Mass + Text

Question I return to
How do thoughts become things, and vice versa?
I’m curious about
How matter shapes - and is in turn shaped by - ideas
I want to
Help people realize that they have more agency to shape the world than they assume

“A chair, it’s like a sculpture. It starts as a thought, and then becomes an idea, something I might think about for years. When the time is right, I express it on paper, usually as a simple line in space. Finally, it takes shape.” — Charles Pollock (source)


I’m curious about how thoughts become physical things, and back again.

We commonly think of ideas as formless, but thoughts aren’t weightless. When ideas move through the world, they influence mass, and the ways in which we call out and respond to each other are deeply anchored within physical, often heavy things. We make meaning by spilling oceans of ink, crushing mountains of herbs and minerals into pigments, and by sliding slabs of quivering muscle against each other.

Even when we summon an idea from the depths of a glowing screen that idea is bound to this plane by physical objects. Language often exists within at least three dimensions.

Paul Ford articulates this well:

One day you are putting numbers into spreadsheet cells, and the next those numbers feed into budgets, and the budgets turn into requests to Human Resources, which turn into postings on Stack Overflow and requests to outsourcing placement firms in Estonia or Mumbai, and these turn into human beings doing things, sometimes in Offices, or at home, or in home offices. Just one number in a cell in Excel, plus human beings with checkbooks, and suddenly you’ve created an absence that must be filled. Houses are sold and bought. Kids have to move from their schools and attend new schools.

I am fascinated by the ability for thoughts to congeal into physical form in the way Ford describes, and then, inevitably, sublime back again into idea.

Everywhere mass intersects with text - when a finger strikes a keyboard, or an eye scans a painting - an idea finds its way into our world. I want to understand this liminal space between thought and thing, where concepts possess/impregnate corporeal form (quite literally, take shape).

I am intrigued by the idea that thoughts and physical mass aren’t different things, but possibly simply different states of the same type of matter.

Why do I care about this?

In The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit writes:

To become a maker is to make the world for others, not only the material world but the world of ideas that rules over the material world, the dreams we dream and inhabit together.

I love this idea, that the world as it is is not inevitable, but shaped, in a very real, physical way, by the limits of our imaginations.

Ideas → words → marks → mass → ideas.

I care about this, because if this is true - if communication can shape mass (if language is mass) - then it means that the stories we tell each other define the contours of what is possible. it means another world is possible, and we can dream it - and then build it - together.

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