Thoughtful Scribbles: Reflections from life in the capitals of the Roman Empire


They say that travel is one of the few things you can buy that makes you richer.

Sure you can buy stocks- if you buy them well they’ll make you ‘richer’, in the poor man’s sense.

A man wanting to sell me a cup of coffee for 7 lira in Istanbul told me, ‘You look rich’. I replied, ‘I am rich in the heart, but not in the wallet’.


You buy travel, a plane ticket, a boat ticket, or whatever means of transportation, by charging something on your debit or credit card, or taking a few wads of cash out of your wallet. Unless you travel by foot, or horseback, or bike, you aren’t necessarily buying travel directly, but rather you’re buying the supplies needed to travel, and thus ultimately buying travel…. Anyways you get the picture.

But how does travel make you richer? It’s dramatic metaphor time:

Every time you open your heart in a new place, when you open it to different people, people you never thought could have existed, to new ways of thinking, new ways of living- when you open your heart and allow such threads to be woven in, you create for yourself a more invaluable rug, double knotted, that only gets more valuable with time, and more travel.

This strange metaphor of ‘the rug’ is actually an extension of the ‘culture quilt’ metaphor that my mind synthesized earlier this month.

Before the metaphors come in, I redefine culture as such:

1) What is culture? Culture, like the air we breathe, simply exists as the collective thoughts that form a fabric in which we view and interact with our world. Culture exists at different levels, namely the personal level (one’s individually developed personal culture), or at differing group size levels that collectively share a culture. 2) What can one do with culture? Culture cannot be consumed nor produced, but only influenced or experienced at the different levels. Culture can therefore not be commoditised, and therefore should not be appropriated.

These definition points are elaborated upon using the cultural quilt metaphor in the paragraphs below (It’s a bit long so you can skip it unless you’re rather curious- or want to help me edit it!).

We will explore and flesh-out definition point number 1 which answers the question, ‘What is culture?’ in applying it to a number of examples to gain a firm understanding of the proposed definition of culture. Definition point one states that, culture ‘exists as the collective thoughts that form a fabric in which we view and interact with our world’. This said fabric of collective thoughts might take form in language, science, music, food, and any referable stimuli that forms the way in which we see our world. We must now take into account the different levels at which culture exists, ‘namely the personal level (one’s individually developed personal culture), or at differing group levels that collectively share a culture’. Tackling the concept of culture at the personal level, take to mind and accept the statement that no two human beings see the world in the exact same way at any given time given the unique stimuli each human may uniquely respond to at any given time. Two human beings however may respond to a broader collection of stimuli over time in a similar manner- and thus may create a culture at that level of two human beings. One such example of this may be the culture between two best friends, who together, share their unique quirks and inside jokes. Expanding this level to a group size of, let’s say, one billion human beings, we can say that, for example, a chopstick culture exists that is shared between these one billion human beings who all use chopsticks to pick up food during meals. It is important to note that within each level above the personal level, the personal level of culture still exists, as although all of the one billion humans form a chopstick culture through the notion of using chopsticks at meals, the particular ways by which the chopstick tool takes form, is used, and is viewed, differs according to small groups within the one billion, and small groups within them again, until we narrow down such particular ways of viewing chopsticks to the personal level, as one may attach memories and stigma to the chopstick tool according to one’s personal memories and experiences throughout one’s life.

A particularly useful metaphor to assist in understanding and fleshing out definition point number one of culture is that of a quilt. When the human foetus is inside the womb, the soon to be born, the assumed to be unconscious, human being is yet to receive squares of differing material to stitch together a quilt. As soon as the baby is born and gains consciousness, the human being’s receptors, whatever they may be-sight, sound, smell, touch, or only a combination of a few of these (perhaps if the baby is born blind)- begin to receive or ignore particular stimuli, or metaphoric squares of different fabric, from the human being’s surroundings. In receiving or ignoring these stimuli, the human being’s mind may then synthesize these stimuli in a unique quilt pattern, a quilt pattern than can change, that can be unstitched or re-stitched, or grow larger or smaller. This human being’s quilt pattern represents the personal level of culture at any given time. Two people’s quilt sharing the same square of fabric, or multiple squares of fabric, but stitched in a different pattern on a quilt of varying size, create a shared culture at the level of two people- represented by the same squares of fabric on the quilt that these two people share. This concept is extended to greater levels at which culture may be shared between greater numbers of people. Again, keeping in mind that regardless of the number of squares of fabric shared, each individual’s quilt is uniquely stitched together at any given time, emphasizing the constant existence of smaller levels below the stated group (greater than two people) level, and the personal level.

With this tool of the quilt metaphor, we will now explore and flesh out definition point number 2, ‘What can one do with culture? Culture cannot be consumed nor produced, but only influenced or experienced at the different levels. Culture can therefore not be commoditised’. The culture-quilt metaphor needs further explanation here given that in reality, physical quilts can be consumed or produced. Quite obviously, for the sake of this metaphor, we assume that the quilt is not a physical object that can be consumed nor produced, but rather, the quilt is a mental process that begins in the human brain as soon as the human being is able to receive and interpret stimuli from our world (our world being anything that defines our existence). This mental process of quilt making that takes place within the human brain is therefore an on-going process throughout the human brain’s functional life. This process of quilt making can therefore only be influenced or experienced. Influenced as the brain receives stimuli, or pieces of square fabric, and stitches these new squares into the quilt, or removes existing squares and replaces them or not. The human may share and explain his or her quilt, highlighting certain parts of the quilt through self-expression, producing stimuli for others to interpret and experience. For example, when artist Lady Gaga produces a new record album, she has produced stimuli expressing a section of her culture-quilt, or her quilt in its entirety as it stood at the point at which the record album was produced, for others to experience.

It is here that we must take particular notice of the key differences between experiencing culture, influencing culture, or being influenced by culture at all the different levels at which this definition assumes culture exists. When the stimuli of Lady Gaga’s songs on her new record album play on the radio, those humans listening to the songs may only interpret and experience the stimuli and metaphorically not transform their own culture-quilt. This is experiencing culture. On the other hand, if the songs influence the humans during the experience, then the human brain will experience and interpret the stimuli from the songs, and stitch and re-stitch the cultural-quilt at the personal level. This is being influenced by another culture (in this case, Lady Gaga is influencing other cultures in expressing a section or the entirety of her personal level culture-quilt as it existed at the time at which the songs were recorded). This is a way of explaining the meaning behind the phrase, ‘That song really changed me’. This process of influence may occur consciously or unconsciously. It is important to note that when culture is influenced in this way at the personal level, the level at which culture exists at greater levels in relation to the personal level may also be affected, but this extended discussion will be explored in another paper.



Personally I have found that there a number of ways by which to open the fibres of your rug (or quilt- being in Turkey I decided to switch it up a bit) and allow yourself to allow someone else to weave in different threads, or rearrange your threads (influence your culture—it is also important to note that switching from the quilt to rug metaphor, the quilt’s patches of fabric are parallel to the threads of a rug). These ways include learning the local tongue of the place you are visiting, in addition to speaking to locals (being clever about it of course-don’t be taken as a fool), being courteous, and loving- giving hugs and kisses on the cheek, sharing time over tea or coffee, and most important of all- listening.

Socrates once said, ‘The perfect human being is all human beings put together, it is a collective, it is all of us put together that make perfection’.

So travel- open your heart to as many people as possible, and maybe, you might just reach perfection! But actually everything in existence at any given moment is perfection (But you may not realise that until you start opening your heart to more people). xoxoxo