Friday, October 3, 2008

Playing with Lenses (Ch.3)

Fisheye lens, macro lens, telephoto lens, wide-angle lens, 35mm lens. Different camera lenses help us make different pictures of the world. You can stand in the same spot and take radically different photographs with each of the lenses just mentioned. But even without a camera, we can see in multiple ways just by varying the ways we pay attention with our eyes. How we focus our eyes shapes how we perceive the world - even playing a big role in WHAT we perceive. On a deeper level our physical vision is linked to our way of being and acting in the world. How do you see the world?

Note:  I learned about the basic types of vision written about here from the writings of Tom Brown, Jr.   I am adding to those ideas here with my own thoughts and observations, which were probably influenced also by different sources which I can't remember right now.

Tunnel Vision
The default method of seeing in our culture is "tunnel vision," a narrow, straight line of focus. Tunnel vision helps us get stuff done, be productive, get from A to B. In its symbolic sense, tunnel vision keeps us on the "straight and narrow" path, representing self-limitation for the purpose of staying on a chosen or a socially-sanctioned path. It is a goal-oriented way of seeing: pointing your vision at a target and going straight toward it. You shut out most other things from awareness. Our culture loves tunnel vision. It is the type of vision which goes along with abstract thinking and reasoning. It is the kind of vision we usually use when watching television, looking at a computer, or reading.
The extreme version of tunnel vision is what I call "laser focus." With your laser, you can cut things up and analyze them scientifically. Laser focus is also the focus of obsession. This kind of vision can give you a headache! You get a lot accomplished, like with tunnel vision, but the energy is extremely concentrated. You can hurt people with this kind of vision. It can be cruel in its intensity, single-mindedness, and tendency to dissect.
Tunnel vision and laser focus are not "bad." They have led to many accomplishments and discoveries. However, they seem to be grossly overused by our culture! I know I use these modes a lot, with good and less-good outcomes. What are we missing out on, in the world outside our personal tunnels of habit? What are we doing as a species as we pursue our own agenda while ignoring the consequences to natural systems as a whole?

GAME #1: Notice when you are traveling in a narrow channel of habit and how this tends to lead you from point A to point B without much awareness of what's even nearby your tunnel of focus. Make an effort to notice random things - anything you don't usually look at - outside your usual routine of vision.

GAME #2: Positive use of tunnel vision: choose an object, and observe it for a period of time - say, 15 minutes. As your mind begins to wander, bring it back, an continue seeing more and more detail in the object. Notice color, texture, light reflection, shadow, negative space around it or inside it, geometry of it, substance it's made of, and so on. Do you appreciate it more now?

GAME #3: Notice the usual diameter of your personal tunnel. How wide is it? Now imagine your tunnel dilating, getting wider and fatter. Feel your forehead and your eyeball muscles relax, and it keeps expanding until your tunnel bursts open and you are suddenly using the next method of seeing....

Wide-Angle Vision
This is a way of relaxing your eyes and paying attention to the whole field in front of you and to the sides. You are not looking at anything in particular. You allow things to register in your brain from your peripheral vision. You don't keep your eyes fixed in one place - you let them wander a bit, or turn your head, always keeping the widest field to both sides and up and down.
This a more passive mode, as you wait for things to happen anywhere in the field. You are not projecting any more importance on one part of the field than on any other. It is a zone of awareness which is able to pick up motion, even tiny flutters in the periphery. You sense the layout of things and also the feel of the spaces between them as your brain scans here and there over the field. Hunters, both human and animal, use this to become aware of prey. When prey is sighted, then they zero in with sharp focus.
Wide-angle vision puts you in a state of flow with your environment. It is a state of being which makes you more aware of relationships: between objects, landscape elements, animals, people, flows of energy.
You will be amazed by how many more animals and birds you will notice if you slow down and practice this way of seeing. I have experienced this in the city as well as in the woods or other environment. In the city this kind of vision is important for personal safety: being aware of your surroundings, including the movement of vehicles and possibly people who could have suspicious motives. You can use wide-angle vision to spot friends in a crowd, or to see random people wearing the color red.
You will be a lot more aware about how people are interacting socially. I am trying to practice this when I play in an orchestra so I can feel more connected to the other musicians - to enjoy being in the moment together with them, instead of being so laser-focused on my part that I miss out on feeling part of a greater whole.

GAME #1: Stand up and hold both arms up together, straight in front of you. Now slowly move them apart wider and wider, keeping your attention on both, until they are as far out as you can take them and still keep them in your peripheral vision. Wiggle your fingers and tickle you brain a little. Keeping your head still, continue wiggling your fingers and circle your arms up, around the edges of your vision and to the center at 12:00, as high as you can see without moving your head, then all the way down and around to the ground at 6:00. Hold the whole field in your awareness and flicker your attention around it.

GAME #2: Expanding Fisheye. Imagine you have a fisheye lens on your face. The fisheye takes a picture of a wide angle where the image looks wrapped around you. Focus your fisheye on a sphere three feet (or one meter) out from you, keeping the whole sphere in equal focus/non-focus. Now make the sphere bigger, say 6 feet (2m) out. What is there? Take it to 12 feet, 24 feet. Remember that the sphere expands up and down as well as to the sides.

Play with your eyes and the psychology of vision.
Pretend you have the eyes of a
fly - multiple pictures at once!
airplane - get the overview
eagle - see something in the distance
microscope - look closely at hidden details

Books to check out: field guides by Tom Brown, Jr.
also this page:
To get more in depth about attention and creativity:
Thinkertoys, by Michael Michalko
Creativity, by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi (This is a great book I dip into once in a while to remind me of important things and to give me new insights. Maybe now's the time to read more of it. It relates to the discussion of vision because creative people, although they become very focused on their projects, also vary their attention and have periods of idle time where they are letting images or information to come in, as in wide-angle vision.)

1 comment:

auberge said...

I believe you've been playing some Beethoven lately, right? More than with the works of any other composer (including Philip Glass), when I listen to Beethoven, I often feel that I'm looking/hearing through changing lenses. At one moment we're made aware of the grand scale of things; in the following we're looking at one of the minute fragments of that previous grand design , but this time it's blown up in size and repeated enough and morphed in all possible ways so that you can't ignore it! Our whole perception of foreground and background is forced to change; but then this little motif will float off into the background again as if it was all an illusion that we could hear it so clearly for a few moments. Do you hear it this way?