(related reading: SlateStarCodex, Book Review: Surfing Uncertainty; SlateStarCodex, Lots Of People Going Around With Mild Hallucinations All The Time)
I was reading the comments on the Youtube video for Aphex Twin’s track T69 Collapse (warning: strobing, creepy) and came across this one:
This video seems trippy at first glance but this is just an insightful look at what its like for richard [D. James, aka Aphex Twin,] to go get a pint of milk from the corner shop.
And yes, haha, but I can’t help but wonder: is it? What does Richard see when he’s walking down the street? Do the buildings pulsate? When he looks at the shopkeeper, does he see his own face? on the body of a large-breasted woman in a bikini? Probably not, but it would be strange if being Aphex Twin, and doing Aphex-Twin-y things for three decades, didn’t affect his visual perception in any way, if he just saw the same I’d see.
Or not even Aphex Twin, but other visual artists whose art consists of representing reality unrealistically: van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, Seurat, the Delaunays. These artistic currents, more than just aesthetic, conceptual, or practical choices, entail a wholly developed way of visually representing the world in a non-realistic way. In order to achieve fluidity in their art, these artists had to embody this representation of the world in their own perception of it. And.. you become what you do, or rather, your top-down priors that process your sense data of the world continuously update themselves so that the result of this interaction matches your expectations of it. And if you want to see unrealism, and spend your life develping this unrealistic perception, eventually you just will.
Say you’re painter Robert Delaunay. In order to represent the world as brightly colored semi-circles, you have to train yourself to translate your raw and messy visual impressions of it (the ones we all have, photons hitting the retina and generating electrical neural impulses) into these brightly colored semi-circles, rather than accurately-colored object-boundaries.
And, over time, the raw visual impressions -> accurate object-boundaries connection gets weaker, and the raw visual impressions -> bright semi-circles connection gets stronger. You practice, and develop and improve your art and become a famous painter, and keep reinforcing this connection for hours a day over decades. And so on, more and more effortlessly over time. Does there come a point at which you just automatically see everything as brightly-colored semi-circles and you can’t turn it off and you and your painter wife Sonia just end up both perceiving each other as a mess of colored semi-circles?
In your later career you turn to abstract art. Is that because your early figurative paintings just look photorealistic to you now? And, if so, how do you feel about this? Do you wish you could turn it off? Do you even notice it?
Ah, the unknowability of other minds… For instance, did you know Sartre was constantly hallucinating crabs?
Après avoir pris de la mescaline, j’ai commencé à voir tout le temps des crabes autour de moi. Ils me suivaient dans la rue, en classe. Je me réveillai le matin et leur disais : “Bonjour les petits, avez-vous bien dormi?” Puis : “Okay les gars, nous partons en classe maintenant”… et ils restaient là, autour de mon bureau, tout à fait calmes, jusqu’à ce que la cloche sonne.