From the category archives:

Senses

Eros and Disorder

February 10, 2011

in Poetry,Senses,Words

A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility,
Do more bewitch me, than when art
is too precise in every part.

— From “Delight in Disorder” by Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

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These stanzas from Thomas Traherne’s “Walking” seem to resonate with the idea of small stones:

To walk abroad is, not with eyes,
But thoughts, the fields to see and prize;
Else may the silent feet,
Like logs of wood,
Move up and down, and see no good
Nor joy nor glory meet.

To walk is by a thought to go;
To move in spirit to and fro;
To mind the good we see;
To taste the sweet;
Observing all the things we meet
How choice and rich they be.

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Note: The High Definition version of this video by Shawn Knol is only available on vimeo.com. I suggest you view it there. Full screen.

via Maria Popova

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Summarizing a recent study:

…the tactile disadvantage extends to the conceptual domain. That is, we seem to be slower at recognising when a word is tactile in nature than we are at recognising whether words are visual, to do with taste, sound, or smell.

The researchers had dozens of participants look at words on a screen, presented one at a time, and press a button to say if they were related to the tactile modality (e.g. ‘itchy’) or not. Some words were tactile-related whilst others were fillers and related to the other senses.

The same task was then repeated but with participants judging whether the words were visual-related, auditory and so on, with each sense dealt with by a new block of trials. The key finding is that participants were much slower at this task in the tactile condition than for the other senses. This was the case even when words were presented for just 17ms, which is too fast for conscious detection but long enough for accurate responding.

Connell and Lynott say their findings provide further evidence for the tactile sense having a processing disadvantage relative to the other senses. They think this is because there’s little evolutionary advantage to sustaining attention to the tactile modality whereas there are obvious survival advantages with the other senses, for example: ‘…in hunting, where efficacious looking, listening and even smelling for traces of prey could afford an advantage.’ You may think of pain and damage detection as reasons for paying sustained attention to the tactile domain, but remember these are served by spinal reflexes. ‘We do not wait for the burning or stinging sensation to register with the attentional system before responding,’ the researchers said.

I can think of lots of reasons for sustained attention to tactile sensation, but they probably don’t have any evolutionary purpose.

via Bobulate

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Snowfall at Dusk

December 29, 2009

in Image,Place,Senses

I actually choked on a snowflake earlier this evening, but my cold, wet walk was worth it.

Snowfall in Portland (Dusk)

This evening in Portland

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Gary Snyder, quoted in the book “Where Inspiration Lives”:

Another key principle in this creative stewardship is waking up to “wild mind.” He clarifies that “wild” in this context does not mean chaotic, excessive, or crazy.

“It means self-organizing,” he says. “It means elegantly self-disciplined, self-regulating, self-maintained. That’s what wilderness is. Nobody has to do the management plan for it. So I say to people, ‘let’s trust in the self-disciplined elegance of wild mind.’ Practically speaking, a life that is vowed to simplicity, appropriate boldness, good humor, gratitude, unstinting work and play, and lots of walking, brings us close to the actually existing world and its wholeness.”

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The FCC has conditioned us to hear prurience where a beep replaces…counting.

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I went momiji-viewing late this afternoon, and there was just something in the air, or the light, or the drizzle, or the combination that seemed like an ending.

Can fall be over already?

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Where's the focus on this thing?

The focus needs some work...

No, that’s not a pinhole-camera photo of someone with a plutonium throat lozenge in their mouth.

Researchers at IBM have created the first image of a single molecule using a “crazy powerful microscope” — with an exposure time of 20 hours.

And for those of you wincing at my second science post in one week, here’s a little excerpt of Lucretius, translated by Rolfe Humphries:

Never suppose the atoms had a plan,
Nor with a wise intelligence imposed
An order on themselves, nor in some pact
Agreed what movements each should generate.
No, it was all fortuitous; for years,
For centuries, for eons, all those motes
In infinite varieties of ways
Have always moved, since infinite time began,
Are driven by collisions, are borne on
By their own weight, in every kind of way
Meet and combine, try every possible,
Every conceivable pattern, till at length
Experiment culminates in that array
Which makes great things begin: the earth, the sky,
The ocean, and the race of living creatures.

Living creatures that can now capture images of those motes. Even if they are fuzzy.

