As we discussed before, the immediacy of that comforting experience is something of an illusion. Everything you sense in the course of an average day seems to register immediately, but it actually needs to cross considerable physical distance for it to even reach your brain. The sight of an open parking space has to make it from “over there” to your eyes and then get passed along your ocular nerves to your brain so you can make sense of it and make the right move. The feeling of sucking dampness around your shoes has to travel the lengths of nerves from your feet to your spinal cord and brain. The taste of soda water, sandwiches, and cake has to make its way from your tongue to the inside of your skull. It’s a relatively short trip, but it’s a trip nonetheless.
And when sensory data gets to your brain, it still needs to leap an enormous number of gaps between axons and dendrites to be taken in and decoded. That happens not once, not twice, but many, many times during even the simplest of experiences. Once all that data is sorted within your brain, your body and your mind need to figure out what it means and what to do about it. Finally, additional signals need to make the return trip down the spinal cord, across your synaptic-cleft-riddled neural connections, and back to the muscles and tissues closest to the origin of the sensory data, in order to react. All these steps involve separations of matter, time, and comprehension, which you can never completely escape.
Whether you’re walking across a wet field and realizing that your feet are wet and making squishing sounds, or you’re coasting through a parking lot obstacle course of hurried, distracted pedestrians, everything going on around you isn’t ever going to register instantaneously. It may seem immediate, but all sensation process takes time to cross the inches (or feet) to reach a place where your neurons can make sense of it. Even if it’s a split-second lag (that you never notice), there’s still time involved. Our central nervous system is a bit like Bruce Lee. He moved so fast in his movies, they had to slow down the frame rate of the film (twice) so people could actually see what he was doing. If they didn’t slow things down, he was just a blur, and all the visual information about his prowess was lost. He was so fast, other people didn’t even have time to react to his moves.
The fact that most (if not all) of us believe we can have direct contact with our immediate world is testament to the human system’s amazing capacity to process information at high speeds and let us feel like we’re a part of it all. But in the most intimate sense – from the synaptic level, to our distinct internal organs, to our individual external limbs – we are in fact separated by significant distance from everything and everyone. It might seem a bit… alienating… but think about it. If we didn’t have an element of separateness within us, we would be glommed together in a useless blob, incapable of movement, even life. Our internal organs each have different functions, different properties. They need to be separate from each other to work at all.