Still Developing

keta /KAY-tah/ 
n. an image that inexplicably leaps back into your mind from the distant past.

"It's not just the moments that we remember. Not the grand gestures and catered ceremonies. Not the world we capture poised and smiling in photos. It's the invisible things, the minutes. The cheap raw material of ordinary time. These are the images that will linger in your mind, moving back and forth, still developing."

Keta | The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows from John Koenig on Vimeo.


Over and Over to Myself

The Long Hand Wishes It Was Used
by Jackie Clark, from The Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day

Sometimes I wish I didn't think in words
and that instead for each thought I thought I drew upon an image,
and that I was able to organize each image in a linear way that would be like sort of like reading
and that instead of trying to describe the edges around something
I could just think the color around the edges of the image to be darker,
that the detail on the image could become more or less detailed depending
on how much clarity I believe I needed to disclose at the time
For instance, instead of saying love, I could just think watermelon
I could just think of a watermelon cut in half, laying open on a picnic table
The inside would be just as moist as it was pink
I could picture cutting up pieces and giving them out to my friends.
It wouldn't have to be sunny
It wouldn't have to be anything else then just that
It would really simplify my walk home at night,
where every thought I think is some contrived line I repeat over and over to myself
Words are always just replaced with new ones
The pictures would never need to know otherwise

Jackie Clark: "I often make quiet, patient wishes. Wishes for more realized and open love, wishes for more direction, wishes for less. Wishes and intentions to arm myself against despair. I mostly wish to be able to see the world differently because I think that would rectify some of its difficulty for me. This poem is an attempt to do just that, if only briefly."


Time Machine

SILVER & LIGHT from Ian Ruhter on Vimeo.

"This project isn’t about making images. It’s not about creating the world’s largest camera. It’s about doing what you love. If you had been searching your whole life for something you love and you found it, what would you be willing to sacrifice?

Imagine all the places this camera's gonna take me. Every portrait, every landscape, every photo is an original image. It's a moment frozen in time. I didn't just build a camera, I created a time machine."

~ Ian Ruhter

(@silverlight, Facebook, tumblr)

Overflowing with Thoughts

Excerpt from Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer

Marcus Raichle, a neurologist and radiologist at Washington University, got interested in daydreaming by accident. It was the early 1990s, and Raichle was studying the rudiments of visual perception. His experiments were straightforward: A subject performed a particular task, such as counting a collection of dots, in a brain scanner. Then he or she did nothing for thirty seconds. (“It was pretty boring for the subjects,” Raichle admits. “You always had to make sure people weren’t dozing off.”) Although the scanner was still collecting data in between the actual experiments, Raichle assumed that this information was worthless noise. “We told the subjects to not think about anything,” he says. “We wanted them to have a blank mind. I assumed that this would lead to a real drop in brain activity. But I was wrong.”

Daydreaming, March 17, 2012One day, Raichle decided to analyze the fMRI data collected when the subjects were just lying in the scanner waiting for the next task. (He needed a baseline of activity.) To his surprise, Raichle discovered that the brains of the subjects were not quiet or subdued. Instead, they were overflowing with thoughts, their cortices lit up like skyscrapers at night. “When you don’t use a muscle, that muscle isn’t doing much,” Raichle says. “But when your brain is supposedly doing nothing, it’s really doing a tremendous amount.”

Raichle was fascinated by the surge in brain activity between tasks. At first, he couldn’t figure out what was happening. But while sitting in his lab one afternoon, he came up with the answer: The subjects were daydreaming! (“I was probably daydreaming when the idea came to me,” Raichle says.) Because they were bored silly in the claustrophobic scanner, they were forced to entertain themselves. This insight immediately led Raichle to ask the next obvious question: Why did daydreaming consume so much energy? “The brain is a very efficient machine,” he says. “I knew that there must be a good reason for all this neural activity. I just didn’t know what the reason was.”

After several years of patient empiricism, Raichle began outlining a mental system that he called the default network, since it appears to be the default mode of thought. (We’re an absent-minded species, constantly disappearing down mental rabbit holes.) This network is most engaged when a person is performing a task that requires little conscious attention, such as routine driving on the highway or reading a tedious book. People had previously assumed that daydreaming was  a lazy mental process, but Raichle’s fMRI studies demonstrated that the brain is extremely busy during the default state. There seems to be a particularly elaborate conversation between the front and back parts of the brain, with the prefrontal folds (locate just behind the eyes) firing in sync with the posterior cingulate, medial temporal lobe, and precuneus. These cortical areas don’t normally interact directly; they have different functions and are part of distinct neural pathways. It’s not until we start to daydream that they begin to work closely together.

All this mental activity comes with a very particular purpose. Instead of responding to the outside world, the brain starts to explore its inner database, searching for relationships in a more relaxed fashion. 

