When a human being visually perceives, she mentally organizes,
sorts, groups, prioritizes and labels the things in the scene.
When you look at an ink sketch, you mentally assemble the ink
lines, squiggles and dots into a form. "It's a kitty cat."
"It's a cottage in the woods." You decide which ink
marks belong together and how, and which do not. Two people can
and do group the ink markings differently.
A Rorschach ink blot is perceived differently by different
people. The ink blot remains the same. The viewer changes. Rorschach
ink blots are used by psychiatrists and psychologists to learn
about an individual's mind.
Rorschach ink blot: What does this look like to you? (Looks
like a scary wolf to me, and like two ballerinas to a friend.)
The human is never just an observer of a scene, but an active
participant in creating his perception. The viewer picks out
what information is deemed important and what is not. When someone
labels a photo as "a group of kittens," the label has
grouped kittens together and disregarded other visible information
(background pillow, wall, grass, toy). The picking out of kittens
alone as the label shows us the viewer's priorities.
* * * *
A human does not and cannot simultaneously focus on all information
in a scene. Humans don't have the mental capacity. Humans focus
on some things and ignore others. When you enter a room, your
eyes are drawn to something or things. Perhaps you focus on the
gracious hosts, perhaps a statue to the side. If there is a rat
in the middle of the floor, your immediate perception will be
of the rat and not of the rose wallpaper.
If you enter the room and there is an attractive nude, you
likely won't notice what is on the coffee table. You might not
even notice the coffee table. After blushingly excusing yourself
and scooting out of the room, you may not recall the existence
of a coffee table, but it was there right in front of your eyes.
This focus, and the resulting perception, is your creation.
* * * *
Is it three bars or a horse shoe?
With the just shown impossible trident visual illusion, the
viewer forms a perception about the whole from looking at just
one end. When she looks at the other end, she realizes her extrapolation
was wrong. Unlike the examples from the pervious chapter (Visual
Illusions: Imagination), there is no missing information. All
of the information is there for the eyes to see, but the viewer
forms her initial perception as if information is hidden. She
mentally hides the information herself.
* * * *
If you ask someone to group and prioritize things in a picture,
you will see both her biases and how she perceives. The perception
will be just as much about the viewer as the picture.
* * * *
The viewer's purpose shapes perception. A person going to
look at the art will have a different perception of the museum
than someone merely stopping by to use bathroom. A kid visiting
to do a report on sculpture will have a different perception
of the art than a kid doing a report on paintings. If they visit
different areas of the museum and enter different doors, they
may have different ideas about the building's architecture.
The purpose is formed before the scene is viewed, meaning
a perception is partially predetermined.
* * * *
Language is a common way to organize, label and perceive objects
and ideas. Native language is something we learned as infants,
talk, think and even dream in. Our native language has profound
influence on how we look at the world. Different languages give
different emphasis, meaning, aesthetics, sounds and, perhaps
most important, categories to things. As one perceives and thinks
in part through categorizing (cats belong as one group, dogs
belong as one group, magazines as another), native linguistic
categories influence even subconscious perception. It influences
how we imagine things when our eyes are closed.
An elemental example of difference between languages is when
a person in Atlanta Georgia and a person in Rome Italy read the
same word 'pizza,' yet imagine different things. A pizza in Georgia
is different than a pizza in Italy. If you asked the two to identify
a pizza at a market, they might point to different objects. The
Italian may say of the Georgian's choice, "You're crazy.
That's not pizza. Let me read the label
Do not defrost before cooking
You Americans might know Slim Whitman
and Gilligan's Island, but you know nothing about pizza. Come
to Rome and I'll show you pizza."
Many differences are more subtle. For example, different cultures
do not always categorize color alike. Different languages can
and do have a different number of names for colors. This means
a particular name, say red or green, will apply to a different
range of wavelength on the visible light spectrum. It's the same
total light spectrum of color for both cultures, but the different
numbers of names divide the spectrum into a different size pieces.
Like cutting two identical pizzas, one into nine pieces and the
other into seven. The pizzas are identical except one has fewer
and bigger pieces. In one culture, 'red' can cover a different
range of color than the equivalent word 'red' in another culture.
What you call red, a person on another continent may or may not
Even within a culture, people often categorize colors differently.
This is commonly done in the marginal areas, such as aqua blue,
dark orange versus red, magenta versus pink. It is probable that
you perceive some borderline colors differently than your spouse,
friend or co-workers. If two friends define colors differently,
they may believe they are talking about different cloth swatches
when they are talking about the same one. Or they may believe
they are talking about the same swatch when they are talking
This between friends difference can be because they don't
have the exact same color vision and that they never had a serious
discussion about what are the boundaries of aqua blue, or what
constitutes badious, brunneous and gamboges. I don't recall ever
having an instructor teach the exact boundaries of aqua blue,
aqua marine or magenta, not even in art class. I doubt I ever
had an instructor who knew the exact boundaries.
As humans commonly communicate, learn and conceptualize the
abstract through words, different interpretations of words often
lead to conflicts. What may at first appear to be a visual illusion
or even mental illness in a person may be a difference in culture.
An American joke is "Never ask for Squirt on an English
airline." To Americans, Squirt is a brand of lemon/lime
soda pop. To the English the word means urine.
I think it's safe to order 7Up.
(c) david rudd cycleback, cycleback.com
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