I think it’s fairly plain when something moves from theory to practice: 1905, e=mc2; august 6th 1945, boom. Your dad tells you that playing with fireworks is dangerous; this is taken seriously only after your brother has thrown a firecracker at your head. You’re pretty sure that tingly feeling you get when that particular girl talks to you means you really like her; this is only truly understood when you find yourself, without conscious thought, tracing circles on her skin while lying in bed and talking about things of vital inconsequence. I want to know what happens in the opposite direction. When do you know when something goes from being practice to theory? When do you know that something once tangible is no longer real, that it has instead become a simulacrum? What would indicate that something has stopped ‘being’? If something is broken you can fix it. If something doesn’t exist where do you apply the glue? If the transition from practice to theory is made does it mean you can just rework the theory until it functions better and then put it back into practice? Or is that it? Discard and start again? If something that was once theory and was then practice, but has once more moved back into the theoretical, surely that indicates that the practice failed so the theory was flawed, thus comfortable assumptions made during both states were wrong.
Clichés and aphorisms offer surprising comfort and guidance: it doesn’t matter what you say, it only matters what you do – that’s a quote from somewhere. Actions speak louder than words – that seems to make sense to me. Do enough words obscure any actions? Is the point where you can confirm a change of state from practice to theory when the doing stops? You may not be able to pick the point of transition, to know exactly when a society, once scientifically literate, has lost the ability to nuke another society. To know of a firecracker’s danger only when you have a ringing in your ears and burns on your hand. To understand that you’re never going to be able to touch someone again and only then realize that you can’t remember the exact place on their body where you last did touch them. It is then that, in practical terms, it ceases to matter how much the real thing meant to you before the state change. All that matters is that it has changed. That is the reality that has to be dealt with.
(I wrote that December 3rd, 2007. I have since learnt the answer to that, or at least my answer. One’s momentum always carries one forward, but momentum bleeds unless sustained by the present and tempted by the future. It hurts to stop, to come to a stand still, but if you do you’ve got to get up and move again. Even if you leave someone or something behind you, that’s probably where she’s meant to be.)
Theory becomes practice becomes theory and becomes practice again. And the practice fails. Just because it didn’t work doesn’t change the possibility that it could’ve. The burnt fingers and ringing in the ears is worth it.