The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

jester’s whim

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Is reality real, really?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Your humble narrator spends an awful lot of time gazing at his navel, but can’t shake the sneaking suspicion that reality is some sort of confidence game. One of the “very bad ideas” which can literally drive you mad is the notion that none of this is real, and that the world is in fact either a simulation or hallucination. This is usually the time when my dad would slap me across the face, ask me if that felt real, and then remind me to pass him the screw driver he asked for. Still, one wonders, and more than wonders…

from wikipedia

A hallucination is a perception in the absence of a stimulus which has qualities of real perception. Hallucinations are vivid, substantial, and located in external objective space. They are distinguished from the related phenomena of dreaming, which does not involve wakefulness; illusion, which involves distorted or misinterpreted real perception; imagery, which does not mimic real perception and is under voluntary control; and pseudohallucination, which does not mimic real perception, but is not under voluntary control. Hallucinations also differ from “delusional perceptions”, in which a correctly sensed and interpreted stimulus (i.e. a real perception) is given some additional (and typically bizarre) significance.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If your eyes are misting over at the thought of reading more of the self pitying existential claptrap which is periodically offered at this, your Newtown Pentacle, apologies are offered. The question of perception, and as an artist- of reproduction- is something which has long interested me. It’s one thing to be standing at Queens Plaza and perceive that a train has arrived, but how does the brain put that together – do the math-  from a photograph?

A great primer on subjective realities and the circuitry of perception is found in Oliver Sacks’ “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” which discusses how the intracranial landscape is both neurologically formed and kept informed by the data gathering network and sensors of the nervous system.

from wikipedia

The process of perception begins with an object in the real world, termed the distal stimulus or distal object. By means of light, sound or another physical process, the object stimulates the body’s sensory organs. These sensory organs transform the input energy into neural activity—a process called transduction. This raw pattern of neural activity is called the proximal stimulus. These neural signals are transmitted to the brain and processed. The resulting mental re-creation of the distal stimulus is the percept. Perception is sometimes described as the process of constructing mental representations of distal stimuli using the information available in proximal stimuli.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Perceptions of social “monkey” stuff are easy to understand, as the qualities of every interaction with another human is run through a checklist of prejudices, past grievances, wounds, and defeats for possible objection or approval. That is a purely individual thing, dependent on one’s past experience and cultural heritage or baggage. It’s why some folks “don’t like the look” of others, and forms the third leg of the “throne of evil” along with the first and second legs- disappointment and loneliness.

The question I always wonder about, however, is this- when two people say something is blue or red or yellow or round or sqaure, what subjective criteria can be asserted which defines what those terms mean to them? How do we know that a traffic light turned red looks the same to me as it does to you? Is it the same red we see?

What might you or I be seeing, that no one else can perceive?

from wikipedia

The ganzfeld effect (from German for “complete field”) or perceptual deprivation, is a phenomenon of perception caused by exposure to an unstructured, uniform stimulation field.

It has been most studied with vision by staring at an undifferentiated and uniform field of colour. The visual effect is described as the loss of vision as the brain cuts off the unchanging signal from the eyes. The result is “seeing black” – apparent blindness. It can also elicit hallucinatory percepts in many people, in addition to an altered state of consciousness.

Ganzfeld induction in multiple senses is called multi-modal ganzfeld. This is usually done by wearing ganzfeld goggles in addition to headphones with a uniform stimulus.

A related effect is sensory deprivation. With sensory deprivation, however, a stimulus is minimized rather than unstructured. Ganzfeld is thus perceptual deprivation. Hallucinations that appear under prolonged sensory deprivation are similar to elementary percepts caused by luminous ganzfeld, these include transient sensations of light flashes or colours. Hallucinations caused by sensory deprivation can, like ganzfeld-induced hallucinations, turn into complex scenes.

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Want to see something cool? Summer 2013 Walking Tours-

Kill Van Kull Saturday, August 10, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills Saturday, August 17, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 17, 2013 at 10:19 am

11 Responses

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  1. From Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand:

    “Existence exists—and the act of grasping that statement implies two corollary axioms: that something exists which one perceives and that one exists possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists.

