MAN: [Blood-curdling scream]
ZAPHOD: The universe does that to a guy?
GARGRAVARR: The whole infinite Universe. The Infinite sums. The Infinite distances between them, and yourself. An invisible dot on an invisible dot. Infinitely small.
The Total Perspective Vortex was invented (fictionally of course) in response to the phrase “Have a sense of proportion.” I’ve noticed a similar concept mentioned in some of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books — that people have, amazingly, the ability to be bored, and completely ignore the infinite stream of stimuli that is constantly available to their senses, including the certain knowledge that there is far more out there than any individual could hope to process.
And I haven’t read this personally, but everything I’ve heard about the short story Funes the Memorious by Jorge Luis Borges seems to point to the same idea. The main character suffers a head injury and afterwards is able to remember everything — to the point where he can reconstruct an entire day, and it literally takes him an entire day to do so. He finds it difficult to sleep because his thoughts are always buzzing with details as irrelevant to going to sleep as “every crevice and every moulding of the various houses which [surround] him.”
For the same reason, it took Western civilization a long time to warm up to the idea that the earth is round rather than flat.
As I continue to think world building thoughts about my WIP novel, I keep thinking about how some fantasy novels constrict their universe into a single kingdom, country, or continent. Many don’t, which I prefer and am trying to emulate. My fantasy world is Earth after a sort of magical apocalypse that shut down technology, reduced the human population, and left very few opportunities for travel. The oceans are full of territorial merpeople, sea dragons, and other hazards. The sky is prone to having dragons, though they mostly keep to the Arctic north or the very high altitudes that might otherwise be used for intercontinental air travel. Magical transportation is limited in the sense that sure, you could try to zap yourself from North America to Europe, but if you don’t have an exact sense of the thousands of miles in between you might short the distance and end up in the Atlantic. Or you might overshoot and muff the altitude, coming out either some distance above the ground or some distance beneath it. The success rate isn’t good.
So although I have drawn out a world map, I am planning to confine my setting to what’s left of North America — but I’m hoping to flesh out my ideas for every part of it. A single continent is still pretty big. I want my characters to do a lot of traveling and encounter things and people that stretch and expand their personal universes. Different cultures, different climates, different styles of magic, different ways of surviving.
It’s hard to wrap my brain around all that, which is why this is turning out to be a very slow process for me. It’s like how on one hand I know the Earth is round and hurtling through space, but on the other hand I’m standing on a flat surface and sometimes surrounded by so many buildings that they obscure the horizon. If it were easy, I don’t think I’d be able to come up with three literary references to how hard it is right off the top of my head.