A World Defined By Boundaries
by Paul Arras

From the writer: The assignment was to choose a concept and explore as many variations of that concept as possible. At first I struggled in coming up with a concept. I settled on boundaries because it seemed to have the most potential. From that point, I flew through the project. I do my best work when I am interested in the assignment, and I was very interested in this one.

From the editors: In this piece, Arras creates stunning visuals of the world's boundaries that go beyond the limits of the mind. However, the editors found no boundaries to his talent as Arras draws the reader into a corner of the world that is rarely acknowledged. Smart and captivating, "A World Defined By Boundaries" will open doors for readers everywhere.

From the teacher: This piece is based on a "concept essay" assignment from my Studio 1. I asked students to select a concept (mirror, stranger, imagination), collect examples across a range of contexts and media, examine the concept's changing significations, and present the analysis in a coherent essay, based on models we critiqued in class. I see this genre as embedding a number of intellectual tasks used in academic writing and using a process of conceptualization that can be articulated and taught as a technique. Students, on the other hand, often see the work as a flight of invention that tests their creativity. Paul is well up to the task here, not only with boundless examples, but with a sense of humor and visual meanings integrated to maximum effect.

Look around you right now. Look at all the boundaries! The size of the painting on your wall is defined by its frame. The amount of music on the CD spinning in your stereo is limited by the disc's circumference. You want to go next door and see what is causing that lovely smell wafting in through the window, but you can't pass through walls to take the most direct route. Besides, you might be overstepping the extent of your friendship by going over there and asking for some food. Also, he might still be mad at you for dribbling out of bounds in the basketball tournament last weekend. So you recrudesce to reading your student's paper. Now you find yourself unable to understand the paper because of the limitations of your knowledge of English. You are so mad you could kill someone. But gun control laws have prevented you from getting that Uzi submachine gun you always wanted. Frustrated with the restraints of this planet, you blast into outer space, heading as far away as possible. It's too bad your ship can't go any faster than light speed. Finally you come to the end of the universe. You head straight for the boundary and . . .(?)

Administrative borders are perhaps the most widely used concept of boundaries. Borders are the outer reaches of a territory. On one side, you are on friendly ground, on the other side, foreign ground. International borders vary from loosely acknowledged ones, like the one I floated over on a tour boat, to rigidly enforced. The history of borders closely follows the history of war, violence, and hatred. Arguments over defining the border have led to years, even centuries, of bloody conflict. On the other hand, an agreement over a fair border often fosters peace. The demilitarized zone in Korea is an intriguing example of this. This border serves as a barrier between North and South Korea and a buffer zone between two angry nations. The construction of this line marked the end of the fighting in the Korean War. Though there are still forces along both sides today, and relations between the two nations have remained strained, both nations have fallen into a state of peace.

A similar concept of a boundary, the frontier, is virtually extinct on earth. The American frontier in the eighteenth century was a loosely defined line between the conquered and unconquered land. An example of a far more definitive frontier was the border of the Roman Empire. At the height of their power, the Romans believed (on an even greater scale than Americans do today) they were far and away the supreme nation on the face of the earth. Thus, their well-defined borders indicated where safe civilization ended and unconquered danger began. The average Roman citizen feared what was beyond the border because they did not know or understand it. In our age, the frontier has disappeared with our advanced methods of mass communication, for it is simple to gather information on outside cultures. For the advanced Western civilization, frontiers have quietly disintegrated. However, for a tribe quietly living untouched in, say, the Amazon jungle, the frontier is still a major boundary for their society.

A type of boundary that is far from extinction is law. The idealism behind laws is that they serve the best interests of the person (dictatorship) or group of people (democracy) that make them. In the democracy of the United States, we recognize that the views of people are constantly changing. Our government is set up to make it possible to change laws that people feel are unfair. We set up the boundary, so we should have the right to tear it down if it is not working. Another interesting fact about law is that those who break it eventually find themselves with more boundaries than they had before.

The idea of rules in sports is related to law. Rules of games are designed to serve the best interests of those who participate in them. This leads to a common rule in most sports: a defined region of play encompassed by a sideline. The sideline is as concrete as boundaries can get. Without the sideline, the game would devolve into a chaotic and never-ending chase throughout the countryside. In any given sporting match, competitors will do all that they can to prevent a ball from going out of bounds, even if it means sacrificing their own well-being. A notable exception to this is baseball, where the offense is awarded points if the ball is launched to a particular zone outside the field of play. Still, baseball has foul territory and spectacular boundary enforcement by outfielders.