    If nothing exists, there can be no consciousness: a consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms. A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something. If that which you claim to perceive does not exist, what you possess is not consciousness.

    Whatever the degree of your knowledge, these two—existence and consciousness—are axioms you cannot escape, these two are the irreducible primaries implied in any action you undertake, in any part of your knowledge and in its sum, from the first ray of light you perceive at the start of your life to the widest erudition you might acquire at its end. Whether you know the shape of a pebble or the structure of a solar system, the axioms remain the same: that it exists and that you know it.

    To exist is to be something, as distinguished from the nothing of nonexistence, it is to be an entity of a specific nature made of specific attributes. Centuries ago, the man who was—no matter what his errors—the greatest of your philosophers [Aristotle], has stated the formula defining the concept of existence and the rule of all knowledge: A is A. A thing is itself. You have never grasped the meaning of his statement. I am here to complete it: Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification

    georgethetheist....Platonism is evil

    July 17, 2013 at 11:03 am

    • Ok, I’ll let the Atlas Shrugged quote through, but I draw the line at Mein Kampf

      Mitch Waxman

      July 17, 2013 at 11:04 am

      • Tsk, tsk, tsk. Atlas Shrugged is the complete antithesis of Mein Kampf written by an artist..

        georgethetheist....Platonism is evil

        July 17, 2013 at 4:34 pm

      • ..and John Locke was the intellectual heir of Aristotle. And Thomas Jefferson was the intellectual heir of John Locke. When Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that truths are “self-evident” the concept of self-evidency validated reality.

        georgethetheist....Platonism is evil

        July 17, 2013 at 8:22 pm

  2. Love your musings, Mitch – and your photos too! Keep up the good work –


    July 17, 2013 at 3:03 pm

  3. Reality cannot be summed up in some long, rambling speech, from Atlas Shrugged. If it were, then we can cut out all the blather and leave it at cogito ergo sum. Well that settles it then! Its ’cause Ayn Rand said so!

    Anyone who believes in such a reductionist idea that all reality is the self, defined by the electro chemical impulses inside the human brain, translations of the inputs from the various sense organs should take a course in modern physics just to see how uncertain and improbable the universe and everything in it really is.

    “..and John Locke was the intellectual heir of Aristotle. And Thomas Jefferson was the intellectual heir of John Locke. When Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that truths are “self-evident” the concept of self-evidency validated reality.”

    Well, that settles it then! Its ’cause Jefferson said so!
    Not! Locke and Jefferson were writing about the natural rights of man not opining on what constitutes reality, self-evident, inalienable or otherwise.

    Reality, the universe from the big bang until present is an effect without a cause but here’s a more interesting question: How does matter and energy, lifeless in all other cases, suddenly attain the property of life and self-awareness in the electro-chemical impulses and their attendant electromagnetic waves in the human brain? Another effect without a cause. Just random happenstance? Not an easy question to answer, eh?


    July 17, 2013 at 10:23 pm

  4. Hi Mitch, thought you might find this interesting reading:


    July 17, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    • The most idiotic line in that idiotic 1957 Chambers’ review: “To the gas chambers -go!” A textbook classic line in book review stupidity. ROTFLMAO. I’m with the Children of Light. Cav doesn’t know who he’s with I suspect. A true agnostic.

      georgethetheist....Platonism is evil

      July 18, 2013 at 12:10 am

      • And Mitch your Dad was a philosophical genius. Hand him the screwdriver.

        georgethetheist....Platonism is evil

        July 18, 2013 at 12:17 am

    • Collectivist scum like Whittaker Chambers over Thomas Jefferson…wow..Is Cav up to his haughty ways again? Cav do you also pretend to like Jazz and reference Kafka?

      John Galt

      July 18, 2013 at 12:24 am

  5. Descartes got it wrong with his “cogito ergo sum” (“I think therefore I am”). Rand got it right with “sum ergo cogito” (“I am therefore I think”) Gabeesh? Existence has primacy over consciousness. And yes, Virginia, er Mitch, reality is real.

    georgethetheist....Platonism is evil

    July 18, 2013 at 12:41 am

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