September 28, 2019
Thursday evening just before bed I was looking through a book of paintings by Monet. It struck a chord with me to view his paintings in the light of what I had written recently about extension and space; the world we perceive to be ‘around us’.
I had argued there – since I am kind of puzzled about how such a thing as space and extension can exist – subsist - that it is perhaps likely, even pretty certain, that space and extension are at least in part, taught to us as infants by our first experiences of being able to move, see, touch and so on.
Certainly I think I showed, and I do firmly believe to be true, the fact that much more than we tend to believe about what we accept as given ‘reality’, is created in our minds by our minds learning how to interpret what our senses perceive around them.
Because most of this accretion of experience takes place for us at a time when we have few if any eventful human memories to call upon; when we are ‘at sea’ in large part about the world we have been born into; and when we are gradually putting together our prerequisite framework for our being able to interpret others and the things we see and sense; because of all this we tend to believe our sets of perceptions as we interpret them to be ‘natural’ when they are in fact not so, but are what I’d call ‘deeply second-nature’ to us.
True however there probably has to be some innate inborn congential basis or ability that allows us to kick off interpreting the world about us; not just capabilities like seeing colours, but maybe also some ‘hard wiring’ of our minds for them to be able to sift and segregate sensations as they enter in at our ears and nose and tongue and eyes and fingers.
Nonetheless I’m convinced the far greater part of our ‘solid basis’ for external reality is learned and put together by our minds in the early months of life.
I was looking at paintings by Monet and it struck me how his art was able in strokes of colour and daubs of patches to capture the feeling of seeing what he was seeing. The illusion of depth in many paintings was remarkable. The illusion of movement and of energy and of spectable was present in some.
Particularly there was a picture of a Parisian street in which a huge parade was going on; and the painting captured this scene from a viewpoint above the street and looking along it. The street was lined either side hanging from the buildings, again high up, with two rows of French flags, receding in perspective along a straight piece of roadway. And it was quite remarkable how the imagination was able to be excited so as to believe these flags to be in fluttering rapidly in a stiff wind all along the street, into the distance; and this did so much to bring the parade below to life for a viewer.
The bright sunshine on the rapidly fluttering flags; their startling red white and blues, and the great skill with which Monet had been able to catupre these flags in action and in a line either side into the distance, by him using what seems some pretty indefinite brush strokes of intense colour and shade, and applied as if almost carelessly. The illusions of carelessness and slapdash helped the enlivening of the scene. It really was astonishing.
Of course this work of Monet’s was the fruit of study and observation perhaps beyond most of us. Its skill and genius reminded me of a story about – I think it was the young Raphael – who was asked by a seasoned painter to whom Rapahel hoped to become apprenticed, for him to show something of his promise to the master he was hoping to learn under.
Raphael took a brush and loaded it with paint and with a sweep drew what appeared to be a perfect circle on a canvass on an easel.
Likewise it reminds me of Whistler’s defence of his painting in the courtroom to which John Ruskin had had him summoned. Whistler is said to have said that – I paraphrase – even though his picture had cost him only minutes of work, there was within that picture the fruit of a lifetime’s contemplation and expereince.
Another scene of Monet’s was of three persons in an arbour on a sunny day enjoying the shade. The three figures were little more than vague shadows in outline, pretty indistinct, but again brought to life by the impression of extension and depth which Monet had achieved for us as it were looking into the arbour from the sunshine area. All done with shapes and colours; it looked as if there was indeed a cavity within those bushes and hedges, which was spacious and of volume, even though almost so dark no-one could be seen in it, except indistinctly as shadow.
To see such ability with illusions makes you just wonder in astonishment and delight.
I guess you’ll see what I’m getting at when I suggest that ‘nature’ as it were, may well be ‘playing tricks’ of illusion on we people, on a grander scale and in even more capability and power than a guy like Monet was able to summon to his aid. Monet’s paintings are the ‘evidence’ that ‘all may not be as it seems’; that indeed what we put together as infants so as to explain to ourselves the sensory world, our senses of perspective, of colour, of form and extension, of planes and shadows and light; in fact the bulk of our ‘clues’ to what is going on, and what might be outside us, might be just smoke and mirrors.
I mean by this that the world as it is ‘out there’ sensually beyond our bodies, is pretty certainly a very different place than our minds interpret it to be. Just like Monet’s pictures are basically canvass and paint arranged to give illusion; so too might well be, maybe even must be, the world beyond the confines of our senses and physical presences here.
Further, just as Monet ‘creates’ space and shape and light and dark and form and perspective; so too maybe does ‘reality’ whatever that might be, create for us, for our eyes, our ears etc, a panoply of sensations and a sense of room and space and distance and so on; but it doesn’t have to be like that in fact ‘really’.
I have written elsewhere about how scientists of our age talk about matter being comprised of ‘information’ rather than of wood or stone etc. This description is used at a sub atomic level, but remember that every item we presume to be ‘in the world’ has a sub atomic level (we believe) and which is named today to be ‘information’.
This ‘information’ is what? A ‘disturbance’ I wrote and named it once elsewhere; a disturbance maintained in continuation by what – why does this disturbance happen? It is a mystery and a miracle, inexplicable to humankind. Is it here by way of Something greater, Someone greater, than we can grasp?
“The men of Nineveh will stand at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now One greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.”