Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Human Brain, 'Seeing' and Symmetry

So, the human brain then...

When our eyes communicate with the brain as to what they 'see' they are not presenting a complete set of data. Instead they scan a few bits of information for the brain to compare against its template of what reality is, in case those bits of data contain anything 'surprising' or 'off the map'. Figures from research suggest that information from the eye only provide 10-15% of what we see. The brain's pre-set picture of reality is the other 85%. This is because there is just too much information in our reality for the eye to cope with. The short-cutting is how we can interact with our environment speedily and without being overwhelmed, or taking so long that we are eaten or attacked. We take a lot for granted. To wit, the entire image of reality that the brain holds up as a knitting or jigsaw pattern. Our brains posit that human adults are upright creatures and trees also are vertical. The unpredicted and 'strange' are when we see a human or a tree horizontal. Then context comes into play as a modifier. We may not find a human lying down so strange if it is on a bed, or a sunlounger or a lilo. A horizontal tree, well has it been cut down or blown over in a storm? Or was there simply no one to see & hear it fall over and therefore it didn't? Perhaps an example of a left-field logic trying to explain something that doesn't accord to the regular template. 

In order for the brain to hold this template of constancy as to what perceived reality is, it requires pattern. Since our senses are actually searching for deviations from pattern to report to the brain as divergence requiring a possible response. And pattern derives from symmetry. Is it at all surprising that we find symmetry underpins all laws of the universe? (and of course is vital for the hermetic system of mathematics to function, the same maths that defines the physical laws of the universe). We need symmetry to organise and pattern the templates of our brains. Which our brains then stamp on all its interpretations of reality making them symmetrical. Again, I don't really buy into the centrality of symmetry. It just suits our anatomies and how they interact with our environments. And yet there are no straight lines in nature to form an axis of mirror or radial symmetry. Are our faces symmetrical? Not to my mind, but since face recognition is so hard wired into us humans, conceiving of face symmetry is an important value in face recognition so again we overlay it into our processes of seeing other faces. 

So for me my desire as an artist is to get to that 85% picture of reality the brain holds and take an axe to it. Or at least figure out where some of its assumptions/constructions derive from. That way madness lies? I'm pretty confident not. Also to strip away the notions of symmetry where they in fact may not exist, but our brain proffers that they do because it is so reliant on it. And as part of this process, that involves moving away from the symmetries of story, of beginning, middle and end as established by Aristotle in his "Poetics" The argument is that human beings are so constituted that story is naturally very important to us. And indeed it is because story organises events and experience into patterns. But as I suggest above, these patterns do not accord to anything by a workable reality, when in fact we may now strive for something just a bit better than 'workable'. I really believe that our fixed notions of reality hold us back and we would be far more creative and inventive (and who knows less exploitative in our dealings with our environment) if we had say more of a quantum approach to our reality. Just because it's comfortable for our brains to tell us this is how things are, doesn't mean that's the best recipe for going forward. Time for artists to think and write out the box. Visual artists have over a century's head start on us writers as painters like Monet, Cezanne, Seurrat et al challenged the way we 'see' things on a flat 2-dimensional canvas. They explored light, colour and materiality. They did not take their reality as given. 

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