The relativity of bananas, part 3: Practical relations

So far I have discussed how even a relatively simple experience like “seeing a banana” emerges from complex dynamic networks of physical and social relations.

Have we arrived at a full experience of the banana? Not quite. Because experiencing a banana as a banana also involves acting towards the banana or, more precisely, interacting with the banana.

One can pick it up, turn it around, put it in places (the cupboard, your shoe, etc.). Mostly, one eats a banana. But sometimes one uses it to hold down papers on a windy desk, or tosses it at one’s cat, or exploits its physical properties in some other way.

One can do many things with a banana – but not everything. You might try to pour coffee into it, or use it to check your email, but you will probably fail.

Hello, operator?

All of the actual or potential, successful or unsuccessful, interactions with a banana , with bananas “in general”, also help to define the banana as a banana, and thereby to constitute your experience of a banana.¬† Even just looking at a banana counts as a kind of interaction.

So, in addition to physical relations and social relations, the experience of perceiving a banana emerges from a dynamic network of practical relations.

Very rarely do people just sit and contemplate bananas. When they do, this contemplation usually forms part of some established social practice, such as philosophy or Buddhism or what have you. More likely, you bought the banana because you wanted to eat it. And you could do this because others anticipated your desire and oriented their practices towards it.

Actor-network theorists like Bruno Latour and Michel Callon have pointed out that practical relations through which we acquire knowledge about objects also have effects on those objects. Bananas populate the world in the numbers they do because global corporations grow them in vast monoculture plantations, dispossessing local farmers, displacing the production of food eaten locally, and disrupting local ecosystems, to profit from the consumption habits of First-World grocery shoppers.

So, in practical terms, the banana exists partly because you are looking at it.

This does not mean that your mind created the banana and that, like Neo in the Matrix, you could change the physical world simply with your mind. It means that the physical existence of the banana emerged from a network of practical relations, of which your own relation to the banana forms a small but crucial part.

The banana does not exist objectively, separately from yourself. You and it exist in relation to each other, and to a great many other things.

This relatedness has many important consequences, among them this: that you can change the banana and, indeed, you can change the world. Not with your mind alone, but with actions. And not simply as you will, to make it however you like, but in ways that depend on the constraints imposed and the opportunities afforded by the physical, practical, and social relations through which all your perceptions and actions necessarily travel.

One thought on “The relativity of bananas, part 3: Practical relations

  1. Pingback: The relativity of bananas, part 4: Conclusion | The Practical Theorist

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