The Scale of Reality
I can't help but think the way I see the world is the way the
world is. But I know that the world as it appears to me (and fills
my senses) is subjective and always in relation to the way I
I enter into a relationship with the world through my senses.
The scale of what I experience is directly related to my physical
size and how I interact with my environment. It is the way I've
come to know my world, the way I've come to understand it. My
initial sense of time is based on the speed electrical impulses
travels through my neural network. My primary sense of scale is
based on my body size in relation to the things I encounter and
interact with. And within the span of my life my world-view shifts
according to developmental and environmental needs and
I find flies hard to swat because of the time it takes my eyes
to see where a fly is, process that information and react, it gives
our little friend more than enough time to fly rings around me. We
probably appear to smaller (faster) creatures as lumbering
leviathans. Just try chasing a squirrel or catch a pigeon.
Elephants grumble in languages too low for us to hear, whales
sing across distances too far for us to converse, birds call in
trills whose subtlety and speed are too fast for us to pick apart.
We hear their calls as a lilting and beautiful song, but science
proves insight into our ignorance.
For all creatures the scale and order of their reality mimics
their physical and sensory abilities. This makes perfect sense.
Their consciousness is dictated by their senses in relation to
their brain's computational power and how they can perform in their
environment. Some butterflies and shrimp can see colors we can only
haltingly conceive of. But of what beauty and significance do these
colors represent to these creatures? Bats use echolocation, and are
more comfortable in the dark. Some recent studies point out that
bats might actually be lunar phobic and avoid moonlit nights.
Snakes (and some bats) can "see" prey by way of heat, the same way
we find spicy food "hot."
And while we measure motion by the length of our gait and time
music to the rhythm of our breath and beating hearts, what would
the world look like if we could see time slowed by orders of
magnitude so we could see light actually bounce off objects. Or
speed up things until we could see interstellar gasses move and
coalesce into stars or see galaxies collide. And yet, in ways we
Physical being is the primary corridor through which we
experience our world. But our tools extend our means of knowing and
interacting with the world. Rocks, sticks, bone and sinew extended
our fists and teeth and fingers. Clothes extended what our natural
body fat and hair provided and what our feet could endure. Straw
allowed us to snorkel or make rafts and travel distances over
water. Our tools allow for other realities to be lived and made
real for us. We can see proteins fold, see stars and galaxies bend
light, image molecular bonds, stop time…
We may make tools to extend our physical abilities. But more
importantly those tools have enabled us to see and understand the
world in more profound and nuanced ways outside the scale and limit
our physical bodies present. Our tools have transformed who we are
and what we are capable of. Our tools have extended the boundaries
of our reality. But it is this that we should remember: for more
important than anything that our tools may concretely or discretely
do, our tools also transform our ideas.
We are bound by physical constraints. Our tools extend those
boundaries. But when we share ideas, we touch on something
infinite. This, as wonderful as it sounds, does not negate what I
said in my first paragraph. And I am well advised to read it
We live in a physical world and we live in an image world. They
are neither mutually exclusive nor mutually dependent. We use one
to describe the other. We use one to qualify the other. And it is
through that exchange that we derive meaning.
For those keeping track this entry is a day or two late. I
apologize. I just came back from participating in a very
interesting festival in Bursa, Turkey, and gave a talk at the
Istanbul Photo Museum where my exhibit with Ken Light and Edward
Keating was extended to October 15th. I also want to share this
recent review published in Le Journal de la Photography.
Ken Schles (Foam Magazine #5/Near)