The Most Powerful Integrators of Information

"Because the data volumes that we get from space now are astronomical, the only way that we can really handle this anymore is to visualize it. And no matter what computers we may build, the human mind and the human eye [are] still the most powerful integrators of information."

~ Gene Feldman, Oceanographer at NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, from "Creating Earth," Science Friday, Feb. 3, 2012

Looking through a Filter

“I’m just scanning. If you put up an image of the thing in your mind, you’re looking through a filter. You’re not ­going to find it, because it’s not going to match your image. It’s more a color or a pattern. I’ll scan very generally, and then my eye will catch it and I’ll swing back and sort of tease it out from the area.”

~ Evan Strusinski, from "Pan-Seared Hama Hama Sea Rocket Topped with Toothwort Roots & Aged Lichen," by Richard Conniff, Outside Magazine, October 2011

See also: Books by Euell Gibbons

[Thanks, Matt!]

There is a Boundary to Looking

Full moon rise over Woody Mountain.

photo by Pez Owen

by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell

The road from intensity to greatness
passes through sacrifice.         —Kassner

For a long time he attained it in looking.
Stars would fall to their knees
beneath his compelling vision.
Or as he looked on, kneeling,
his urgency's fragrance
tired out a god until
it smiled at him in its sleep.

Towers he would gaze at so
that they were terrified:
building them up again, suddenly, in an instant!
But how often the landscape,
overburdened by day,
came to rest in his silent awareness, at nightfall.

Animals trusted him, stepped
into his open look, grazing,
and the imprisoned lions
stared in as if into an incomprehensible freedom;
birds, as it felt them, flew headlong
through it; and flowers, as enormous
as they are to children, gazed back
into it, on and on.

And the rumor that there was someone
who knew how to look,
stirred those less
visible creatures:
stirred the women.

Looking how long?
For how long now, deeply deprived,
beseeching in the depths of his glance?

When he, whose vocation was Waiting, sat far from home—
the hotel's distracted unnoticing bedroom
moody around him, and in the avoided mirror
once more the room, and later
from the tormenting bed
once more:
then in the air the voices
discussed, beyond comprehension,
his heart, which could still be felt;
debated what through the painfully buried body
could somehow be felt—his heart;
debated and passed their judgment:
that it did not have love.

(And denied him further communions.)

For there is a boundary to looking.
And the world that is looked at so deeply
wants to flourish in love.

Work of the eyes is done, now
go and do heart-work
on all the images imprisoned within you; for you
overpowered them: but even now you don't know them.
Learn, inner man, to look at your inner woman,
the one attained from a thousand
natures, the merely attained but
not yet beloved form.

[Thanks, Ryan!]

The Screen is Always There

Excerpt from Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen, by Shunryu Suzuki:

Our everyday life is like a movie playing on the wide screen. Most people are interested in the picture on the screen without realizing there is a screen. When the movie stops and you don't see anything anymore, you think, "I must come again tomorrow evening. I will come back and see another show." When you are just interested in the movie on the screen and it ends, then you expect another show tomorrow, or maybe you are discouraged because there is nothing good on right now. You don't realize the screen is always there.

But when you are practicing, you realize that your mind is like a screen. If the screen is colorful—colorful enough to attract people—then it will not serve its purpose. So to have a screen which is not colorful—to have a pure, plain white screen—is the most important point. But most people are not interested in the pure white screen.

I think it is good to be excited by seeing a movie. To some extent you can enjoy the movie because you know that it is a movie. Even though you have no idea of the screen, still your interest is based on an understanding that this is a movie with a screen and there is a projector or something artificial. So you can enjoy it. That is how we enjoy our life. If you have no idea of the screen or the projector, perhaps you cannot see it as a movie.

Zazen practice is necessary to know the kind of screen you have and to enjoy our life as you enjoy movies in the theater. You are not afraid of the screen. You do not have any particular feeling for the screen, which is just a white screen. So you are not afraid of your life at all. You enjoy something you are afraid of. You enjoy something that makes you angry or that makes you cry, and you enjoy the crying and the anger too.

The white screen is not something that you can actually attain; it is something you always have. The reason you don't feel you have it is because your mind is too busy to realize it. Once in a while you should stop all your activities and [notice your] screen. That is zazen. That is the foundation of our everyday life and our meditation practice.

 See also: A Shining Screen

Seeing the Other Side of Things


René Magritte wrote, "To equate my painting with symbolism, conscious or unconscious, is to ignore its true nature. People are quite willing to use objects without looking for any symbolic intention in them, but when they look at paintings, they can't find any use for them. So they hunt around for a meaning to get themselves out of the quandary, and because they don't understand what they are supposed to think when they confront the painting. They want something to lean on, so they can be comfortable. They want something secure to hang on to, so they can save themselves from the void. People who look for symbolic meanings fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of the image. No doubt they sense this mystery, but they wish to get rid of it. They are afraid. By asking ‘what does this mean?’ they express a wish that everything be understandable. But if one does not reject the mystery, one has quite a different response. One asks other things."

