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Precepts

June 4, 2015

The bicycle and the feet alike abide by their own percepts, a topic of frequent reflection these past weeks. For the ground communes with the body in altogether different manners in function of the mode of transport. When on foot, the body senses perhaps first the difference in texture between surfaces: grass is springy, pavement unforgiving, bare earth yielding, tree roots treacherous, gravel settling. Yet, from the bicycle, these surfaces take on a striking uniformity in that sensation of texture is lost and attention goes instead toward the evenness of the surface. Level gravel feels much like level earth, just as even earth feels like even pavement. Tree roots likewise disappear from perception if low enough to keep with the terrain. The same cannot be said of the feet.

The first hypothesis owes to the difference in material: metal and rubber do not communication sensation as does flesh and bone. A second, more thoroughgoing, hypothesis appeals to difference in motion: the circular movement of the tires registers difference in elevation and evenness rather than texture. Perhaps, in the interval between percepts, only material and movement are found. While the leg thrusts, plants and propels, the wheel turns ever on itself. Hence the difference between a walker and cyclist picking out a path among the pavement’s various hazards, for each will confront tree, sign, pole, telephone booth, drive, curb, gutter, hole in varying ways. For the walker, the challenge lies in threading together a series of body-sized gaps between obstacles, preferably in a straight line. The difference in elevation between these is of no matter as feet pump up and down, down and up regardless. For the cyclist, these gaps have still some role to play but take on merely secondary importance in that evenness is king. The difference between street and curb parries shallow angles, the earth-lined depression about trees resists attack, and transitions between bike path, bustling with walkers, and empty pavement, though lowered, frustrate maneuvers. And all of it makes itself felt in the seat.

Bicycle and feet show one other great difference as regards background, landscape, scenery. Neither takes these in as does the other. If the bicycle allows to see more of the countryside by permitting greater range of movement and speed, it comes at the price of seeing less. Landscape melts with increased movement, and individual percepts are less vivid and lasting than they might be otherwise. Forward motion runs contrary to sight. Inversely, if feet prohibit from seeing more of the countryside due to reduced range of movement and speed, it brings with it the boon of seeing more of the same or, perhaps even, better. Walking leads to strolling and in turn to lingering, and percepts impress themselves all the better with reduced momentum. In short, in seeing more, less is seen, and, in seeing less, more is seen.

Final thoughts center on whether precepts for perception follow from percepts or whether this all comes undone in the thoughts of the overthinker.

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