Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Did you See that?

I dunno, maybe you need a hardhat to do New York. It’s just so much all at once. The intake is constant. The dodge is constant. Even when you sleep, the sirens of other people’s emergencies claim a hungry place at the table in your head.

I started the day thinking about the word “potluck”. It may be the most gorgeous word in the English language. A rich and oily sound, with a cynical and laughing chip on its shoulder. I want to say it out loud, but I am on the subway looking up at an ad for Cottonelle that says “We shine where the sun don’t.” Next to me is a man with a newspaper. I am sucked into it. He is flipping pages, and I focus where he stops. The headline says “The Young and the Bucharestless.” This is very clever, and I suspect that some junior editor got some mileage out of cooking that up. Put his feet up on the desk for the rest of the day.

I keep blinking as my neighbor turns the pages and I am reminded of being on my back on the floor of the stretching room at the gym last night. I was looking up at the rotating ceiling fan and trying to guess how many blades it had. I began to wonder about how we see things. About the reality of vision. I saw a gray blur against a white ceiling where I know there were actually black blades. Suddenly I realized that when I blinked, the motion froze. If I blinked at the right rate of speed, I could freeze the fan visually and easily count its blades. What could this mean? Do we really only see freeze-frames?

Later, at the office, I look out at the view over Queens and Brooklyn. I see a helicopter buzz the East River. Again, the blades are a blur. Too far away to inventory them by blinkage. But nearby, a giant flagpole bolted to a parapet a few floors below me is strung with a huge American flag that furls and unfurls like summer river water in the thin air. The motion of the flag is so fluid, so not a shuffle of images strung together. Or is it? I try blinking at the flag as I had done to the fan. I create individual still images. Then, I try something different. I close my eyes and try to replay a “video” of the furling and unfurling of the flag. I can’t do it! I can only call up to the mind’s eye still images of the flag at its various moments. What could this mean? Do we not recall motion? Do we retain only the “idea” of motion? Good grief. For all these years, I have lived comfortably in the embrace of an illusion called motion. It doesn’t exist. It’s a device. I guess I always suspected this. In the passenger’s seat of a car, I look at the spokes of the hubcaps of the car we pass. Again the blur, and suddenly, when the speed is just right, the spokes emerge from the blur, and then! And then, they begin to spin in reverse! I can’t even begin to imagine why. I don’t want to know. Please do not tell me. The sidewalks of west 28th Street are alive with the purposeful threading of work. Can we not step out of it? Can we be still and timeless? Can this city ever rest and close its eyes?

11 comments:

Tater said...

Didn't Hollywood figure out the frames per second we can actually see and string together, in order to create the illusion of motion?

I don't particularly need the scientific explanation either, but I am sure it is within easy reach. The illusion is much more satisfying.

Father Tony of the Farmboyz said...

Tater,
I knew that Hollywood had figured out the "trick", but I always thought that their device only approximated real motion perception. Now I am thinking that our minds actually do what movie reels do: string together still images. I'm really shaken by having this illusion removed. Bad enough that I had already dismissed the notion of spatial reality as an illusion. And I gave up on "time" years ago as a quaint construct, but motion I held onto. I don't know why. I think it was my drug of choice.
Nothing left for me now except chocolate. Don't tell me that is not real.

tater said...

There is still real chocolate in the world, at least at present. That is one reality we can both cling to. Speaking of chocolate, I am up for a portfolio review with one of the largest chocolate companies in the world. If I get the gig, I will be positively swimming in it like Augustus Glick. Care to be my photo assistant for a week, or more suitably, my prop stylist? I can't promise a NY pay scale, but I can promise your weight in chocolate...

evilganome said...

Chocolate is indeed real, Anthony. As a matter of fact, one of the convenience stores in my neighborhood has started stocking "Milka". I will bring you a couple of bars. As I remember, you like the white chocolate. I'm up a few pounds, so I'm off the stuff. That doesn't mean I want everyone else to suffer.

And if chocolate, like time and motion are illusions, well, we all need some illusions to make life bearable, so I will take it as a favored delusion.

The Bum said...

The thing with fan blades is funny. I do that all the time with the various fans in my apartment (we have a lot of fans and try not to run the AC so much). I've even found it to be a pretty good way to put myself under for a short nap. You can even make it turn the other way if you focus or blink in a particular way.

Father Tony of the Farmboyz said...

Tater,
Name the time and place!

birdoparadise said...

Motion is no illusion; control is. We all struggle to make sense of reality, but don’t let that trap you into thinking your perception changes it. Let it go. Have some chocolate. Watch the fan blades.

Tater: Is it Fannie Mae?! How many assistants can you use?

tornwordo said...

Actually, a majority of physicists support the block theory of the universe. In this theory, each "moment" in time is a fixed or static image/thing. Also, it means that everything has already happened, is happening, and will happen. If you'd like to blow your mind, pick up "Time Space and Einstein" by Kennedy.

tornwordo said...

I'm sorry, and I also meant to mention that the theory shows that movement is indeed an illusion.

Tater said...

Birdie,
Not Fannie Mae, alas, nor is it Godiva (which I should be shooting seeing as how it is owned by Campbell's soup and I have shot for them Plenty). It is for a high end division of Mars (think Dove and Ethel's). They have the most delicious chocolate covered sunflower seeds...

Tony,
I will keep you posted. Your chocolate bath could be drawn any day now. Portfolio is at their agency, and I am awaiting the decision.

Cooper said...

"the sirens of other people’s emergencies claim a hungry place at the table in your head."

What a wonderful sentence!

When I am around a lot of people I tend to create a kind of intimacy by separating their motion into increments. The images focus into brief snapshots that seem to freeze into my mind one after another.