My camera is on the blink: I barely coaxed it into taking a few shots today. I’m hesitating what kind of a camera to buy. Another point and shoot? Maybe something with a few more options of manual control? But not so heavy or bulky I’ll stop carrying it around. And not too expensive.
I’ve read some reviews of the Olympus Pen Mini (E-PM1), and it sounds like it might suit.
Of late, I keep coming up against the language divide. On the one hand, we have the language hippies. They’re cool with any kind of expression – grammatical or not. They tend to shrug off any suggestion that there are things it is wrong to say or write. Down with Skool!
But the idea that something “means” whatever most speakers think it means, is a slippery slope. Most people don’t know the difference between unexceptional and unexceptionable, or unconscious, unconscientious, and unconscionable. So maybe we don’t really need these words. But you’re/your, I/me/mine, accept/except? Do we really want our expressive abilities to erode to a selection of emoticons?
On the other hand, we have the grammar gorillas. If they were politely improving other people’s speech or writing, they might even be useful. But not only do they tear a strip off anyone making a mistake, they are surprisingly often WRONG. Ironically, their crusades are often (mis-)guided by a lack of knowledge and feeling for language, and worse, they are completely impervious to evidence.
Give a grammar gorilla a link to the Cambridge Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, or the OED, and they will fanatically persist in their errors as, obviously, the editors of said volumes cannot be trusted. They object to sentences ending in prepositions, or beginning with conjunctions. And if they think “liberal” means generous, anyone who uses the word in politics leaves them frothing at the mouth.
So where does that leave us, the middle-of-the-roaders?
Now, I confess I have a secret failing. I sometimes politely point out to people on the internet that they’re wrong. Only when people want to learn. Or when they’re being really, really nasty. I keep thinking, when they realise they are wrong themselves, this will make them a bit kinder to the people they go around “correcting”. Foolish of me, I know. People who ridicule others for making mistakes do this because they can’t accept their own. And the more vicious their attack, the deeper the fall if they admit they were mistaken or misguided. Oops.
So I should stop, right? And join the silent majority that allows obnoxious troubled individuals to jeer mercilessly at others. Or maybe I’ll go on patiently pointing out the gorillas’ own errors. Because letting their vicious intolerance go unchallenged, makes the gorillas believe they speak for us all.
On Sunday, I came across the tale of the Yellow Submarine, and was sucked in. The graphics are breathtaking: a true work of art. Released in 1968, it features psychedelic colours, a wide variety of animation effects and graphic elements. The story in screenshots*:
The idyllic and colourful Pepperland.
Drained of colour, its people frozen to statues by the Blue Meanies.
Sailor Fred sets out in the Yellow Submarine to fetch help.
He calls upon the Beatles, as the only thing the Blue Meanies fear is music.
They travel to Pepperland in the Yellow Submarine
To save Pepperland and restore its colours with their music.
The voyage in the Yellow Submarine is peppered with colourful adventures, and of course, songs, like Nowhere Man, and All You Need Is Love. A must see for anyone interested in art or design, …and anyone who likes colours. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the varied backgrounds, and the vibrant colours of the submarine’s interior.
You know when you look everywhere for your glasses, and you can’t find them? And then they turn up on your head? Or the book you hunt for high and low? That was on your bedside table all along, lying the wrong way up? You get so annoyed while you’re searching, and then a little embarrassed…
No, it’s not age. You see, something I’ve always been looking for. One day I realised, suddenly, it was in my hand. It always had been. But I couldn’t see it because it didn’t look like I thought it did.
What you see in the photo is really only a patch of sky, and silhouettes that could be part of a tree and the corner of a house. But I’m sure you “pictured” a house, a tree, maybe even the ground they’re standing on.
What we see, and how we visualise it are two very different things. I’m not talking about the technical clean-up of the picture quality. But when you’re in a room with a pillar, you imagine the space behind it. And when you put your hand behind your back you picture it attached to the end of your arm, even though you can’t see it. So you’re adding information or ideas to the mix.
Since Shakespeare’s day, we speak of seeing something in our mind’s eye, and we think we’re artificially creating an image like the one we might see with our eyes. In reality, we’re building up a mental image, that may contain visual elements, but also contains concepts and ideas.
