Sunday, April 24, 2016


Visual Consciousness

In the sphere of perceptual knowing there is a space where everything is happening. It is a single arena fluctuating to include anything that triggers sensation. If you close your eyes and listen, every sound takes place somewhere in this field of consciousness from the boom of a faraway explosion to an insect buzzing nearby. So the first meaning is where something is in relation to us, closer having more urgency. Even when we’re talking about sound we create a space and what’s in it is located somewhere in visual consciousness. Thinking coexists with sensations in the space of what’s known to perception but it’s just a trail through infinite space like the vapor behind a plane.

 Scientists have shown repeatedly that action between neurons involved with a decision precedes conscious awareness of making the decision. Though some claim this means the machine/brain is the agent and not individual free will, that doesn’t consider the key role of the overall visual assessment that directs conscious attention. Perhaps you never even thought you were making a decision as your eyes zeroed in on one part of your surroundings, but spatial understanding adjusts to the needs of the scene whatever you consider the scene to be, physical or mental. Feeling is the awareness of that adjustment. Attention is moved by visual consciousness. We know what fits and doesn’t fit and where things are out of proportion. This capacity is essential to our reasoning in all areas. Since visual consciousness sees the implications of the whole, cultivating response to visual form tunes pre-analytic assessment. Having art you love around you reinforces something particular in the feelings most valued.

Looking at art trains visual consciousness, reinforcing our sensitivity to nuance and essence. This is particularly important in such an information saturated global culture. Having so few words, “feelings, emotions, intuition,” for highly intricate judgments of proportion, most people don’t credit the vast level of intelligence that goes on before what they consider thinking even starts. As I say to my students, we react to a scene before we recognize what we’re seeing. The meaning of its structure has already been registered. This predisposes where we look and how we take what we eventually identify. Becoming aware of that level of thinking is an important step toward the wisdom of visual consciousness.

When Alan Watts advises us to think of the thoughts that arrive while meditating like waves swirling around the rocks, going as quickly as they arrived, our feelings would be the character of the waves. Whether they are gentle or rough carries a more important meaning for how we behave. Feeling represents an overall assessment by the whole mind, a prediction of what may unfold and how to respond to it. Looking at art educates the sensitivity to significant pattern, to harmony of proportion. Visual consciousness sees excess and absence and how to address an unfolding condition, giving us tools to tackle global problems that interpenetrate many areas and can only be solved by seeing the whole picture. Having skills to present information as visual relationships helps people understand at a glance the relationships and what they mean to the whole.