The challenge of rendering three-dimensional space onto two-dimensional surfaces is a prehistoric one, as old as the petroglyphs that dot the earth. But today through our smartphones and computers, we inhabit an image world more than ever before. How does this relationship to the screen alter how I think about and relate to physical space?
One morning I was gardening in New England when my friend Toby stopped by on his way to work. He was restoring the local church’s steeple and he asked me if I’d like to see the work he was doing… Interested, I rushed inside to put my contact lenses in, and forgot I had just been handling some very very hot peppers. We then jumped into Toby’s convertible and sped off to the church, the crisp air digging deep into my already inflamed eyeballs. Following the climb up the 200-foot steeple’s maze like interior, full of dust and 150 years of pigeon shit, my eyes were streaming tears. I got to the top and peered out the small window, but I couldn’t see the beautiful vista, because my eyes couldn’t open.
On another morning as I was waking up in a hotel in the Caribbean, I noticed that I was paralyzed. I could see the room around me and hear my friend snoring in the next bed, but I couldn’t move my body. Instead I saw a pitch-black figure, an incubus, standing above me. It was the first time I dealt with sleep paralysis, though I’ve experienced it several times since… I’ve been visited by that same incubus, as well as a succubus. It is always terrifying, although scientists can offer convincing reasons for this phenomenon and the accompanied hallucinations: only parts of my brain wake up, while others remain in a dreaming state.
These are two instances when my body and my brain failed me (though I’m blessed to be a relatively healthy person). These failures are among the most profound experiences in my life. Because these moments are when I felt my physical and psychological limits most acutely. There is much in this world that we can’t directly sense or understand.
We continue to develop more and more technologies to make up for our body’s limits. These range from familiar tools such as cameras and microphones to specialized remote sensors made to record what is inaccessible to us, like detecting subatomic particles or the temperatures on the surface of the sun. Using statistics, experimentation, and intuition we can process this information, we can start to make sense of it.
Reconciling the information from my senses with what is recorded by new technologies and images can be challenging. But I think that there’s a charged spaced between these two approaches that is fertile ground to grow new ideas. Here, we are tasked to make sense of the world from this odd combination of what we directly perceive and what we are indirectly told. And figuring out which of these two modes to trust is becoming increasingly challenging as we are presented with more and more options. It’s a murky blend of information, intuition, knowledge, and faith.