09.18.2013 On Perception / The more I see, the less I know for sure

photo "The more I see, the less I know for sure."  John Lennon

The way we view the world is the way that we construct our individual, personal reality. We are communal, social beings, but we are ultimately alone. No one care share exactly what we are experiencing - our individual perception shapes the world.  Nothing is actually "real" - it is the product of our brains making sense of information presented to the bodily system. This information is all relative. You and I can never share the exact same sensitivities and nuances of a specific shade of red, the exact hardness of a table, the feeling of the sounds of a song. We can share the physical experience of witnessing and perceiving, but internally, we are analyzing and processing through our own filters. Our experiences in the past shape these perceptions as well. All our our pre-conceptions and prejudices influence how we intake and process information. When we are told of an event, we are hearing it filtered through two layers of influence - the information source, and then our secondary processing of the event, in conjunction with our biases about the source. It's messy.

The artist Robert Irwin states "Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees." We must approach the act of seeing, hearing, documenting, as infants. To birth our perceptual abilities anew at each situation is the only way to truly see what is happening.  This is a Utopian ideal of seeing, but it is a proper launch pad for understanding how much we bring to viewing anything new.  We are a product of everything that we have ever seen.   Isamu Noguchi puts the sentiment poetically - "We are a landscape of all we have seen".  In the book The Timeless Way of Building, Christopher Alexander writes about "seeing" and talent.  The master architect builder is not more "skilled" than us, he/she has learned how to see, and with that sight, that vision they are able to bring the impossible into reality.  Artists are gifted in their vision - it is this that is their talent, where their magic lies.  We must train ourselves to see, to look at what is really there, understanding and capitalizing on our own filters while understanding the need to analyze from the vantage point of newborns.

It is critical to be phenomenal human beings, intaking and absorbing the world around us to inform our designs.  However, there are two aspects to reconcile - the fact that we bring our own innate sensibilities, ideas, and intuition to a project, and the fact that these things that often enable us to create powerful, meaningful design - can hinder our abilities to take in information without coloring that information, or by not seeing new things because we fill in information, and make assumptions, without necessarily seeing what's in front of us.  To operate as a blank slate, seemingly the avenue of the Design Research model, is an important perceptual tool to learn and incorporate into a dynamic way of seeing that is both forgetting the name of what one sees while still working from an innate place of personal understanding about the nature of the design.  I do not believe that one should exist without the other.  It is a matter of balancing the two processes of information gathering, research, iteration, and design.

The holistic integration to take advantage of the synergistic phenomenological and empirical gathering opportunities inherent in each structure then is the ideal way to design.

See: Colson Whitehead, The Intuitionist / Phenomenology / Intuitionism