I remember a dream where I was standing by a stairwell. Upon waking I realised that I had “seen” a friend walk down several flights of stairs in the dream, although from where I was I couldn’t have “seen” her half the time. So in my dream I was really tracking her progress in a mental image, like an architects drawing of the building.
When I ask someone whether they see images in dreams, I get an emphatic yes! When they go into more details, I find that they too describe more than would be visible. My conclusion is that we dream mental images, rather than visual ones.
The advantage of mental images is not just that they use up less memory space than visual ones. They are also far more flexible. Have you ever dreamed about someone who looks like A, but you know he’s really B? And when you’re picturing something you’re reading about, no need to dream up complex constructions: your mind can simply add a tag: “stunning architecture”.
In 1995, David Chalmers stated what he calls the hard problem of consciousness: why do we feel alive, why do we experience the world? He separates this from what he terms the “easy” problems or functions like reportability, attention focus etc. He answers his own question by positing a new fundamental unit, not part of the physical universe. In Red Mary I explained why I disagree with the answer, but I do think it’s a good question.
A detractor of Chalmers’, Daniel Dennett, maintains that the functions of consciousness alone are the explanation of subjective experience. That’s clearly nonsense. We can replicate all the functions in computers or other machines without these being aware. Therefore the functions alone do not explain our subjective awareness.
It’s not a bug, it’s a feature
Chalmers’ list of “easy” problems
The ability to discriminate, categorize, and react to environmental stimuli
“Incorrect password. Please try again.”
The integration of information by a cognitive system
The reportability of mental states
“Insufficient memory. Please free up some disc space.”
The ability of a system to access its own internal states
Going into sleep mode due to low battery.
The focus of attention
Allocation of processors.
The deliberate control of behavior
Control processes on production systems.
The difference between wakefulness and sleep
Delight and dismay*
Motor running smoothly vs. motor makes weird screeching noises.
Distraction and concentration
Allocation of processors
Feelings of foreboding*
“Are you sure you want to delete this?”
Disregard of perceptual details
Cache not cleared
Do you know how often an SAP run reads the company code customising? Talk about OCD!
Allocation of processors
Inability to hold more than a few items in consciousness
My ability to be moved to tears by X.*
Plant watering automat – the rest is subjective “feeling”.
Inability to catch myself in the act of Y.
“An unexpected error has occurred.”
*Delight, dismay, sinking feeling of foreboding, being moved to tears: these are subjective emotions, not functions.
I’ve given parallels to what we may do functionally when these states occur.
Some of my own
Bad hair day / Getting out of bed on the wrong side.
Processes stuck in loops, caches not cleared. This is why IT support tells you to “turn it off and on again” – a new day for the computer.
We’re stuck because we want to eat our cake and have it.
Two processes are waiting for each other.
Now, I don’t believe my laptop is conscious. Nor will it become conscious when I add an app that measures things like available disc space, CPU capacity, and battery state, and says: “I’m feeling stressed out!” when the CPU is at more than 98% capacity, “I feel sick” when it’s out of disc space, and “I’m hungry” when the battery’s going. Actually, my iPod already does this: “Low battery,” it says mournfully.
But, I hear myself saying, that’s not how I work. I have no idea how high my blood-sugar is. But when it’s too low, I feel hungry. And that’s where the “extra” bit comes in. I feel.
Emotions have a function, or quite a few different functions. And we “feel” them. This is not a necessary consequence of the functions – we can write computer programmes that fulfill these functions without the computers suffering. But the path nature took to solve these issues is one that made us aware.
I just read a blog-post taking up the story of Red Mary, a philosophical thought-experiment. Mary is a neuroscientist who has never seen colours, but has studied them scientifically. For the sake of the argument Mary is taken to have learnt everything that can be learnt about colours, without ever seeing them. The question philosophers now debate is whether Mary learns anything new when she is released from her monochrome prison and sees colour for the first time.
Intuitively, we agree Mary “learns” something new, namely “what it’s like” to see red etc. A similar conundrum “What is it like to be a bat” discusses the fact that we may know much about bats, but not what it’s like to be one. Both are intended to prove dualism, or the idea that there is something non-phyiscal in the world, the carrier of the so-called qualia – from qualis est or lat. what / how is it, or “how-ness”.
