We see but do not perceive. Or perceive but don’t know. Know, but may not care. Care, but not act. Chains of cause-and-effect started with a simple glance. Some glances stir us to behavioral changes – the glance of a lover. Others repulse us with emotion – a dead animal on the roadside. We should live our lives in continual stress, anticipating the impact of the next glance, flinching with every blink. Or wear blinders to protect ourselves, to focus our vision only in front, on the future-to-come controlled by our intention.
Yet as a species we seek out the unknown, desirous of an expanded field of perception and new knowledge. We riddle ourselves with mind games aimed at changing perspectives, incorporating new data, molding unique neural paths. Against the threat of stagnation or tunnel vision or single mindedness, we explore extrasensory realms hoping to bring back an altered view of our lives that will expand our sense of value or existence. Religion, chemicals, thrills, philosophies – all have been means to an expanded sense of being.
Aldous Huxley experimented with most of these in an attempt to “break down the barriers of ego” and recorded his experiences with mescaline in the book The Doors of Perception, the title of which was inspiration for Jim Morrison naming of The Doors rock group. Huxley took his title from William Blake, who reflected Huxley’s thinking on seeing beyond the immediate reality – “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.” Poets, writers, composers – those who seek out what’s beyond the glance and experiment with the means to discover what they feel is missing from their perception.
And a world of newness does exist out there, but it is firmly grounded in reality. The microscopic views of creatures in a water droplet remind us of unseen worlds we walk through continually. Or the unimaginably massive galactic objects we learn about from space telescopes, reminding us we are also part of an unseen world to any beings existing on that scale. Of interest to me, though, is the world of time and how greater perception of change over time reveals a recognizable yet unique world.
Stand on the ocean shore and watch the waves break onto the beach. You admire the graceful curve of the water and the power it exerts on the sand. In your sight, it is a continuous event, flowing as time passes by. To the camera, though, time is a relative and controllable aspect, enabling the photographer to portray reality in contexts we aren’t readily aware of.
The fast shutter speed freezes motion, holding a slice of time still for us to examine many aspects we would normally miss or ignore. Our perception of the wave changes as we see more of its structure, the details of its makeup and architecture. We admire the way color plays through it, blending at the edges into the white foam. The ever-changing patterns are now held in place – we see how liquid and air work together to create the spectacle we see only briefly.
A change of pace for the camera to a slow shutter speed and now we see changes over time, not as a stop action stutter step of frames but as a continuous blend of images. Here is revealed the beginning, end and all aspects in between, rendered in a single image for all to see. The water’s true nature is on display as it flows in and around obstacles, ethereal with an otherworldly existence. In opposition to the hard view of the frozen image here we question the actual existence of the water – is it a dream?
Both perspectives exist; they are not a trick of the camera or software. Our grounding in time’s flow, one second per second, confines our ongoing view of reality. Only with the use of tools can we perceive the world in an alternative manner. Do the tools change our reality, then, or are we living in a minute fraction of the totality of reality?