Thursday, July 17, 2008

Seeing is believing

Interesting how sometimes the same theme will show up several times within a short period of time.

I had a discussion yesterday about perception.

It started out being about how even when you think you are looking at the same thing as someone else, your perceptions will not be the same. You may focus on different aspects, or have different connotations from different experiences. It may be difficult to know what someone else's perception is because it can be difficult to communicate precisely and accurately about what you see or experience.

But even if you were to have the same experiences, the same beliefs, you still won't perceive things exactly like someone else does. You may be looking from a different perspective, a different angle.

Or your brain may simply not interpret the information the same way.

That's another part of this.

What you see isn't really what you see. You see light reflecting off of surfaces, and your brain interprets that light and assigns it meaning. You have no DIRECT way to see anything.

This became most obvious to me when I had trouble drawing or painting, while my sisters had the artistic talent in the family. Turns out, I don't see what I see. I interpret it.

Let's back up a bit.

Newborn babies don't interpret what they see. They can't. They have no frame of reference. They have to learn that an object viewed from different sides or different angles is, in fact, the same object, even if it looks different.

Go too far with that, and an object is interpreted as "the same," regardless of angle, even though it looks different in concrete terms. Seeing it as "the same" makes it difficult to draw what you "see." In order to draw something, you need to really see it, see the relationships between the lines and angles and colors. If you can't see it, you can't tell what to do to make your drawing more realistic- there is no feedback to guide you.

Look at a stationary object. Try a window, for example. Turn your head at different angles. The window appears to stay the same, oriented the same way in space. "Up" and "down" are relative to the window being placed in the wall with the bottom parallel to the floor.

But really, every time you move your head, you are seeing the window from a different angle, and all the angles you see change. If you put your hands around your eyes to narrow your field of vision, and remove the contextual information, it is easier to see that, to see the new angles.

Your brain loves context. Ooh, it says, that's a window. And it's still a window. And I know that windows are rectangles, and I know that they line up with the wall and the ceiling and the floor. So no matter what angle you look at it from, I'm going to tell you that it still lines up. Up and down. Right angles.

All you artists reading this, get ahold of yourselves. It's not that funny for people who are challenged in this way.

There is no way to directly see a thing, you can only see reflected (or refracted...) light.
Your perception of a thing is always filtered through your mind's interpretations.
Reflections, refractions, interpretations... all these things distort the image, and change your perception of a thing from an accurate, true perception, to something else.

I've had this basic conversation and train of thought numerous times, with family members or with friends.

Today, it showed up in a slightly different situation.

My fencing lesson this morning.

The master was showing me how he does something, and as is often the case, he was moving in a way that is simply not humanly possible. I swear that the point of the weapon was moving of its own volition, without his having to move it.

Rationally, I know that this can't happen.

Also in today's lesson, he was showing me something, and he did something that he could only have done if he was able to read my mind. He responded to a movement I made... before I made it. Not by assuming I would make it, but by being able to see, to perceive, EXACTLY when I decided to do it, in the moment BEFORE I actually started to move. He has mentioned this concept before, of being able to subconsciously perceive at that level, but this time, I know for sure that it is exactly what he did.

Stunned me for a moment.

And another thing from the lesson today. In general, movements in fencing do not originate where people believe they do. Everything originates from your center. You do not move the blade by moving your hand. You do not step forward by moving your foot. You move your center. I know I can say this over and over, and people won't get it until they experience it. So for now, take my word for it, if necessary.

How does this all tie together?

In fencing, everything- and I mean everything- is not as it appears to be.
And yet, at the same time, everything is exactly what it IS.

Fencing, itself, is not so difficult.

The difficulty is in the PERCEPTIONS of what you need to do, how you need to do it, and in the attempts to do those things. Learning to fence is the process of learning to perceive reality more accurately, to take yourself, your filters, all those things that distort, out of the equation.

The master often uses the image of a pond to explain this.

Imagine a pond on a clear, still day, the surface as smooth as glass.
Look at the reflections in the pond. They show everything surrounding the pond, clearly and accurately. No distortions. The trees, the birds, the clouds in the sky.
Now throw a stone in the pond.
All the ripples distort the reflection, often so much so that it is unrecognizable.

Your center is the pond.
Your mind is the stone and all the ripples.

In order to perceive things as they are, you must not allow ripples in your pond. "Ripples" take many forms, such as assumptions, expectations, emotions, biases, thoughts. They may be conscious, or subconscious, or even reflexes or instincts.

The difference between a master and everyone else is that the master has learned to make his center still and calm, so that his perceptions are not distorted.

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