Thursday, November 29, 2012
The computer is a powerful tool for visual thinking because decisions are largely spatial. We surf the web, go to a site, and choose an icon. All are metaphors for embodied experience, like cruising the mall, finding a store and choosing products. Unlike verbal thinking, one word at a time, a screen is a whole that attention moves within, making choices, aware of surroundings. It’s more like behavior in space. An essential feature of visual thinking is being conscious of the context. Instead of reading an article, going to You Tube reveals aspects of an event that an article leaves out and takes up much less time. Facial expressions reveal key aspects of the meaning in what someone says. Gestures and self-representation contribute understanding of motives and values. Each individual watching it may find a different aspect interesting. Accidental discoveries can happen in the most unexpected places. During the Arab Spring I went to Israeli National Radio to get their perspective on what was happening in Egypt and was surprised by a story of a UFO sighting over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem with pictures. The ability to then follow up and look at the videos by the tourists in different locations offered a unique unfiltered picture without the bias of screened commentary. Instead I got the multiple perspectives of random people who were filming at the time. One woman with a group of tourists was heard to say, “We see those things all the time back home in Mississippi.” (I couldn’t find these recently, the search was glutted with less interesting and hoax oriented stuff. The sooner something happens, the fresher the perspectives.)
Moving around the web on your own may not be first hand experience, but it’s closer and more personally relevant than a corporate media reporter’s select facts. Having so many choices for finding out more about anything offer ways for the individual intelligence to experience itself and grow in a unique way. Doing searches on specific subjects offers the chance to look at different points of view instead of simply following a favored news source.
Because the interface is visual, attunement to imagery enlarges perspective, with many possible meanings and new connections sprouting from the particulars observed. There’s energy and dopamine stimulated by moving from site to site, the novelty and discovery propelling more curiosity, more questions, so the word ‘bounce’ suits the action. It depends on what interests us about where we land that determines the trajectory to the next spot. Every landing offers new choices making discovery part of everyday experience. It enables us to pull away from the fetters of time, where focus is on a particular destination.
It’s a new kind of disembodiment. Many times I’ve thought of the jump in human intelligence that occurred when we started using tools and wondered what was happening to our minds right now, with such complex tools at our disposal. It’s a crossroads where the choice is entertaining ourselves to death or getting fully involved in a creative use of the new possibilities. John Lilly observed how much more could be learned in float tanks when the mental resources weren’t used up staying balanced while moving around. Exciting things can be happening on a computer while the body is mostly immobile. Who knows what kinds of mental restructuring might occur. We may suffer a species wide depression to varying degrees while awaiting a better perspective so bouncing around the web, not getting caught in one thing, could build skills of navigation in an unfolding picture. It’s a way of experiencing choices we didn’t know were there and seeing ourselves in action, demonstrating who we are and what we care about. In the process larger patterns may emerge that point in specific directions.
With information changing so fast, the skill of navigation will matter more than the information itself. We need the ability to discern significant relationships and understand how to apply them to unfolding events. Looking for the “difference that makes a difference” as Gregory Bateson defined information, we learn to constantly adjust our model in a world of fast-paced change.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Being oppressed by time is a sure sign of being caught in the story we tell about our life in the world. Narration is about ‘before’s and ‘after’s, about how long it takes to do something or go somewhere. We align it fluidly with our other mental concepts like distance; don’t think twice about answering the question “How far?” with the amount of time it takes to get there. It seems so pervasive, we think it’s real. It’s an example of an idea that’s been reified, being treated as though it’s an external independent thing. And to the extent that it’s a contract we make regarding the calendar, and an essential measurement in science, it has powerful influence. What we actually experience is much more flexible. Henri Bergson drew attention to the neglected concept of duration where inner experience expands beyond conventional ideas of time. Stepping free of the thin stream of linear cause and effect, he sees everything as always acting on everything else. Every one of us is a feature of the picture. Jill Bolte Taylor’s experience when her left narrating hemisphere was disabled by a stroke was of a timeless merging with everything. The self in time would appear to be a feature of the left hemisphere, dominant due to the focus on words and symbols in our culture. When one of my students questioned the importance of visual art, he said he couldn’t think of any painting that changed his life in the way that books and music had. I couldn’t help but wonder if this had to do with our conditioning being oriented to stories, that being locked into stories in time, other time based art would be the best at elucidating experience. But this could leave us thinking we’re only our stories. Throughout the narration are reverberations interacting with others that affect other action. We live in a constant flow of imagery with currents flowing in and out from many directions that affect us without words. Because we don’t pin it down we often don’t recognize this rich visual realm consciously. In his brilliant book, “The Alphabet and the Goddess” Leonard Shlain describes how the visual culture of the goddess was displaced by the patriarchal linear narration which included laws that bound one to the story. Noting the shift from books to screen, he ends his book with a section about the two most influential images of the twentieth century. One was of the exploding atomic bomb. The vividness of its destructive power was what kept people from using it once they saw it. Likewise the photo of our planet from outer space, all blue and white and brown is clearly seen as a place we share with no separation between countries except natural boundaries.
Attachment to the story binds us to time with self as protagonist headed to a future destination. But when something really interesting is going on the focus is outside the self, attentive to what’s happening in that moment. This is the center of meditation, to experience consciousness without narration. Everyone is more emancipated from time than they realize. The deeper the focus the more unaware of time we are. Seeing the next step or the answer to a problem can be instantaneous.
There’s no linear time in a painting. It’s the stone dropped into the pond, center of the ripples in the changing inner state. Maybe the Great Age of Visual Art is yet to come. It’s the only art that’s free of time.