Tag Archives: perception

Reflected

Feelings are peculiar things. Some people seem to consider them illusions, glosses that we paint, consciously or unconsciously, over reality and that affect our perception of that reality.

Some people look at the biological aspect of emotions, the chemical and electrical triggers. To these folks, perhaps, feelings are more substantial in nature, phenomena that have clear (even if science has not yet fully explained them) causes and effects.

Some believe that emotion, sensitivity to energies, even extra-sensory-perception (ESP) are senses like sight and smell, things that tell us about the reality around us.

And then there are those, like me, who believe that all three are true. I’ve seen how my emotions can cloud my perception, I’ve felt the chemical “switch” in my brain tick over and throw me into a depression that has no external cause. But I’ve also had experiences that tell me there is more to reality. If I am right about that last bit, and if we are capable of perceiving it, then our emotions may be part of a continuum of senses that tell us about the intangible.

C. S. Lewis, in one of his essays that I am too lazy at present to look for, talks about the difference between observation and experience, of how someone who is in love knows love in one way, and someone observing someone in love knows it another way, and how it is not immediately clear which experience is the more “true” or “accurate,” if, even, that question has any meaning. For I believe, and I think Lewis would agree with me, that both are true, but in different ways.  I’ve spent most of my life as the observer, and it has taught me a great deal.

Part of me doesn’t trust emotion. This part of me used to be much stronger than it is now. In fact, it used to rule me. This part sees emotions as irrational (which, to be fair, they are), and therefore untrustworthy at best, and dangerous at worst. Much of what I have observed over the years bears up this assumption.

Years ago, now, I ran up against the limits of my rational mind. It was like hitting a wall at high speed. It broke me. And I remained broken until I accepted that other ways of knowing have value, and that the rational mind is only capable of evaluating part of reality. Since then, with my prejudice against emotion weakened, I’ve been able to see the good it does in our lives, as well.

To put it another way, I am aware of the science behind sight. How light bounces off matter, is filtered by my eyes, bounced and refracted and then translated into images by my brain. I know that things can go wrong with this process, that it isn’t entirely trustworthy, and that at best, it is only showing me a tiny sliver (the visible spectrum) of reality. But at the same time, if it were not for this flawed perception, what would I know of the light? I need sight, even if I cannot always trust it entirely.

Perhaps emotions are similar in regard to the unseen world. They’re imperfect, only representative of a small input of information, and translated by an organ that is notoriously unreliable. But without them, what would I know of anything beyond the material world?

This has become particularly relevant to me lately as I am dealing with an extremely irrational and incapacitating emotion: I’m in love.

It’s TERRIFYING.

I may be more comfortable with my emotions than I was ten years ago, but this is in a league of its own. I have moments where my rational brain is screaming at me that I can’t be trusted, and other moments where the very same rational brain reluctantly admits that there is no way that I am going to be rational about this. And that that is ok. As long as I try not to be stupid, it’s time to take risks.

Some background: I’m 35. This is the first time I’ve been in love. I’ve had crushes, none of which were ever reciprocated. I’ve been on a few dates here and there, none of which turned into anything. I’ve had people crush on me when I couldn’t reciprocate, and once I was stalked, which sucks.

But now I have feelings for someone who also has feelings for me. This is completely new territory. I alternate from being emotionally overwhelmed in a pleasant way, to being overwhelmed with fear of the unknown. “…For love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If one were to give all the wealth of one’s house for love, it would be utterly scorned.” Song of Songs 8:6-7

It seems I have reason to fear. And that fear is compounded by my instinct to not trust emotion. My rational mind is not disengaged. I don’t even know how to disengage it. But I am well aware that this is not the time to be purely rational.

I am rambling, at at nearly 900 words I’d best wrap this up soon. I am not even sure what my point is, other than to see my thoughts placed into words.

If anything, I guess it is a question tossed into the ether: For someone who’s default is rational, who knows that even the best relationships are challenging, and who, though she has faith in a higher benevolent power who has her back, also believes that that doesn’t protect her from worldly consequences, how is it possible to fall in love?

And how far is too far to fall?

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Language and Perception

One moment last night can be described in similes; otherwise it won’t go into language at all. Imagine a man in total darkness. He thinks he is in a cellar, or dungeon. Then there comes a sound. He thinks it might be a sound from far off-waves or wind-blown trees or cattle half a mile away. And if so, it proves he’s not in a cellar, but free, in the open air. Or it may be a much smaller sound, close at hand-a chuckle of laughter. And if so, there is a friend just beside him in the dark. Either way, a good, good sound. I’m not mad enough to take such an experience as evidence of anything. It is simply the leaping into imaginative activity of an idea which I would always have theoretically admitted- the idea that I, or any mortal at any time, may be utterly mistaken as to the situation he is really in.
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Five senses; an incurably abstract intellect; a haphazardly selective memory; a set of preconceptions and assumptions so numerous that I can never examine more than a minority of them- never become even conscious of them all. How much of total reality can such an apparatus let through?
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-C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
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This could pass without comment, and for the most part, I will allow it to do so. I read this passage, this morning, for the first time. I am sure subsequent readings will reveal other facets, but for now, two things strike me.
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One moment last night can be described in similes; otherwise it won’t go into language at all.
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Someone whose writing I greatly value and respect feels the same restrictiveness of language that I do.
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Five senses; an incurably abstract intellect; a haphazardly selective memory; a set of preconceptions and assumptions so numerous that I can never examine more than a minority of them- never become even conscious of them all. How much of total reality can such an apparatus let through?
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Yes. Just… yes. If I could remind myself of this constantly, I would, and if I could teach others one fundamental rule for interacting with each other and the world, it would be this.