Sports remind us of another type of boundary. Sports would not be interesting if every batter hit a home run every time up. This is not true because of natural physical limitations. Physical limitations define the boundary of each individual's abilities. This type of boundary is unique, as no two people have identical limitations. Also, these limitations can be altered through training and experience. In fact, our physical limitations are constantly changing as we practice some and let others lay dormant. However, we reach our limits on a daily basis. Physical limitations can be seen when comparing, for example, decisions at amusement parks, social confidence, or performances in a marathon.

While human boundaries are constantly changing, mathematical boundaries have remained constant. Math is filled with ideas, like limits, perimeters, and asymptotes, which define the boundaries of numbers. These finite boundaries are crucial in studying the infinite concept of numbers. Interestingly enough, these finite ideas often connect with the concept of infinity (which is, perhaps, the very opposite of the word boundary). The asymptote of a graph is the y-value that the graph is approaching while the x-value approaches infinity. The end of the graph would come at the point (x,y) (infinity, asymptote). Math thus places a boundary that, however close we can get to it, cannot be reached (much less, crossed). Mathematical boundaries are the only boundaries that are impossible to break or bend. This fact is important to physics, which uses math as its main tool. The science of physics is the attempt to explain the universe and its natural laws. To put it another way, physics hopes to explain the boundaries existing naturally in our universe, such as defining the edge of the universe and explaining the confining force of gravity.

Boundaries in nature are, of course, found on a much smaller scale. Many geologic formations create natural boundaries for biological creatures. Rivers, lakes, and mountains are all often used to determine where administrative borders will be placed. However, none of these compares to the boundary of the ocean. The ocean as a boundary has, on the scale of human evolution, only recently been overcome. For years, the ocean instilled both fear and intrigue into nations around the globe. To conquer the ocean, man had to conquer both the physical and psychological aspects of this boundary.

Taking the scale even further down, every living thing is confined within its own special boundary. These biologic boundaries include skin, shell, scale, pod, and peel. These boundaries fit snugly around the shape of the organism. They keep in what should be kept in (water) and keep out what should be kept out (disease). It is interesting to realize that an organism's outer layer is how we visualize them. So, for plants and animals, the boundaries that enclose them also give them their outward appearance. Strip off the boundary of any particular organism, and each one will look basically the same, at least within their respective gender.

This property leads to another type of boundary: the social boundary of racism. There are numerous types of social boundaries that exist. These boundaries separate people based on characteristics such as gender, skin color, and age. Some are logical, but just as many make little sense at all. Three-year-olds do not vote or work at a job. No one in their right mind would suggest that three-year-olds should have these privileges. However, there is a valid complaint against the "glass ceiling" barrier that theoretically prevents women from obtaining high-ranking positions that men can easily achieve. It is interesting that with this type of boundary, no one knows quite where the line should be drawn. For example, the voting age of eighteen is fairly arbitrary. Why is the boundary set specifically at eighteen? Many people have valid arguments that the boundary should be repositioned lower or higher. Another type of social boundary found on a slightly smaller scale stems from a lack of understanding between two parties. This is caused by fundamental differences in language or morals. These differences create a barrier between the two parties. Communication is obstructed by this boundary.

Boundaries have positive aspects, too. The frame and the glass covering of a painting serve to protect the painting from wear and tear. The frame is also crucial to the artist in defining what message or idea the viewer will get out of the painting. Similarly, business presentations and school papers rely on neatly defined margins to keep the appearance of their work neat and orderly. Also, bosses or teachers may give employees or students specific guidelines to keep their ideas focused.

These observations show the positive aspect of boundaries: organization. On the other hand, the negative aspect would be that they are restricting to natural flows. Felix Unger was probably pro-boundaries, while Adam Smith was most likely against them. You can see examples of both the positive and the negative aspects of boundaries all around you. The idea that connects all of these boundaries is the power to define. The defining capabilities of boundaries explain why they are established by governments, searched for by scientists, and criticized by activists.

Here, the paper ends. Perhaps it is because I have reached the limit my professor allotted for this paper. Or perhaps I have run out of ideas. Whatever the explanation, it is clear that the boundary of this paper has been reached.


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