"To the extent that my pictures have any value," [Magritte] once said, lobbing a grenade at the experts and explainers, "they do not lend themselves to analysis." He quoted Victor Hugo, "We never see but one side of things." And to this he added, "it's precisely this 'other side' that I'm trying to express."

From "The Artist Who Was Master of the Double Take," by Bennett Schiff, Smithsonian Magazine (September 1992)

Seeing Stuff that Makes Real Change in the Real World


“You know, all I wanted to do was draw pictures of horses when I was little. My mother said, Well let's do a picture of something else. They've got to learn how to do something else. let's say the kid is fixated on Legos. Let's get him working on building different things. The thing about the autistic mind is it tends to be fixated. Like if a kid loves race cars, let's use race cars for math. Let's figure out how long it takes a race car to go a certain distance. In other words, use that fixation in order to motivate that kid, that's one of the things we need to do. I really get fed up when they, you know, the teachers, especially when you get away from this part of the country, they don't know what to do with these smart kids. It just drives me crazy…I get satisfaction out of seeing stuff that makes real change in the real world. We need a lot more of that, and a lot less abstract stuff.”

~ Temple Grandin, from “The World Needs All Kinds of Minds," TED Talks (February 2010)

Painting Has Its Own Inadequacy

The Secretary of State, Luc Tuymans (2005) “What you can do with painting is make a more understated type of imagery that approaches an idea from a different angle. It's another medium, in another timescale. And that produces a cognitive image which is sort of branded in the brain. It has something to do with the idea of remembering the imagery but it's also to do with reconstructing the memory, because memory is something that is completely inadequate. That is where painting also comes in because it has its own inadequacy in that it is never complete.”

~ Luc Tuymans, “Q & A,” CNN, October 18, 2006

What We See

Excerpts of dialogue spoken by the Werner Heisenberg character in Michael Frayn’s Tony award winning play, Copenhagen:

How difficult it is to see even what’s in front of one’s eyes. All we possess is the present, and the present endlessly dissolves into the past…And yet how much more difficult still it is to catch the slightest glimpse of what’s behind one’s eyes.

*     *     *

Werner Heisenberg, 1965 BBC interview And that’s when I did uncertainty. Walking round Faelled Park on my own one horrible raw February night. It’s very late, and as soon as I’ve turned off into the park I’m completely alone in the darkness. I start to think about what you’d see, if you could train a telescope on me from the mountains of Norway.

You’d see me by the street lamps on the Blegdamsvej, then nothing as I vanished into the darkness, then another glimpse of me as I passed the lamp-post in front of the bandstand. And that’s what we see in the cloud chamber. Not a continuous track but a series of glimpses — a series of collisions between the passing electron and various molecules of water vapour…

Or think of you, on your great papal progress to Leiden in 1925. What did Margrethe see of that, at home here in Copenhagen? A picture postcard from Hamburg, perhaps. Then one from Leiden. One from Göttingen. One from Berlin. Because what we see in the cloud chamber are not even the collisions themselves, but the water-droplets that condense around them, as big as cities around a traveler — no, vastly bigger still, relatively — complete countries — Germany…Holland…Germany again. There is no track, there are no precise addresses; only a vague list of countries visited. I don’t know why we hadn’t thought of it before, except that we were too busy arguing to think at all.

The Theater of the Mind

Charles Bonnet said he wondered how ‘the theater of the mind’ could be generated by the machinery of the brain. Now, two hundred and fifty years later, I think we’re beginning to glimpse how this is done.”

~ Oliver Sacks, from “What Hallucination Reveals about Our Minds,” TED Talks (February 2009)

The Theater of the Mind

Walking to Oak-Head Pond, and Thinking of the Ponds I Will Visit in the Next Days and Weeks
by Mary Oliver, from What Do We Know

What Do We Know What is so utterly invisible
as tomorrow?
Not love,
not the wind,

not the inside of stone.
Not anything.
And yet, how often I'm fooled—
I'm wading along

in the sunlight—
and I'm sure I can see the fields and the ponds shining
days ahead—
I can see the light spilling

like a shower of meteors
into next week's trees,
and I plan to be there soon—
and, so far, I am

just that lucky,
my legs splashing
over the edge of darkness,
my heart on fire.

