Monday, June 21, 2010

Seeing Yourself See: Interview with Beau Lotto

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Seeing lightness and color are the simplest sensations the brain has. And yet even at this most basic level we never see the light that falls onto our eyes (called the retinal image) or even the real-world source of that image. 
Rather, neuroscience research tells us that we only ever see what proved useful to see in the past. Illusions are a simple but powerful example of this point. Like all our perceptions, we see illusions because the brain evolved not to see the retinal image, but to resolve the inherent "meaninglessness" of that image by continually redefining normality, a normality that is necessarily grounded in relationships, history and ecology.

But, by "seeing yourself see," in other words by actively exploring how your thoughts, feelings, beliefs and even the colors you see reflect your physical, social and cultural ecology, only then is it possible to understand the source of coherence and conflict within and between individuals.

Put another way, only by accepting my own humanity can I accept the humanity of others. "Seeing myself see" creates the opportunity for this acceptance. Illusions, then, were not the point of my talk, but simply a tool for encouraging this process.
Resolving uncertainty is essential to our survival. Hence our fear of ambiguous situations is palpable -- e.g., the inability to resolve sensory conflict between the eyes and ears can result in nausea (like seasickness). And yet it is only by embracing the unknown within education, science, art and most importantly within our own private lives that we will find new routes to more enlightened ways of seeing and being.
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