Reading these things feels a bit like watching a dog trying to catch its own tail. Of course, dogs eventually learn the trick of leaning against something…
Seeing is a skill
To make it easier, suppose Mary’s new experience is not seeing colour, but riding a bike, where she has no previous experience with anything wobbly on wheels. It’s fairly obvious that the outcome would simply be that she cannot ride a bike.
I would argue it’s the same with seeing colour. After a lifetime in monochrome Mary’s eyes might “see” the colours, i.e. the photo-sensitive cells might still be there, and they might react to the photons, but her visual apparatus would simply not have developed a reaction to it. Neurons that have never fired will not be connected to the visual cortex: she will not visualise or experience red at all.
We are not passive spectators of our experience; consciousness is a process, a skill that has to be learnt, just like riding a bike. We start with something quite basic and build it up as we develop. If we never use it, particularly in childhood, it atrophies and disappears.
This in itself is a fantastic quality of our brain. This is how we each develop an ear to detect and differentiate the sounds characteristic of our own language – how marvelous is that? And this is why our eyes are attracted to writing, as we’ve learnt this carries meaning, yet we ignore scratches on the pavement. In former times we’d have learnt to watch out for traces of sabre-toothed tigers…
Mental filing cabinet
An independent point is that seeing colour is a physical sensation. Neurons carry impulses to the part in my brain that maps information onto a body outline, to tell me what’s going on where. Knowing something theoretical, like “my phone number is 431234” is also an electrical impulse in my brain, but it’s in a completely different circuit. Everything I learn by reading, say, is put into the top mental drawer, body information is in the bottom one. This is brain-hardware.
No piece of information Mary can learn about colour is the same as “seeing” it in her visual cortex. Nothing you put in the top drawer is then in the bottom one. On a smaller scale there is no colour seeing which is “like” having a toothache (though some modern artists do try), and no smell is “like” a butterfly kiss. And no piece of information I learn about your height will make me believe you are a good cook (this one is brain software: I could, illogically, have learnt that the best cooks are 5’7” and vice versa).
That doesn’t mean we need to multiply metaphysical entities as carriers of the how-ness of smells, of colours, of touch etc. Not to mention of height and of being a good cook. If we have separate drawers in our mental filing cabinet, that is a quality of our brains, and it doesn’t imply that there is a top-drawer world separate from a bottom-drawer one, any more than the world we hear must be separate from the world we see.
Similarly, the reason I can’t know what it’s like to be a bat is simply that I don’t have a bat’s body. My body-feeling brain circuits are not built the way a bat’s are, nor are my cognitive processes.
What I find telling, is that in trying to prove the existence of “more than” the physical world, the dualist philosophers manage to ignore so much about the physical world. In particular the physical, very much awe-and-wonder-inspiring bodies we are so lucky to have.
P.S. Bats and colours
Bats obviously don’t see colours (different wavelengths of light) as they “see” by ultrasound echoes, i.e. sound waves. Biologist Richard Dawkins once speculated that bats might use what in our brains is used to visualise colours, to represent different textures of surfaces. I find this idea totally fascinating: would blue be smooth, and red be rough?
She wasn’t sure what the attraction was. It had always been there: even as a girl, she’d stood for hours at the railings of a high bridge. There was some indefinable quality, a thrill she couldn’t explain.
She looked down into the depths knowing it would take just one little step, one little push. A frisson ran down her spine. Did she want to die? No. She loved life far too much.
Was it the risk? That maybe somewhere inside her there was a little rebel who just might push her over? To fly through the air, only the once?
I was approached by young Bertie – ablogdog, which as he kindly explains is not his name, but his you-are-well. Whether this denotes his breed or his profession I cannot say, or perhaps it is a passphrase to some secret domain? Anyway, I was invited to spread my metaphorical wings and broadcast my opinions in this new arena, the blogosphere. B-logo-sphere, a second domain of rationality it seems, or of discourse at any rate. Ever ready to try a new way of giving others the benefit of my superior, I fastened my seat-belt and climbed in the roller coaster of bloggings and twitterings – well, possibly in reverse order.
The new birdsongs are truly delightful, one can only deplore that they come too late. What would the scholar not give to read Archimedes’ “I’m in the bath.”, Newton’s “Would you believe it, an apple just hit me on the head!”, and Edison’s laconic “Making tea.” Whether my new young friends’ “I’m on the train” will prove equally valuable, is not for me to say.