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Writing about music is difficult. How many times have you read a well-written review of a concert or recording, and then still had no idea at all what to expect when hearing the music?

That’s why I find this excerpt from a Tang Dynasty poem so remarkable:

“The thick strings splattered like a rain shower,
the thin strings whispered privately like lovers,
splattering and whispering back and forth,
big pearls and small pearls dropping into a jade plate.
Smooth, the notes were skylarks chirping under flowers.
Uneven, the sound flowed like a spring under ice,
the spring water cold and strained, the strings congealing silence,
freezing to silence, till the sounds couldn’t pass, and were momentarily at rest.
Now some other hidden sorrow and dark regret arose
and at this moment silence was better than sound.
Suddenly a silver vase exploded and the water splashed out,
iron horse galloped through and swords and spears clashed.
When the tune stopped, she struck the heart of the instrument,
all four strings together, like a piece of silk tearing.
Silence then in the east boat and the west.
All I could see in the river’s heart was the autumn moon, so pale.”

From “Song of the Lute” by Bai Juyi (772-846)
Translated by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping

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Eggplant from the Portland Farmers' Market

Eggplant from the Portland Farmers' Market

I hope it delights the palate as much as the eyes…

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“Staring into the blaze had been a tonic for me, confirming tendencies that I had always had but never cultivated. Gradually some of them were becoming comprehensible to me.

Even as a young boy I had been in the habit of gazing at bizarre natural phenomena, not so much observing them as surrendering to their magic, their confused, deep language. Long gnarled tree roots, colored veins in rocks, patches of oil floating on water, light-refracting flaws in glass — all these things had held great magic for me at one time: water and fire particularly, smoke, clouds, and dust, but most of all the swirling specks of color that swam before my eyes the minute I closed them.

To the few experiences which helped me along the way toward my life’s true goal I added this new one: the observation of such configurations. The surrender to Nature’s irrational, strangely confused formations produces in us a feeling of inner harmony with the force responsible for these phenomena. We soon fall prey to the temptation of thinking of them as being our own moods, our own creations, and see the boundaries separating us from Nature begin to quiver and dissolve. We become acquainted with that state of mind in which we are unable to decide whether the images on our retina are the results of impressions from without or from within.”

– from Demian by Hermann Hesse

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Invertebrate Art

July 29, 2009

in Image,Senses,Video

Bugs in lights, filmed with long exposures, reveal their true nature as abstract expressionists:

flight patterns from Charlie McCarthy on Vimeo.

via Andrew Sullivan

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From J.D. McClatchy’s A View of the Sea:

At the far end of the room, the two cups of water
On the floor, the master explained, were for them
To purify their mouths with before the tea was served.
They were next told to lie on their bellies and inch
Towards the cups, ensuring a proper humiliation.
The monks protested—they had come to see their friend
Through to the end, to see his soul released,
Poured like water into water—and where, after all,
Was the unmatched view he had promised them?

(Quoting my favorite lines would have given it all away, so I encourage you to read the whole thing.)

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I’ve been following Tom Steinberg’s great work at establishing better communications channels and feedback loops between citizens and the UK government for a while now.  You can find out more about these projects at the mySociety website.

In his latest newsletter, he featured a project that applies the HotOrNot meme (which is often judgmental, demeaning, humiliating and masochistic when rating people) to places in the UK:

“ScenicOrNot helps you to explore every corner of England, Scotland and Wales, all the while comparing your aesthetic judgements with fellow players.”

The site presents a photo, and prompts viewers to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10, from not scenic to scenic.

One-dimensional assessments of anything are always dicey, but I can see many merits in this particular project:

  • It’s interesting to learn how others perceive a place. Is there anything close to general agreement about what it means to be scenic?  I rated a field of ripening barely a 7, 2.5 points above the average.
  • Many of the photos used are not of touristy locations, so it may be the first time that a particular cattle-gate has been rated or thought about in these terms.
  • Aggregating such opinions could have all sorts of uses, from finding attractive places you didn’t know about, to directing beautification efforts at blighted areas.

According to the same newsletter, mySociety is working on:

“A Really Great Secret Project that uses that scenicness data we’ve been gathering and which we think you’re going to Quite Like”

I can’t wait to see it.

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