Khazâd Part III: Creation

Photo by Jubilare

Photo by Jubilare

Ever since I was a child the three dimensions, our perception of them, and our ability to change things within them have fascinated me. Texture, shape, matter, color, shadow, highlight, space, distance! And that is only where the realm of the physical touches two of our five senses.

Stop. Right now.

Wipe your mind of all that you take for granted and try to understand how bizarre and wondrous the material world really is. Consider the possibility that nothing has to be, yet here it is. Think about the space between you and the nearest object and try to feel how strange your perception of that space, and that object would be if your senses had only been awakened this moment.

If you haven’t tried this before, it may be hard at first. We’ve been swimming in the physical from our earliest memories. We are so used to this that anything else would seem strange and exciting to us, but we are capable of realizing how awe-inspiring this world is.

Think about the things you see every day. Your bed, a blanket, a cup of water, a tree with texture so meticulously detailed that it stretches from a forest to the atoms of its inmost ring. Your own body, even with its flaws, so knit together that you live and move, with cells constantly dying and being reborn. How shadows change a surface, and light can make things glow.

Photo by Jubilare. Often it is the simple things that awe.

Photo by Jubilare. Often it is the simple things that awe.

If you think about this too long and too deeply, it can overwhelm you.

It’s best to find a balance where you neither take the physical for granted, nor allow yourself to be overcome by the incomprehensible vastness and detail of it all. I think it is good for us to pause and run our hand over a desk, or breathe in winter air, taking time to feel, taste, smell. So many gifts are wasted on us when we don’t pay attention.

You may be wondering what this has to do with J. R. R. Tolkien’s Dwarves.

I think (and yes, I may be projecting) that the Dwarves, in general, share my instinctual wonder of the world. Tolkien’s words suggest a people who, while rugged and shielded in other regards, are hyper-sensitive when it comes to the properties and beauties of the inanimate part of Arda. Even though they lack my passion for trees and plants, they appreciate them enough to use them as common themes in their works.

From the outside, fascination with the material can look a lot like materialism. Now, some Dwarves from Tolkien’s writing are avaricious and materialistic. There is no denying that. After all, love of matter can become materialism if taken too far. But I believe there is a pure and healthy love of the physical that is not possessive, or hedonistic, or materialistic, and I believe that love is an underlying theme in the character of the Khazâd.

My theory is supported by one of the Dwarves’ most well-known traits.  It is a short step from loving creation, to wishing to create. I find myself compelled, through my awe of matter, to shape small pieces of my world. This is why I identify so strongly with the Dwarven love of craftsmanship.

In the Silmarillion it is clear Aulë and Melkor have a great measure of Eru’s creative spirit.  In Melkor’s case, that spirit becomes grasping and possessive, but Aulë remains free and generous. Even in his clandestine making of the Dwarves his actions stem from a desire to share the wonders of Arda, his knowledge, and joy in existence.

Whether the creative nature of the Dwarves comes from Aulë or from the spirits bestowed on them by Eru, there is no doubt that they posses it. Throughout Tolkien’s work we see the intense and sensitive appreciation for beauty in the Dwarves. None of the other industrial or quasi-industrial races have this eye for beauty or the smoldering desire to carefully enhance it.

Ultimately, the Dwarves are lovers of nature and that love manifests in their works. Many of their number even abandon all other pursuits, devoting themselves to their craft with monk-like singleness of mind.  They are industrious, both from a practical standpoint and from a creative one. It boggles my mind that this focused creativity is sometimes perceived as prosaic and even dull. But then I suppose the makers of illuminated manuscripts of ages past are sometimes seen in a similar light by modern society. Have we lost some of our ability to appreciate that kind of focus?

In my recent delving into Tolkien’s work, I kept a record of the objects and places shaped by the Dwarves. I have chosen a few to mention. Some you may know. Some might surprise you.

Angrist: the knife Beren used to cut a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown

Narsil: Sword of the Númenórean kings, broken in cutting the One Ring from Sauron’s hand,  later to become Andúril

Menegroth:  a cooperative effort of Dwarves and Elves

The pillars of Meneroth were hewn in the likeness of the beeches of Oromë, stock, bough and leaf, and they were lit with lanterns of gold. The nightingales sang there as in the gardens of Lórien; and there were fountains of silver, and basins of marble, and floors of many-coloured stones. Carven figures of beasts and birds there ran upon the walls, or climbed upon the pillars, or peered among the branches entwined with many flowers. – Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 10

Nauglamír:

It was a carcanet of gold, and set therin were gems uncounted from Valinor; but it had a power within it so that it rested lightly on its wearer as a strand of flax, and whatsoever neck it clasped it sat always with grace and loveliness.  – Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 13

Dale:

You should see  the waterways of Dale, Frodo, and the fountains, and the pools! You should see the stone-paved roads of many colours! And the halls and cavernous streets under the earth with arches carved like trees; and the terraces and towers upon the Mountain’s sides!  -Many Meetings, The Fellowship of the Ring

And that is just a smattering. Pay attention as you read and you will find more. I would love to step into these stories, if only briefly, to see and perhaps touch some of the marvels Tolkien imagined.