On the blogging front, I am sadly forced to confess failure. I feel entitled to plead attenuating circumstances as I was distracted by the hand of fate. It transported me with a simple click, as if by magic, into the domain of a man named Ted. A loquacious chap, the unanimous verdict on whom seems to be “Ted talks”, otherwise I believe him to be a perfectly fluffy fellow with a catalogue of highly entertaining and enlightening expositions.
Ted’s genius is demonstrated by the fact that all the gems in his collection are brief; one even bespeaks the ability to present any idea in only six words. What progress could humanity make, or the humanities at any rate, if books and essays were strictly proscribed from exceeding a six word limit? One could easily do a whole term’s marking in a leisured forenoon, and take the rest of term off. I would suddenly have enough shelf space for my collection of stuffed owls, though, admittedly, it might be hard to convince publishers you were extensively revising word three.
The following abridgments alone will make space for the espresso machine I intend to buy with today’s profits.
I am sure the current WP writing challenge will spark a shower of poignant stories on family heirlooms, balding teddies, gifts from lost loves, and other memorabilia. Which possessions do I most treasure? An album of childhood photos with my mother’s drawings in it, perhaps? A flying wooden seagull my sister gave me years ago?
It dawns on me that, sitting on my coffee table, I have a little bird sculpture. Perhaps this bird and its cousin, the broken fish, are my favourite possessions. They were my first experiments with soapstone – opus n°4 and opus n°1, respectively – and they made me understand the truth of the old story:
The famous artist <insert name here> is asked how to create beautiful sculptures, like this lion here. The artist replies, “It’s easy. You take a block of stone and chip away everything that’s not part of the lion.”
When I made these figurines, I did indeed puzzle over what could be hidden in the stone. And carving these creatures did feel strangely like setting them free.
But their status as favourites probably isn’t due to these memories. Rather, they are two of only very few pieces I’ve created in any medium that I’m truly happy with. (Well, the fish was a bit fragile. Lesson learnt: make soapstone figurines have a minimum thickness of 1cm everywhere.) I wonder how “real” artists deal with this. Do they keep their secret favourites? Or can they let them go because they are confident of being able to produce more work as good, or even better?
We need to let things go, to make room for the new. Not just in our homes, but in our heads. Yet we hang on to the old because it holds our identity. I know that the self and identity are fictions. Yet they feel so real. I know that by defining myself through my past, I am holding myself back. Nevertheless I’m proud of having carved this bird. I know we need to learn to loosen our bonds to this world and to everthing in it, if we are to die at peace. But the love of life and all it contains pulls at our heartstrings. Relentlessly.
We are drops of spray
Cast up by the surf.
We fly through the air
In the sunlight,
Meeting other droplets,
And parting again.
We revel in our freedom
Look at me:
My shape, my path,
Look, how fast I am going,
How high I can fly!
And as we are
To the ocean below,
We fear losing
Our unique self,
We will become
Once again one
With the deep blue sea.
Consider the lilies of the field,
how they grow:
they toil not, neither do they spin:
and yet I say unto you,
that even Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these.
– Matthew 8:28-29, KJV
Jakesprinter‘s challenge: B/W. The lushness of the lily’s colouring tends to overshadow its sensuous shape. One more reason to try B/W occasionally.
P.S. It suddenly strikes me that the verse begins: “And why take ye thought for raiment?”
I wonder whether Christian nudists (if there are any) take these verses to mean Jesus thought humans, like lilies, don’t need clothes, but are beautiful the way God made them?
[…] One of the reasons why there are doubts about the concept of a nonexistent object is this: to be able to truly claim of an object that it doesn’t exist, it seems that one has to presuppose that it exists, for doesn’t a thing have to exist if we are to make a true claim about it? […]
In other words: if it doesn’t exist, you can’t talk about it, so everything you talk about has got to exist. (sigh)
P.S. Don’t talk about the sock-eating monster in the washing machine.
The Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy* is the premier online resource for philosophy. It has the knotty task of chronicling a field in which putting both feet down the same logical trouser leg is all too common, or pondering whether trousers can be said to have legs.
