Archive for the ‘perception’ Category

The blue yonder – I wrote about Rebecca Solnit’s observation that distance is blue a while back.

The sea caught my attention for this shot….I was entranced by the rich palette of greens and blues….but when I looked later I noticed that the far mountains were just the kind of blue which she wrote about.

I love an image like this. I can lose myself in it for ages. I find it soothing and mesmerising. I hope you do too.

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I know our brains are brilliant at spotting patterns, but have you ever noticed just how good they are at seeing faces?

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There are places in the world where I feel more whole, places where I am suddenly deeply aware of the strong flow of life, of energy, of spirit around and through me. Pausing for a moment under the canopy of ancient camphor trees in Kirstenboch gardens to gaze up and far to the surrounding mountains which draw my imagination to their summits and beyond, I feel at peace and enlivened at exactly the same moment.

A day later, browsing through my photographs, I stop again at this view and am surprised to discover my memory presents me with an image I captured in the colossal cathedral of Toledo last summer.

The window to heaven in the highest point of the cathedral’s roof.

What’s the connection?

Why are these two images linked in my mind?

There’s the resonance of the imagery, each with its dark, ragged frame around a bright, distant light. But there’s something else too….something of a feeling, that feeling of smallness, enfolded in a greater something, whilst drawn up beyond my self to the universal.

In the cathedral, I didn’t feel at peace. I encountered image after image of suffering, torture and death represented in the lives of the saints. The immensity of the stone structure of the building with its enormous, ornate golden sculptures weighed heavily on me. So, when I stumbled on the window to heaven it seemed to provide some release, some lightening of the spirit and the heart. A few moments later I caught sight of sunlight and trees through an open door and delighted in the cloistered garden it led to.

Under the camphor trees I had none of that heaviness. I felt more cocooned, welcomed by Nature. But then suddenly, here again was an opening which lifted me up and out of my self.

Moments of bliss.


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We humans are very good at spotting patterns. Finding patterns is such an interesting two way process. They are there in the world around us but we also develop a sort of sensitivity to particular ones. It’s like having a heightened awareness to certain patterns so we focus on them over other potential ones. Maybe one of the main things the right hemisphere of the cerebral cortex does is create patterns. After all, its predilection is for the betweenness of things, the connections. But our left hemisphere plays an important role here too. We use it to separate things out. I’m not sure we could see any patterns if our left hemisphere didn’t do its work of separating, abstracting, recognising and categorising.

I find patterns of three very appealing.

I particularly like triskeles, those simple Celtic knots created by intertwining three circles, or by spiralling out three arms from a central point.

But here’s something I’ve never seen before – three acorns growing in a beautiful pattern of three. Isn’t it wonderful?

A moment of “√©merveillement” for me.

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I don’t edit my photos very much at all but this one of the cloudy mists pouring over the top of the mountains seemed to cry out for the monochrome treatment.

I took the photo because I find this phenomenon utterly entrancing.

The clouds appear over the top of the ridge and spill over, speeding down the cliff face for only a few metres before they disappear into thin air. The process is continuous. It has all the appearance of perpetual motion.

I love watching the cloud appear from over the mountain top, from somewhere I can’t see, and following its journey into wispy nothingness in such a short space of time.

From somewhere I can’t see to complete disappearance right before my eyes.

A metaphor for an individual life, delicate, beautiful, transient, and mainly made of water…..

I also like the contrasts in this image. Not only the blackness of the rock and the whiteness of the mist, but of their polar opposite textures. The rock, solid, suggesting a permanence because it changes so much more slowly than we humans can perceive in a single lifetime, and the mist, so insubstantial you can barely discern its edges.

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This is what happened.

I was looking across the road from outside “Bardough” in Capetown and spotted this classic red mini.

I decided to take a photo and when I looked through the viewfinder I realised how good the mini looked in front of the red building. What a perfect backdrop!

Then just as I squeezed the shutter release these two people walked into the shot from offstage right……

And wow! Just look! How fantastic! It took the photo to an entirely new level. How does that happen? A combination of noticing, choosing to take a photo, taking the time to frame a nice shot, then sheer luck……Isn’t it just great when the universe conspires to make your life more beautiful?

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Here’s an example of the type of photograph I enjoy so much. At first glance it’s pleasing. It delights me. I can sit and gaze at it for ages, enjoying its beauty. But it stimulates my thoughts too.

I see this and I think about ways of engaging with the world. Iain McGilchrist shows us in his Master and His Emissary that our two cerebral hemispheres allow us to simultaneously use two different types of focus….narrow and broad.

The left hemisphere separates out whatever we are looking at from the contexts in which it exists. It allows us to set a kind of frame around what we are looking at, to distinguish it from the whole. That lets us label it, put it into a category, and so grasp it. Literally. Get a handle on it so we can manipulate it. It’s a narrow focus, one which drills down to separate out and analyse aspects or components.

The right hemisphere focuses on the connections rather than the parts. It lets us see the broad view, the over view. It helps us to see whatever we are looking at in the fullness of its context. We don’t see the separate parts, we see the connectedness of everything. In the terms of classical philosophy, it helps us to take the “view from on high”.

The view from on high lets us do something else too….it allows us to stand apart from whatever we are looking at. It lets us put a little distance there…a distance in space, and/or a distance in time…a pause, or a moment to reflect and consider.

Some people argue this is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of human beings, this ability to create a distance which allows us to choose responses rather than simply react in programmed or patterned automatic ways. But I think it is equally characteristic of human beings that we have this huge cerebral cortex divided into two distinctly different hemispheres allowing us to focus on the world in two such distinctly different ways.

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