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What separated us? Between my sense of the real and theirs gaped a chasm that I didn't understand.
What would a psychotherapist make of it? If, in your consulting room, one of these students told you that the Rome on his computer is more real than the real Rome, is that a symptom? if so, of what? Would it be a syndrome to be addressed in therapy? or just a piece of data, a reference-point for this particular client?
At around the same time, I saw related behavior that no one would connect to psychological difficulty, at least in any conventional sense.
I was driving the Southwest with a companion who'd never been there. In Arizona, on the edge of the Painted Desert, we stopped at the Petrified Forest, a vast, barren expanse of chaparral and mesas, on which lie the trunks of ancient trees turned to stone. On these trees, every detail of bark is present and vivid, yet somehow a forest has become rock. We parked at the first viewing point. My companion, without saying a word, made her way down a slope and sat. I figured she'd be there a while, absorbing this place out of sight of the road and of me, watching the Petrified Forest's stones, birds, critters, and clouds, and maybe getting bit by a bug or two—a contemplative engagement with a present terrain.
Waiting for her, maybe an hour, I had a very different experience. Cars and vans would pull up; couples and families and friends would get out and take pictures of the landscape, and of each other, with video and still cameras. As I stood there, leaning on my car, at least a couple of dozen vehicles, maybe more, came and went. After a few minutes of disbelief, I began timing them. With three exceptions, they stayed no longer than five minutes. Many stayed barely two or three. They piled out of their vehicles, took their pictures, piled back in, and left, presumably headed for the next viewing point, presumably to do the same.