I thought, perhaps we should look at and agree on what we mean by “to exist” before we start arguing about whether nonexistent objects exist. So I skipped to the article on existence.
This is an interesting and well-written article on how many meanings the word “is” can be said to have. Through history and across schools of thought, philosophers have disagreed on whether “to be” is the same as “to be something or other” or “to be equal to another” etc. Aristotle, apparently, even managed to disagree with himself.
There are some nice examples, one involving elephants and mermaids. It’s best to understand the symbols of formal logic and terms like “second order predicate” before you start.
The one question the article doesn’t seem to answer – and I confess I skimmed – is this. What does it actually mean for something to exist? Though it does helpfully explain that philosophers do not agree on whether or not it means anything at all.
What do you think it means for something to exist?
On the way to work this morning I saw this sign. The elegant hand, the cheerful pink, the airy look and the original meaning of the word made me smile before the message hit me. What a lovely way to woo acceptance.
Then I was awestruck. This is perfect design! Simple and effective. Nothing could be subtracted without loss. Aesthetically pleasing. A message in a smile. Whoever came up with this is a genius.
And it’s not even vandalism! This is Switzerland, after all. It’s chalk!
Now, this may be a world-wide campaign that I’m the last to notice. But just in case it’s not, I want to pass it on. So if you want to campaign for tolerance: drop the 70s-rainbow-flags & buy a stick of pink sidewalk chalk today!
I recently came across a lovely art-blog by watercolour artist / teacher Jana Bouc with beautiful ink-and-watercolours, especially her wildflowers.
It reminded me of an art group I went to years ago. I wanted to improve my drawing skills, and spent hours (or so it seemed) labouring over pencil drawings. I know you need to practice, but it gets fairly tedious, so I used to finish up with a quick ink-and-watercolour study, just for fun.
The pencil drawings weren’t that bad. Yet somehow, I was always happier with the spontaneous watercolour sketches than with the drawings that cost me so much effort. I wonder why. Was it just that I prefer colours over line drawings? Or because in my mind one represented work, the other play? Or did the my impatience with one and joy in the other somehow seep into the drawings?
Hilarious guide to a wide variety of creative ways to botch your photos. For every way, and various combinations, the author provides examples from his family album, as well as detailed instructions on how to create each particular effect. As a bonus he delivers an artistic critique of each type of photo.
In the technical part of the book we encounter such old favourites as fuzzy, over- / underexposed or ill-framed photos – including the popular road-photo, but also highlights such as the thumb-snap or the discoloured photo.
The more challenging chapters on subject matter provide insight into how to create empty, crowded or confused photos. A dedicated chapter explains how to ruin portraits. My particular favourites are the photo-triste (sad) and photo-camouflage.
While I cannot claim to be a master of the botched photo, I consider myself a gifted amateur, and humbly present my own examples for a select few of these techniques, in particular of my own specialty, the fuzzy photo. With a minimum of practice, I’m sure you too will be able to produce such results.
Of course – despite all my best efforts – I sometimes produce photos that have a discernible subject in the frame that is in focus and properly lit.
Nobody is perfect.
(Click on image for carousel view.)
Fuzzy – out of focus. This beautiful impressionistic landscape is achieved by using the “flower” macro setting to shoot a group of trees.
Fuzzy – out of focus. Focus on something in the background and shoot. As the photographer singles out a particular plant for the starring role, all the others seem to be shouting: why not me? An inimitable comment on our modern times.
Fuzzy – moving object. In this case the effect is achieved by photographing in a moving vehicle (tram). Overexposure adds to the abstract charm of the result.
Fuzzy – insufficient light. The secret to this, as many other ways of botching photos is eternal optimism that any conditions will do. Notice how the sea monsters appear to be moving, impatient with their stone prison.
Lighting – underexposed. Make sure to have objects of widely varying brightness in your frame. The result is a beautiful crispness, an almost B/W effect.
Lighting – backlit. Point camera directly at the sun.
Special cases – discolouration. My camera can do that all by itself.
Special cases – discoloration (2).
Framing – the road photo. Snap out of window of moving vehicle to produce a photo devoid of interest.
Framing – the lost photo. Shoot a distant and partially obscured object. Beautifully expresses the disorientation and bewilderment of man in our complex world.
