Wallace Stevens’ “What We See Is What We Think” (1949)
How much of what we see depends on what we think?
In one sense, everything; seeing is not a passive process, but a sophisticated act executed by our neural circuits. In another sense, seeing is what we choose to see, as Harvard psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons demonstrated with their famous video of the gorilla walking across the basketball court.
But does the relationship between thinking and seeing go deeper than the involuntary side effects of our selective attention? Thomas Kuhn argued that it did, in his notorious chapter X from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (the chapter philosophers refer to, in a classic example of academia’s demented sense of humor, as the ‘X-rated chapter X’): Continue reading “Sunday Science Poem: Believing is Seeing”
A poem on the difficulty of seeing and comprehending the world without metaphor or without “posing” its parts in our mental constructs, Wallace Stevens’ “Add This To Rhetoric”:
It is posed and it is posed
But in nature it merely grows.
Stones pose in the falling night;
And beggars dropping to sleep,
They pose themselves and their rags.
Shucks...lavender moonlight falls.
The building pose in the sky
And, as you paint, the clouds,
Grisaille, impearled, profound,
Pfft... In the way you speak
You arrange, the thing is posed,
What in nature merely grows.
To-morrow when the sun,
For all your images,
Comes up as the sun, bull fire,
Your images will have left
No shadow of themselves.
The poses of speech, of paint,
Of music - Her body lies
Worn out, her arm falls down,
Her fingers touch the ground.
Above her, to the left,
A brush of white, the obscure,
The moon without a shape,
A fringed eye in a crypt.
The sense creates the pose.
In this it moves and speaks.
This is the figure and not
An evading metaphor.
Add this. It is to add.
The first two sentences of this poem lay out the theme, our struggle to understand what “merely grows” using the only tools we have available, mental constructs, within which we pose and pose again the parts of nature. It should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway), that this applies to scientists as much as it applies to the poet. Continue reading “Sunday Poem: Imposing poses on nature”
While I’ve been writing about the apocalypse, aliens, science, humanity and nature, I’ve found this poem to be an apt commentary on the alienness of nature and our tendency to anthropomorphize it:
If there must be a god in the house, must be,
Saying things in the rooms and on the stair,
Let him move as the sunlight moves on the floor,
Or moonlight, silently, as Plato’s ghost
Continue reading “Alien Nature”