not just something seen: an idea, like any great image, gives us a seeing. TC mark


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  • Michael Lynch

    Again I find myself more confused than inspired with your writing. For example, I’m not sure what you mean when you say ‘an idea is akin to a law.’

    I do however like your comment on the phrase ‘making sense.’ You’re correct in saying that we don’t recognize sense but rather we as rational humans create it. Without our perception (individually and collectively) the world is only non-sense.

    “What is the experience of having an idea? It is a participating in the world, lending my body to the flow of different logics…”

    Exactly. Although you say it with optimism (or so it reads that way to me), this is actually a very scary thought. It is essentially the argument of French structuralism (Saussure, Derrida etc.). In sum, we can’t escape the confines of this world – internally or externally – physically or metaphysically. Everything, in other words, is restricted by a set of structures (language, science, law, institution, ethics, etc.), or logics as you put it.

    • Craig Duncan

      Just FYI: Derrida was not a structuralist by any means. In fact, it was his criticisms of/reaction to structuralism that played an “essential”–to use a word that Derrida hates–role in the development of post-structuralism (or deconstruction). Cue the “The More You Know” NBC rainbow graphic.

      • Guest City


      • Michael Lynch

        I stand corrected. I haven’t studied much Derrida. I remember his writing being very hard to digest. Thanks for clearing that up.

  • Shwax

    I bet you had the idea for this article – or this article made sense to you – when you were high.

  • misskimball

    Again this made me think about things I wouldn’t have otherwise.Β 

    I think it’s like getting to the top of a mountain only to find that you’re at the bottom of a bigger mountain and your way down is now blocked but you don’t want to go back anyway. Or maybe video game levels or something

  • Corinne Schwarz

    … Are you being ironic?

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  • Guest City

    Hell yeah I thought that was Leibniz

  • Kieranjull

    Awww man im so stoned and that was Β fucking awesomely tripping hahaha

  • Chase


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