A few quick thoughts and then an introduction to our articles before you get started.
List of Contents
The exact list of articles and the organization of their content is still being fine tuned. The plan is to produce a total of sixteen articles to start with. We will update this list as things evolve.
- Contents, Foreword & Introduction
- The Visual Pathway
- Visual Processing
- Talking About Colour
- A Language of Colour
- Ways of Seeing
- Embodied Experience
- About Images
- Seeing More
- On Photography
- Prerequisites for Seeing More in an Educational Context
- Prerequisites for Seeing More: Wellness, Well-being and Self-development
- A Paradigm Shift
- Resources for a Seeing More Workshop
A FEW WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT
This is a foreword and introduction to the series of articles we are in the process of publishing. We wanted to start off with a few words of encouragement and a short introduction to the material that follows.
You may have found your way to lightcolourvision.org and to this series of articles because of an interest (or difficulty) in making sense of the connections between light, colour and vision. On the other hand, you might be inquisitive (or feel a bit overwhelmed) about the idea of seeing the world in new ways and with the question of how to see more.
If you find you have any problem with the vocabulary you come across, or are new to a topic, and struggling to get your head around it, then be aware that you are not alone. One of the problems we all share is that each of the topics covered here at lightcolourvision.org are related to different fields of enquiry. Each of them attracts specialized communities who think they are the experts and tend to assume that their audience know the jargon they use and are already part of the discussion. As a result, they are not reaching a general readership.
With all this in mind, our resources are assembled for a general readership of students, teachers and researchers who want to build overviews containing key information arranged in a logical and connected way. Our aim is always to keep the vocabulary simple and add one step at a time so visitors can build on their own knowledge.
Some final points for readers who initially feel a bit out of their depth!
- Be kind to your self. Don’t freak out and walk away.
- Allow plenty of time to read through every sentence and give things time to sink in.
- Read each paragraph out loud if that helps.
- Pick out any new terms and concepts that you need to work on.
- Check out unfamiliar words with an internet search.
- Cut and paste the important points into your own notes.
- Read backwards and forwards between images and text.
- Never give up on new ideas. Just keep going and come back to them again later till they sink in.
- Eventually the unfamiliar becomes familiar and things that initially seem complicated become straight forward.
In time, things that initially seem complicated become straight forward. So keep going. We all succeed when we treat learning as a journey. Every single day is an opportunity for each of us to travel a little further down our own road.
The name of our website, lightcolourvision.org provides important clues to what it’s all about. Yes! It explores light, colour and vision. But why would anyone dedicate hours and hours researching these topics and creating resources that explore how they link together?
The motivation can be found in the by-line which reads & how to see more. It is this question that drives the whole initiative – the website itself and the 100’s of pages of content, including images, explanations, definitions and articles.
The point is that if we know a little about light, colour and vision then we can begin to grasp how we see the world and appreciate something of why it appears as it does. The next point is, as we become more aware of how and what we see now, then we can begin to explore how to see more.
To come to terms with the how, what and why of visual perception is a matter of thinking through the act of seeing and what we see. It’s also about questioning the different ways we know how to look at things, and both learning new way of looking more closely and widening the scope of our view.
Although the world does simply appear in front of us whenever we open our eyes and look around, seeing properly involves skill. We have all been learning those skills since we were infants and everyone with normal eyesight knows a lot of how to get by on a daily basis. But there is so much more!
But its not always straightforward! Not everyone knows how to think about the experience of seeing in a rigorous, critical and skeptical way. Most of us are far too busily caught up in the activity and absorbed in the content to break through everyday practices and expectations and to really change how we do things.
Lightcolourvision.org is all about exploring how to become a ninja master of seeing. Eventually, this series of articles, will try and ask the difficult questions, map out as much of that journey as we can, and, explore how anyone with sufficient motivation can develop new skills and learn to see in new and unexpected ways.
The aim is to gather perspectives from fields as diverse as the arts, astronomy, cognitive sciences, education, neuroscience, philosophy and physics to enable us to build resources that weave together new and unexpected patterns of creative thinking and behaviour.
For those who feel ready for such a journey, be prepared for the unexpected. Established certainties and convictions need to be swept away. Your world is about to be carefully peeled apart layer by layer. A whole new world may be about to appear, constructed through moments of epiphany and inspiration, flashes of insight, feeling of awe and wonder.
By way of introduction to everything that follows in subsequent articles, let’s have a quick look at those core terms that appear in our lightcolourvision.org banner.
Without light we see nothing! Without light, our eyes can’t function at all! It is the fact that eyes respond to light that allows us to gather the information needed to not only see colour but also to make sense of the world.
Light has existed almost since the beginning of time and will still fill the universe long after planet Earth and its inhabitants are forgotten.
Our exploration of light looks at what it is, where it comes from and the part that it plays in our life. The discussion builds on the physics of light. During the last century physics has established that light is produced by one of four fundamental forces to be found in nature. It is the electromagnetic force that produces electromagnetic radiation including the narrow band of wavelengths of light that our eyes respond to.
Sunlight, the light produced by our local star, the Sun, powers our world every hour of every day. Light is also produced by all the other 100 to 400 billion stars that make up our galaxy, the Milky Way. Recent research meanwhile reveals that there may be as many as two trillion other galaxies out there beyond our own.
Unfortunately, our eyes are only sensitive enough to see around 2,500 stars maximum as we look up into a clear night sky on a moonless night. But with the right kind of telescope, like the Hubble Space telescope, it is possible to find faint evidence of light from distant galaxies that has travelled more than ten billion years to get here.
