MisFunction

Misfunction
Engraving of a "portable" camera obscura in Athanasius Kircher's Ars Magna Lucis Et Umbrae (1645)


"Camera obscura (plural camerae obscurae or camera obscuras, from Latin camera obscūra, “dark chamber”), also referred to as pinhole image, is the natural optical phenomenon that occurs when an image of a scene at the other side of a screen (or, for instance, a wall) is projected through a small hole in that screen as a reversed and inverted image (left to right and upside down) on a surface opposite to the opening." Wikipedia

"Who's to say?"

Historians have recently concluded that seventeenth century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer sort of cheated when he painted. Rather than merely observing his subjects, they speculate that he most probably employed a Camera Obscura which projected a full color image upside down on his canvas, thereby presenting a paint-by-number sort of template for him to simply fill in with color. This revelation suggests that he might have been more draftsman than artist, though his shortcut did nothing to infringe upon the sheer beauty of his work, which capture light in truly remarkable ways. But every art has its supposed-to-bes, it's hallowed, gentrified traditions, and mere photographic replication was never acknowledged as the point of either art or artistry. A master artist was supposed to possess a certain transcendent magical sense allowing production without resorting to what purists might consider cheap mechanical tricks. Yet what is the eye but a camera obscura, with the brain righting and coloring in inverted images? We see as we do due to a considerably more complex mechanism than any simple hole in a wall, and it's a genuine wonder any of us could make any sense of anything we ever saw, let alone, agree upon proportion, color, or placement.

MisFunction seems common in all sensory processing: vision, hearing, you name it.
It might even be, as some have agreed, that we mostly experience my means of the humble mistake, that we do not ordinarily nail any interpretation on the first take, but iterate our way into a sort of negotiated agreement on the identity of any object, every thing. What upon first awakening might have certainly seemed like a Spring morning resolves into an understanding that it's just late summer recovering from a few days freezing and a freak snowstorm which left the ground just as moist as spring. I was remembering more than sensing, my camera obscura senses projecting upside down until my reasoning could right the initially misinterpreted image. That reinterpreting cycle moved in comparative slow motion. I was aware of the awkward motion of the mechanism. Usually, I do not perceive any difference between what I sense and what I understand. At my age, after decades of practice, I interpret lightning fast and might only rarely ever question whether I perceive what's there or simply what I was expecting to find.

Nobody has to stretch very far to conclude that we're all crazy, some more stark-raving than others, but every one of us frighteningly talented at deluding ourselves. Those more poorly socialized seem far from sane, and those from different cultures often seem to have institutionalized absolute insanity into their customs. We adapt to observe certain norms after decades of schooling, little of that actually delivered in classrooms. Most of us learn to avoid wearing brown suits whatever the occasion and favor some semblance of whatever's currently in fashion. Someone somewhere always seems to insist upon wearing a top hat everywhere, but we reserve some space for eccentricity, believing it a mildly amusing form of insanity and in no way truly threatening. Eventually, we come to know what to do with toast, our interactions with it reduced to rote responses. Clowns might put a slice to novel uses, but the rest of us never even consider altering our usual pattern: Butter, jelly, mouth, belly.

Some of us, though, come up crazy in more deeply disturbing ways. They, like us, might not often notice that they're actively processing and modifying their sensory experiences, let alone that their manipulations produce results orthogonal to their fellows or their intentions. Show a group of people a short video of a presidential candidate, and a few will likely see nefarious behavior the majority do not perceive. Both, through long practice, transparently believe their eyes, and neither in that moment suspect that either their eyes or their brain might be deceiving them. What did the video show? Who knows? Everyone saw and so believe their trusty eyesight, even though the eyes might have only provided a camera obscura image onward for further processing. I'll know it when I see it misleadingly associates seeing and knowing, a MisFunction. The seeing was upside down and backwards. The knowing made sense, such as it was, of what the eyes provided it.

So, what's sane? Is it merely in the eyes (or the brain) of the beholder, or have we generally come to broader agreement as to what constitutes crazy and not? A trained psychiatrist very likely has a much better sense of what might fall over the line. Most of us, most of the time, seem to thrive on our ignorance. Our own MisFunction might never become obvious to us, our so-called nervous twitches seeming perfectly normal to our own familiarly twitching selves. They might drive the guy next to us on the train crazy, though, since he couldn't possibly know that this behavior keeps us feeling sane while driving him absolutely coo coo. Author Eugene Kennedy proposed that the things you do to maintain your sanity are the things that seem to drive me insane. Who's to blame for this? Nature? Nurture? Bullshit psychobabble? Who's to say?

It seems to me that crazy might constitute any behavior that one cannot willingly suspend after knowing others find it annoying. If you persist behaving like this you risk a fist in the face. Sanity means, once coming to understanding this response to be the case, merely deleting that behavior from the list of acceptables. It's almost a form of politeness, a consideration, an observation followed by a response. The chimney swifts, swirling in a flock, would very likely find any bird insane if he did not or could not avoid colliding with every other bird. We live in continual relation, always gauging interaction, unless some self-absorption renders this attention blind. Everyone collides sometimes, but a persistent pattern of continual collisions indicates something ain't interpreting okay, and that's insanity, hopefully temporary. Treatment might be short or grueling, whatever it takes to realign the intricate underlying mechanism. The busted piece might be physical or "merely" psychological, but refocusing that camera obscura might well prove darned near impossible, especially when working with someone who honestly perceives the rest of the world crazy and they, almost totally alone by themselves, sane. Those who work to right this MisFunction are angels because they perform devilishly difficult work.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved








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