Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Fakie Effect


Returning readers of this site may remember a few weeks back when I tried to explain the difference between fakie and switch riding on a skateboard. To recap, fakie means riding backwards and doing one's tricks in reverse, while switch denotes riding backwards, but doing tricks as if you were going forwards. Because skateboard decks these days have a kicktail at both ends, switch riding is more easily facilitated than in the bad old days when you had to actually turn the board around 180 degrees beneath your feet to do proper switch moves. Back then, fakie was the lazy man's switch, while today it is just seen as a little odd.

Another odd thing is what happened to me the last time I was out skating. I was rolling along fakie, attempting some half-cab flips, when all of a sudden, instead of seeing myself as rolling backwards, my brain did a sort of flip in my head, and I saw myself as rolling forwards. To any non-skaters, imagine driving backwards in a car, but getting so attuned to the nuances of steering in reverse that reverse becomes as comfortable as going forward. Instead of saying you were "backing up", you could then say you were "backing front", which is a paradox but somehow expresses the motion.

There must be a part of our mind that deals with our sense of spatial orientation and the metaphors we use to express it. Belonging to this faculty are all categories like up-down, north-south, left-right, forward-backward, and--for skaters--switch and fakie. We are so conditioned by habit, however, that we only become aware of this mental faculty when it becomes confused or suspended. Have you ever come out of a subway exit onto a familiar street, but been momentarily disoriented so as not to know which direction you were facing? Or have you ever rearranged the furniture in your bedroom, then waken up in the middle of the night and been unable to visualize which way the walls were situated around you? A momentary suspension of spatial perception of this sort throws consciousness back upon itself, and makes us suddenly aware of the abstract map and compass we carry around in our minds to help us navigate the world.

Perhaps it was a suspension experience of this sort that first got Einstein pondering the questions that led to his theory of relativity of time and space. Some two hundred thirty-nine years before Einstein's theory challenged our notions of physics, the philosopher Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason put forth a similar idea in abstract philosophical form. Time and space, he argued, are not an objective part of the external world, but are rather the subjective preconditions to any sort of experience of the world. To use a computer metaphor, the sense of space and time is part of our software, the platform that determines what appearance the data takes on the screen, but it shouldn't be confused with the data itself.

The other day at the skatepark I had a first hand experience of the relativity/subjectivity of space. After about three years of fakie skateboard riding, backwards suddenly became forwards, and it made a world of difference for the trick I was attempting. It might sound odd or silly, but the trick I was working on became easier when the ground moving towards me was suddenly in front of my frontwards toe, rather than behind my backwards facing one. Now, however, I have the problem of having two front toes (a bit like having two left feet in dancing), or a back toe which is simultaneously a front one. The relativizing of space is an experience against which ordinary language falters. It's like an extra dimension being added to the three or four in which one normally has one's being. I would like to dub this particular skateboard experience, "The Fakie Effect".

The Fakie Effect is not a new thing. The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said "The road up and down is one and the same". The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas reports Jesus as saying that one cannot enter the Kingdom until one "makes the inside like the outside...the upper like the lower"--could we also add, "the fakie like the switch" to this list? This would make the Kingdom something achievable only by retrograde or backwards motion. Moonwalking into Heaven? And speaking of the Kingdom, why should we stop at space? I'm starting to wonder if the Fakie Effect might also be applied to one's experience of time.

Time, like skateboarding, has to do with flowing in a certain direction. In fakie riding, one reverses the flow enough times that one becomes like a mythical river, coursing in both directions with equal ease. What if our experience of time as a past moving through the present towards the future is also largely a trick caused by the conditioning of our minds? Perhaps with a little practice we could break through the haze of habit and experience time in both directions. The French author Marcel Proust seems to have come an experience of this sort, and Kurt Vonnegut has his autobiographically inspired protagonist in Slaughterhous Five come "unstuck in time" after an encounter with a race of five-dimensional aliens, the Tralfamadorians. Such an experience would certainly require a bending of the way in which language is traditionally used to describe temporal qualities-- and language itself is one of the conditioning agents binding us to our traditional experiences of time. Maybe it is/was high/low time/non-time for a revolution in our use of temporal language. I will have to have been letting you know if I was coming up with any old/new ideas. Let me get back to the future to you on it.

If any of the ideas expressed in the preceding blog confound, confuse or constipate you, perhaps it is, was or will have been time again to Ask Dr. Flavour.


official definition said...

The Fakie Effect: The moment of reversal of spatial perception when a skateboarder, riding fakie, suddenly feels that he is going forwards, and the ensuing realization of relativity, leading to an at least temporary liberation from the illusions of space and time.

loveandsalt said...

I think this is wonderful. I can't believe you have put all this together with skateboarding so seamlessly. These are the same ideas I'm struggling, happily, not just to articulate but to understand in the book I'm working on. My subject is nature, yours is skateboarding. I think yours is more interesting and surprising. A way to stay utterly awake in the world.

flatlander said...

Thank you for the compliment! But I'm sure that your book will be fantastic. It's like my friend Em said, "Focus on anything long enough and it becomes a metaphor for life." Not that I've ever been able to get through Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintainance, but it's the same principle...

Butler said...

Hi Blogger, when I was looking for stuff on street skateboarding this site came up, so I guess that you must be interested, or have commented on it at some point in the past! Anyway, if you do like street skateboarding check it out. There is a blog there too, to repay the favour!