Last, and perhaps most telling of the hearts and minds of the Khazâd, I mention their own idea of what lies in store for them.  According to the Silmarillion, they believe that when Arda is remade they will work side by side with Aulë in the reshaping of the world. Imagine the beauty and wonder, care, imagination, focus, and labor involved in such a feat. I am glad Tolkien included such a beautiful legend in his tales of Middle Earth.

We are near the end of my ramblings on this subject. I will have worn it, and myself out, I think, but hopefully I will have achieved my goal. One post left.

For the rest of the series, look here:
Of the Free Peoples of Arda
Contrariwise
Khazâd Part I: Aulë
Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World
Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On

Photo by Jubilare. Water showing how to carve a rock.

Photo by Jubilare. Water showing how to carve a rock.


All About the Tuning

How does this make you feel? :)

Time for rambling on an extended metaphor.

George MacDonald once wrote: “If there be music in my reader, I would gladly wake it.”

He has stirred my soul to music many times, yet I know, for some, he only strikes a discord. Does this mean they have no music in them?

I think not. It is all about the tuning.

I came to this metaphor while driving one night and I have been turning it over in my mind ever since. The existence of the phrase “strike a chord” tells me that I’m only now catching on to a very old idea. I wonder if the thought occurred to the first human ever to play an instrument.

Literature, music, art, and people are often associated with melody and discord in the soul, but I think every experience plays on us. Places, smells, colors, and noises in nature and the world around us create “sound” in this way.

Unlike instruments, however, humans are not passive in this process. It is here that the metaphor breaks down, though not completely.

It would be senseless to argue that I can only react a certain way to something because of my predisposition. I don’t simply mean changing my mind, as that can be subconscious, a change in circumstances which changes my tuning (and my tuning changes ceaselessly).  I am speaking of awareness of my reactions. The music or discord retains its instinctual nature, but it does not have to rule me.

Why does the scent of reindeer lichen stir my soul to depths of joy? Why does the sight of corrugated steel make me a little ill? The reasons, or even understanding that there are reasons, give me power to explore my own feelings and avoid being judgmental when the feelings of others contradict my own. This also allows me to hold an opinion that is not based on my feelings. This kind of understanding seems to be missing from many political arenas and social conversations. I am not a relativist, but I do believe that attempting to understand the “other” point of view is vital for civilized discourse.

How this ties into storytelling:

What resonates with people in a story has an instinctual quality. The persistence of cliches, archetypes and tropes is a symptom of this. Tropes would not exist if they did not play certain chords on a segment of people and this makes them handy tools in storytelling, but tools that require careful use. But that is a post for another time. :)

Details, description, and theme are also powerful influences on a reader. My personal philosophy of writing, at present, demands that I balance effect on the audience with my own preferences, while the integrity of the story itself trumps both. I have very little control over  what chords I strike in an individual, as authors I read have little control over my reactions to their work. That is something that every writer should accept for the sake of sanity. No matter how good a job we do in writing, some people are not going to like what we create.

In speaking with the inspiring blogger BeKindRewrite, I realized that the musical metaphor has some bearing on my reaction to beloved books turned into films. I have discovered that the key, for me, is tone. One cannot expect a film and a book to strike exactly the same chords in a person. However, differing details between the works may be acceptable if the tone of the film is similar to that of the book.

Examples:

“Lord of the Rings” trilogy: Peter Jackson’s film interpretation of the story differs from the books in many respects. He changes characters, plot devices, and lines, sometimes to good effect and sometime to bad. So why do I like the films as an interpretation of the novels? I resonate in much the same way when I read one of Tolkien’s sweeping scenes and when Jackson pans in on Meadowseld with the strings-heavy Rohan theme playing. The same is true of the new “Tintin” movie, the “Princess Bride,” and the 1995 film “Persuasion.”

Then there are the films that strike a very different chord in me from the books on which they are based. It does not follow that they are bad films or that I dislike them (though some I dislike very much). Examples of this include the new “Sherlock Holmes” films, the 2005 “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” the 2005 “Pride and Prejudice,” and horror of horrors, the 1978 “Watership Down.”

I have rambled all over the place with this idea, and could ramble still more, but I think I should draw to a close. I have come to a two-fold conclusion in this exploration:

1. An awareness of the music and discord within us all can make me more tolerant of the opinions of others. I may still have views regarding the quality of an artistic work, but I can easily accept and respect the fact that what makes music in one person, may make dissonance in another without the need to devalue the opinion of one.

2. To anyone who transfers a work from one art form into another: Heed the tone. If you can get that right, you are more than halfway to your goal.


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