Intervening objects – Trees. Achieved by shooting out of a train window. A tantalizing glimpse of the view we cannot see. The green stripes throw the fleetingness of the moment into relief. The castle’s essential quality – immobility – is beautifully captured.
Mood – the sad photo. Achieved here by flat lighting (overcast moment). This masterpiece exudes a profound sense of desolation.
The photo of absence. An apparently deserted world. Expresses deep fatigue at the essential meaninglessness of life.
Photo camouflage, the crowded photo. With so many things in the frame, it remains a mystery what the intended subject of the picture was. Many spots of bright colours defy any attempt to make sense of the image.
The confused photo. A photo does not need to be crowded or empty to make it unclear what the subject is. The tranquil scene and its decaying boundaries join to create a peaceful melancholy.
The confused photo (2). The rhythmic horizontals leave us to ponder what was going on in the photographer’s mind. A near-abstract masterpiece.
Amateurs worry about equipment,
professionals worry about money,
masters worry about light,
I just take pictures…
– Vernon Trent
In a recent blog post an art student was sneering at mediocre watercolours and flower close-ups posted by amateur “photographers” (sic!). I’m guilty of both, and particularly felt the gratuitous insult of the inverted commas.
Like most amateurs I don’t think highly of my efforts, and am often awed when I see someone else’s. But I am – even childishly – pleased when I succeed in capturing, if only partially, something I see in nature or my mind’s eye. I enjoy sharing that vision.
I also love looking at other people’s efforts. Often I can sense the energy and joy in some quite inexpert ones, or feel pleasure at someone else’s success, sometimes with a twinge of “Ooh, I wish I could do that!” And I believe that anything consciously produced as “Art with a capital A”, or in an effort to showcase one’s talent, creativity or skill, will be strained and somehow lacking.
So I will continue to enjoy creating and sharing mediocre watercolours, snaps of pretty flowers and little stories.
To abstract is to draw out
the essence of a matter.
To abstract in art
is to separate certain fundamentals
from irrelevant material
which surrounds them.
– Ben Shahn
I’m sometimes a little annoyed about the confusion between abstract art (based on real objects, simplifying, reducing and changing them) and non-representational art (not based on objects). Logically, you cannot abstract (lit.: take away), if you don’t start with something to abstract from.
Now, Bertie here is doubly abstract and proud of it: he’s an abstraction of dogginess in the first place, and now he’s been reduced to monochrome triangles. After pondering the matter from various angles, he seems quite happy, and has settled down for a little nap.
Do you have it too? Yes, of course. Everyone does. It’s the universal experience when faced with a blank sheet of paper. Only children and fools are exempt.
The paper is white and fresh, unspoilt. So full of promise, of infinite potential. We’re afraid that our first mark will spoil it. It will ruin everything, deny the promise, wash away the potential. Once we’re working, we’ll do just fine. But that first line is terrifying.
So I sat staring at my pad. I’d already wasted all the time I reasonably could. Time to jump in.
There! The line was drawn.
This week’s 100wcgu at Julia’s place: …the line was drawn…
Wave upon wave like a sea’s green shallows
Or perhaps his own high hopes had made
The wizened look tall.
Walking in the fields taking photos for the “Today” challenge, I suddenly saw the “waves” and the “sea’s green shallows”, and realised I’d never seen it like that before. Is it perhaps the value of poetry, that it lets you see things differently?
We tend to see actions of others in terms of their characters. An action to us seems to prove someone is kind, or courageous, or selfish. We rarely stop to think about what situation the person is in.
Perhaps one of the most important experiments on human behaviour ever done is Darley & Batson1973. It suggests that whether or not we help someone in need depends more on what that means to our current situation – in this case the test subjects were in a hurry – than whether or not we are “kind” or “helpful” people.
If we could stop judging people by their actions, and try instead to understand why they act as they do, it could be a whole new world.
That’s what he would do. Gerald heaved a sigh of relief.
The decision had been driving him crazy. He hadn’t been able to sleep for almost a fortnight. There were so many factors to consider. So many things that could go wrong. But now all that was over. He’d made the decision, and all would be well. It was a great weight off his mind.
He turned over in bed: now for a good night’s sleep. He closed his eyes, ready to drift into oblivion. It was several minutes before he heard the niggling voice.