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Visit with Jim – The Inflection Point of Self

These last few weekends, we enjoyed live shows in Charlotte, NC, Reston, VA and the delivery of a custom framed piece  to a lovely family on Long Island.  We were able to meet with our audiences, share insights, techniques and have more art move into people’s homes and brighten their lives.   It always brings a smile to my face when someone comes in with preconceived notions that my artwork is pour art or digital illustration and I slowly walk them down the process path.  Like you can see on my recent post about Galaxy Red, there is remarkable beauty in very small places.  They are mesmerized when the realize the source photography is only 3-4″ across. The ability to bring that out, share it with people and see them smile when the light bulbs turn on is simply too much fun.  That will never get old or tiring.   Thank you to everyone who participated. 


“Not only are we in the Universe, the Universe is in us. I don’t know of any deeper spiritual feeling than what that brings upon me.” — Neil deGrasse Tyson

As I explore further into photograph and the manipulation of light, there are other aspects of the craft that I am learning about which poses odd and curious questions to my science oriented mind.  Lights, camera, eyes!  Yes the senses and how we interpret what we experience.  For me, it is a rather simple, but fascinating exercise. 

More to the science side …  this week I was watching a show on who we are and how our perceptions interpret the world around.  The show resurrected persistent questions from medical school that remain unanswered to this day.  Where do we begin and end?   Alternatively, where does the universe around us begin and end within us and stop at a place that define our sense of self?   Is there a limit or crossover point where “I” is distinct and apart from the universe?   Perhaps these are not well answered because it is easier to simply accept, exist and not question.  Anyone who knows me, know the latter is not possible. 

The series of thought experiments challenge some of our working assumptions and how we perceive and therefore come to understand our surroundings.   To start, we are part of the universe.  Working with that starting point as a factual assumption.  So the extent that we exist we are inextricably intertwined within it.  But the “I” of who we are feels as though we are observers of said universe and that our mind, or sense of self, feels somehow outside of it.  We exist within it, but there is a “me” that is apart that senses, observes, and interacts with it. I guess one can point out that is where that spiritual, higher self that dwells within the physical body. 

While I agree with Neil’s first sentence, I am unsure how to define a limit where I exist and have deeper spiritual feeling that becomes mine to know, own and experience.  Those perceptions, feelings, emotions are within my ill defined being.  The atoms, molecules, proteins, fats, carbohydrates and myriad other particles of matter are the universe created building blocks.   They do not create self.  That is the matter within the universe.  It is also where “I” might exist but perhaps apart and beyond some poorly defined limit. So we need to try and define, divine and divide this separation through another approach. 

“You are not IN the universe, you ARE the universe, an intrinsic part of it. Ultimately, you are not a person, but a focal point where the universe is becoming conscious of itself. What an amazing miracle.” — Eckhart Tolle

The medical school part comes into play when we start to work backwards from the outside in.  Light comes in through our eyes, sound our ears, scents our nose and so on for taste, heat, pain, vibration and position.  We all have biological sensors that detect and tells us information about these various data input feeds.  

So does the “I” begin and end at these sensory inputs (the actual neural sensors in each sense system)?  I can lose part of these senses or even a limb and “I” remain.  My sense of self does seem to feel like it is the fingertips touching and typing the keyboard to create a response.  Likely not, as they need to transmit these inputs to a place where there is interpretation, analysis and action or inaction: our brain.   These sensory data streams are waves of depolarizing ions (chemically charged particles) propagating along a biological wire (neuron) until they reach a place where the action/inaction can occur.  So the start of awareness of the universe around us may begin at the sensory input, but the self, the “I” lies deeper.  Maybe. 

The wave of depolarizations that occur in the brain are a pure electrochemical phenomena.  The wave moving along the neurons and across a synapse but the wave is neither scent, pain, taste or sound.  The neuron or collection of neurons (ganglia) simply knows that a sensor fired and the signal needs to reach an area of the brain or spinal cord where it is tied into.  The signal reaches that destination and our brain and ganglia propagate or suppress it by electrochemical means.  In response to the receipt of inbound waves, our brain may send out waves of depolarizations across to other neurons, other sections of the brain, and out to parts of the body to initiate a response or suppress a response. 


Do not feel lonely, the entire universe is inside you.  Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.  Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.”


Our brains also release chemicals that specifically cause a sense of emotions: adrenalin, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and perhaps others.   When they are released the elusive “I” feel a sense of excitement, bonding, pleasure, happiness and other states.  Yet there is no precisely definable limit or threshold where Jim begins and neural electrochemistry takes over r vice versa.   The exploration to define where that limit or threshold exists is a fascinating exercise. 

So the source of my photography lies there.  Touchable, illuminated and a physical part of the universe.  My light sources and camera the same.   My eye peers into the viewfinder and sees an illuminated piece of glass and the camera captures it by opening a shutter and a CMOS chip captures the 1s and 0s as a dataset that becomes a virtual representation of reality on my computer and then print and web images etc.   A divergent set of photons is bounced through a mirror into my eye.  The lens of my eye focuses the image on the sensors in the back called rods and cones which form the retina.  Waves of depolarizing neurons propagate a signal to the back of my brain (occiput) where “I” see them.  One can effectively argue that “I” do not exist there because a stroke or head injury that damages that part of the brain would likely result in blind spots or an inability to see, but “I” would seem to continue to exist.  The same applies to the other senses.  In fact, the distortion of reality exists where these electrochemical waves misfire and people can smell things that are not there or in the case of synesthesia people hear sound as colors.  The “I” is not in there.

The more extensive strokes and brain damaging conditions such as dementias and malignancies do alter the outer appearance of self.  It is very difficult to know that within the outer shell which seems to have lost the “I” that we are exploring persists, but is hidden by the electrochemical dysfunction.  To the opposite end locked in syndrome shows us that a near complete disconnection from the body leaves the “I” intact.  This condition leaves a person able to see, hear, smell and feel on the head only but unable to communicate, except through blinking of the eyes.  The “I” remains here.

Haven’t found “I” in this rabbit hole yet…  

You can push this exercise very far and get almost nowhere.  The further and further you try to parse this exercise out you will find that the limit or threshold is an asymptotic rabbit hole.  You will closer and closer to nothingness.   Yet we seem to know we exist and simultaneously live within and are apart from the universe.   There is no definable self within the neurochemistry.  It is a roiling chemical mixture of electrical phenomena, chemical releases and responses effectuating to a marvel of biology.  Yet there is no definable “I”.  You are invited to help define it.  Where do chemistry and electricity end and where do “We”, as entities, begin and end?  Or do we exist outside of these bodies and the electrochemistry that senses and probes the world around us?  The science of this exercise would leave one with an odd proposition: I cannot prove that “I” exist in a discreet place within the brain, therefore the bag of protein, lipid, carbohydrates and water that is humanity, must have an ephemeral spirit that makes us who we are. 

Alas, as of this writing, there is no portal where we can step into and out of our Being John Malkovich self to use as a visual or a reality.  We can all return to our frenetic lives not truly certain of where and how we exist.  Our cozy bodily self will suffice as an acceptable interim “I”.   

Join me in a fireside chat via Zoom in the evening to discuss any aspect of my artwork.  To qualify, and join a video conversation send your contact information here and let me know what you would want to talk about.  The selected participants will receive a 25% discount on any of my unlimited edition pieces of art.  I will personally sign the piece at printing.  Even more, the gallery is offering this purchase risk free for you. Free shipping, Free return, and no questions asked if you are unhappy with the art work.  You can keep the print for 30 days to enjoy the selection in your home or office. This risk free offer does not apply to metal, acrylic and other specialized media prints.





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