I don't know where
such certainty comes from—
the brave flesh
or the theater of the mind—

but if I had to guess
I would say that only
what the soul is supposed to be
could send us forth

with such cheer
as even the leaf must wear
as it unfurls
its fragrant body, and shines

against the hard possibility of stoppage—
which, day after day,
before such brisk, corpuscular belief,
shudders, and gives way.

[From Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac]

Ideas Come as Little Phrases or Images

From The Story from the Static: On Writing and Painting by Audrey Niffenegger:

I have spent most of my life feeling like a woman trying to listen to the radio in a thunderstorm. I am trying to get an idea, something I can turn into a picture, or a novel, and occasionally such a thing does whiz into my brain and it's my job to pick it out from all the static of daily life and find out if it means anything.

Before I can think very hard about this idea I have to figure out if it's a word The Letter, 2005thing or a picture thing. Ideas tend to come to me in the form of little phrases ("the time traveler's wife"; "self-portrait as Siamese twins") or as images (three women with long hair sitting together but refusing to speak to each other; a lady reading a book with a giant spider perched on her hat, also reading the book). These four ideas became a novel, a painting, a picture book, a tiny drawing. They could have taken other forms. I have to take each idea and turn it over in my head, trying it out to see what it does, to see how I can make it bigger and stronger. Mostly I am just trying to see, period. I'm trying to look at it, listen to it, attend to it; I'm trying to find out what it wants.

It takes me a long time to make things, and that's good. The more time I have, the more I can add and subtract, the better the thing will be.

My novel, The Time Traveler's Wife, began as a phrase that came to me while The Time Traveler's Wifedrawing. I could see the main character as an old woman, waiting for her time traveler. But was it a picture, or something else? The characters suddenly had names; as I went about my daily life they began to have personalities, desires, schemes. At this point I realized that a picture book wasn't going to work. Still images are always the present, and they don't capture the fluidity of time. I had the choice of trying to write a novel (which I'd never done) or make a movie (very expensive and requiring the help of other people). I began to write.

[More... ]

A Reality Engine

From The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self by Thomas Metzinger:

The Ego TunnelThe conscious brain is a biological machine—a reality engine—that purports to tell us what exists and what doesn’t. It is unsettling to discover that there are no colors out there is front of your eyes. The apricot-pink of the setting sun is not a property of the evening sky; it is a property of the internal model of the evening sky, a model created by your brain. The evening sky is colorless. The world is not inhabited by colored objects at all.

It is just as your physics teacher in high school told you: Out there, in front of your eyes, there is just an ocean of electromagnetic radiation, a wild and raging mixture of different wavelengths. Most of them are invisible to you and can never become part of your conscious model of reality. What is really happening is that the visual system in your brain is drilling a tunnel through this inconceivably rich physical environment and in the process is painting the tunnel walls in various shades of color. Phenomenal color. Appearance. For your conscious eyes only.

…Nor must your eyes be open to enjoy color experience. Obviously, you can also dream of an apricot-pink evening sky, or you can hallucinate one. Or you can enjoy an even more dramatic color experience under the influence of a hallucinogenic drug, while staring into the void behind your closed eyelids. Converging data from modern consciousness research show that what is common to all possible conscious sensations of apricot-pink is not so much the existence of an object “out there” as a highly specific pattern of activation in your brain. In principle, you could have this experience without eyes…

…it is not clear what counts as a whole experience: Are experiences discrete, countable entities? However, the flow of experience certainly exists, and cognitive neuroscience has shown that the process of conscious experience is just an idiosyncratic path through a physical reality so unimaginably complex and rich in information that it will always be hard to grasp just how reduced our subjective experience is. While we are drinking in all the colors, sounds, and smells—the diverse range of our emotions and sensory perceptions—it’s hard to believe that all of this is merely an internal shadow of something inconceivably richer. But it is.

Artists and Accountants

From Thinking in Pictures: and Other Reports from My Life With Autism by Temple Grandin:

Thinking in Pictures When a well-respected animal scientist told me that animals do not think, I replied that if this were true, then I would have to conclude that I was unable to think. He could not imagine thinking in pictures, nor assign it the validity of real thought. Mine is a world of thinking that many language-based thinkers do not comprehend. I have observed that the people who are most likely to deny animals thought are often highly verbal thinkers who have poor visualization skills. They excel at verbal or sequential thinking activities but are unable to read blue-prints.

It is very likely that animals think in pictures and memories of smell, light, and sound patterns. In fact, my visual thinking patterns probably resemble animal thinking more closely than those of verbal thinkers. It seems silly to me to debate whether or not animals can think. To me it has always been obvious that they do. I have always pictured in my mind how the animal responds to the visual images in his head. Since I have pictures in my imagination, I assume that animals have similar pictures. Differences between language-based thought and picture-based thought my explain why artists and accountants fail to understand each other. They are like apples and oranges.

[More blog posts related to Temple Grandin and her work.]