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Enriching Life by Stretching Perception

I’m not very good at living in a box. I’m a wanderer, driven to get out and go.

I love going out to explore. I need to get beyond the walls to see and experience new things. I love wandering in the woods and through the high-rise canyons of energetic cities, alone or with others. Where doesn’t matter so much, I just love getting to know new and interesting people and places, without limitation.

Though I don’t remember exactly when this happened, at some point in my life I learned that getting beyond the walls doesn’t requiring changing my reality. It doesn’t require wandering the woods, moving to a new city, or meeting new people. Instead, all it requires is that I shift my perception of my reality. As the saying goes, things are not as the are, but as they are perceived to be.

The Limits of Perception

I’m sure its no secret to anyone that our perception never matches reality. There is always more to reality than we are capable of perceiving. We are limited to only five senses, after all. And even those five senses are limited. Owls are much better at seeing in the dark than we are, and I’ve never met a drug sniffing human.

And even if we could see in the dark as well as an owl, we’d still be limited by the fact that we have to be present to sense. When we walk in to the middle of a story instead of the beginning, we miss context that can be crucial to complete understanding. And we’re always walking in to the middle of the story.

And even if we always walked into the beginning of the story, our minds have only so much capacity to take in and process information. How often do you notice the mundane sounds and scents that surround you all the time? Take a moment to do nothing but listen and see what sounds, that always were there but went unnoticed, suddenly appear to you. Before you took the time to notice them, those sounds were blocked out by your mind so that you could focus on other tings.

And, even if we could take in everything, all the time, our minds always interpret the things we perceive through the lens of our prior experience. Tell a child who has never seen a ball that the world is round, and they will likely imagine that it is shaped like a plate. We base our present understanding on prior experience and understanding. Think about the times you've judged the behavior of others based on what you perviously learned about them, or people you think are 'like' them.

Limited by the Limits of Perception

While we do tend to recognize that we have limits and that our understanding is subsequently littered with gaps, we also seem to have a tendency to think we are right.

That’s understandable, we have to. In order to navigate the world, making decisions and taking action, we have to have some level of confidence in our understanding. We have to make decisions and take action even when we don't have all the information. We have to know who we can trust and what kinds of results we can reasonably expect. Especially when others disagree with us, or emphatically demand that we do or choose something different. This brings to mind another common saying, “you have to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.”

But, standing for something and having confidence in our foundational understanding shouldn’t prevent us from admitting when we are, or were, wrong. It shouldn’t prevent us from seeing the gaps in our understanding and constantly seeking and exploring new information to fill them. We can choose to accept that there are limits to our capacity to accurately and completely perceive reality. And, more than that, we can make an effort to reduce those limits, or increase our capacity.

Mining the Gap

Before I listened to a TedX talk delivered in 2015 by a Lone Star College professor, Sean Tiffee, I would not have thought to tell anyone that I’m a miner. But as it turns out, that may be a great way to describe what I try to do as an artist and photographer. I mine the gap.

In his talk Dr. Tiffee discusses the ‘gap’ between perception and reality and suggests that we mine the gap by “embracing the absurd.” In telling us to embrace the absurd, he’s suggesting that we stretch our capacity to perceive by allowing ourselves to go to the opposite end of the spectrum from what we typically think is reasonable.

As an example, he relates a simple story and asks the audience to picture it in their minds: “Bob went to the beach to play fetch with his dog.” He suggests that research shows that when people imagine this scene, they tend to picture either their own dog or a retriever. But to practice embracing the absurd, he says that instead of picturing a retriever, we should picture a dump truck.

When we do this, he says, we provide ourselves with a reminder that were are perceiving the world as we choose to perceive it rather than how it really is. And with this reminder comes the potential to get beyond our limits, to get beyond our stories, and see our world more accurately and completely.

How I Mine the Gap

Personally, I'm not so interested in making a practice of embracing the absurd, but I do tremendously value stretching my capacity to perceive. I accept that there are limits to my ability to accurately perceive reality, and I try to constantly seek and explore new information to fill the gaps in my understanding. I also try to build the mental 'muscle' that makes this easier. I like to make a practice of exploring possibilities.

Instead of embracing the absurd, my current favorite way to mine the gap is through practicing photography and producing art. With each of the images I produce, I’m exploring some aspect of my world in greater depth and with more creativity than I normally would. I make the effort to go beyond my initial understanding, or story, about the subject I’m working with so that I can begin to see it in new and interesting ways.

In addition to making my life a lot more interesting and fun, I've found that as a result of this practice, I’m a lot easier on myself an others than I once was. It is easier for me to approach each new situation from a standpoint of curiosity rather than always knowing for certain what is right and what is wrong, for me and others. I now have a tendency to judge less and seek to understand more, which leads to a lot less stress and frustration.

Infinite View Photography

This effort to mine the gap is why I called my fine art photography business Infinite View Images. I’m in love with the infinite nature of reality; the infinite range of possible perceptions. I love to use art and photography to explore the gap between my perception and reality. I love using it to see new things and old things in new ways. I love the fact that if I open my eyes to see it, the world around me can be a kaleidoscope of mind boggling imagery.

Each of the images I produce reveals some aspect of the world around me in a way that, at least to me, is new and interesting. Each of the images I produce exemplifies my effort to continually seek new understanding. Each image further stretches my capacity to perceive by reminding me of what’s possible when I extend beyond myself and my stories.

I hope that those who discover my images find in them an inspiration to explore. In that way, in addition to being a miner, maybe I can also be a doorman, opening doors to awesome new realities for amazing people. I like that idea.

As always, thank you for reading and please feel free to reach out to me at any time with questions, requests, insights, suggestions, ideas......

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