If human beings and related species were all to disappear overnight, the world would still be full of light but there would be no colour. Colour is a product of human vision, something that only exists for living things like ourselves. Colour is what we see in the presence of light.
Once the basics of light have been discussed, the most important ground to cover in subsequent articles concerns the way that our eyes are tuned to respond to the band of wavelengths of light that produce the sensation of colours between red and violet. These are the wavelengths of light that make it through the atmosphere to our planet’s surface without microwaving or burning us to cinders. It is this same range of wavelengths that directly powers the entire canopy of plant life that covers our planet, both on land and at sea.
Visual perception is the human ability to see and interpret our surrounding. It results from the collaboration between eyeballs and brain. Although processing of visual information starts within the retina of each eye, it is our brain’s extraordinary ability to translate purely visual information into thoughts, language, speech and writing that exemplifies human experience.
The act of seeing and conscious perception can’t be considered in isolation because imagination, mental images, memory, previous experience, thinking and our sense of ourselves are all wound up in it.
But visual perception is about much more than mental activity. It is useful to recognise conscious mental activity as very recent adition to our physical embodied existence. Being human is about so much more that what goes on invisibly within our heads. Human being are creatures of action. It is the connection between though, action and patterns of behaviour that helps to explain our industriousness, the extraordinary variety of our cultures, the complexity of our societies and our creative ability to re-imagine and remake ourselves and our world.
Now consider the following in relation to the last paragraph.
- When light enters my eyes, the lenses form two tiny images, one in each eye, in the same way as a camera does.
- Each image is two dimensional and covers a maximum of 32mm measured across the surface of each retina from side to side and top to bottom.
- It is those two images and the sensation they produce in light sensitive cells that account for my visual perception of the world outside.
- Outside my eyes is an entire world but everything I see is deduced from those flickering pictures projected onto each retina and from nothing more.
- If I close my eyes and tell myself what I want to see, I can produce a mental image of almost anything, visualizing it in my mind’s eye.
- The mental image can be black and white or full colour. It can be an indoor or outdoor setting. It can be as bright as midday or as dark as midnight.It can be a stationary scene or involve movement. It can be a flat image or include full three dimensional space.
- Whatever objective scene I imagine there is always a subjective point of view.
- There I am, surveying that mental image. Everything laid out just for me!
- I view the scene from a particular point of view.
- I can select every detail of the scene I want to imagine. And, like a film director, I select the viewpoint, the type of lens (wide angle or telephoto), lighting and every other defining feature of the scene.
- I can look also look the other way, turning everything round to turn the observer into the object of my attention.
- I can look directly into my own thoughts and feelings. My laser vision is now turned on me and nothing is hidden from my penetrating gaze.
- I can ask myself questions about this voyeur and penetrate my deepest thoughts and motivations.
- I can ask myself questions about the feelings or emotions a particular scene produces and my motivation.
Each of these scenarios exemplifies our everyday behaviour. As part of our investigations of vision we will take each one appart like as if it were some intricate clock and expose some of the detail that makes it all tick. . . . almost there !! more to follow
How to see more
When we look more closely at things, we see them afresh and make new discoveries. A careful look at the most familiar everyday situation can reveal unnoticed qualities or a new perspective. Seeing more may involve more than looking closely, sometimes we need to stand back to get a new perspective on things. To see more involves looking beyond the impression that seeing is like sitting comfortably in a cinema watching a movie. there is no film director here. It is our own own creation. And much of it is the product of jaded perspectives and outmoded assumptions. Seeing more is about imaginatively challenging the lazy habits we have fallen into and outmoded mental antics that are well beyond their used date. Seeing more is about saying that its time for a fresh look at this aging machinary, at ourselves and the world.
This is the point where the project starts to build up a head of steam. Because there is a hypothesis to be extrapolated here that underpins everything that follows, and it goes something like this.
1. We see the world afresh in every moment because nothing repeats in quite the same way. Whether we realize it or not, every time we look around, the world has moved on. Everything is in a constant process of change and becoming different. A storm on the distant horizon, a tiger in the bushes, an arrow speeding through the air towards us. These are small changes in the grander scheme of things, but it must be the human capacity to notice these details and work out what they mean that accounts in some part for our survival as a species over millennia.
2. As time goes on, we accumulate new insights, add new details and accumulate improved representations of all the things we recognize and so engage in a learning process and of gain knowledge. At the same time, mistakes, errors and outmoded assumptions and understanding involves rethinking things, either in part or, as a whole. This is a learning process that allows us to engage actively in improving our grasp of the world and of understanding of ourselves, the viewer.
3. We have to cut deeper to appreciate where each of our pictures of the world comes from. Our world might appear, at a casual glace, to be constructed from what we have personally learned over time and from our own experiences and memories, but this is only a tiny part of the story. We are at the receiving end of a deluge of images during every day of our lives which tell us what there is to be seen and to direct our attention to particular views – visual, social, cultural, political, economic etc. Hidden beneath the messages are the media machines that drive that content, selecting and shaping the images and the messages they contain to ensure we see their point of view. Below that, are the state actors, was well as the private companies, corporations and industries that profit from getting their message across. Below that are the tiny proportion of the world’s population who control this machinery and profit directly from what we see.
4. Every generation of human beings are born into a world which will outlast them. They take on the word-view that belongs to their age. A world-view might be though of as containing the over-arching convictions of their age – philosophical, existential, religious, social and cultural etc. We have little difficulty looking back at the beliefs of our fore-bearers and the absurdity of their ideas. But what of our own. If we look deep enough we may be able to see paradigm shifts taking place in our own lifetimes. To see more is to be on the crest of those waves and to be part of their unfolding.