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Can Reflection and Self-Examination Work?

This Plate For Now

Dave Rogers always reminds me what it’s like to be read.

It may seem that we’re caught in horrible solipsistic trap, interpreting the world via these brain maps. If we can only know our own mind, then the real world out there is really just illusion. Fortunately, the real world pushes back and asserts itself like the pain produced when banging the head against the wall. With our symbolic tools of language that abstract the maps into notes, conversations and blog posts, we can get out of our heads and team up with other minds to improve the usefulness of our internal maps, even to the point of knowing things that are beyond any ability to experience.

Even the lone mind, with reflection and self-examination, can see the world more clearly through a more accurate map of its own actions. Perhaps just the recognition of that these deep assumptions and models of the world are embodied in the brain, controlling actions without conscious consideration can help. We can free those higher aspirations to have just a few more degrees of freedom to choose more wisely.

On Mapping Better

Rug and Bricks

Intuitively, the idea that the brain is creating maps is appealing. Our language is full of the metaphor of the physical world, like distance (“We’re far apart on this issue” or “Lets take a step back and look at the whole picture”). Whether an idea is hot or cool, a company is big or small, there is an inescapable physicality to metaphor. And it may be inescapable for a very good reason- mind is embodied in a physical world.

Since there’s no direct contact with this physical world, these metaphors leave the world directly unknowable. We only experience maps of the world, rendering the metaphor as a subjective illusion. William James assumed the world should be out there, but as a neuropsychologist, realized it doesn’t really look like that, not the way we think it looks.

Fortunately, a world of illusion allows for creating better maps, better metaphors that work better. I think the journey to deciding better is learning better mapping methods, ones that work better.

On Mapping

Cut Here

It may be that the brain really only contains maps that are analogues of the physical world. The eyes are a simple mapping of the three dimensional visual world onto two flat maps, the retina at the back of each eye. Binocular vision and a three channel color system provides several maps that are eventually assembled in the brain into maps of line, form, color, motion, and the world in space as it would appear visual if the brain could see directly. Similarly sound is mapped through two ears binaurally in time and by frequency to create a sound map of timbre and spatial location.

It seems possible that, in the brain, the maps of mathematics, morality and meaning are adaptations of the maps of the physical world. What if we move in moral space toward what’s right? In the space of desire toward what is most desired?

The Pleasures of the World

The Pipe Goes Through

The pleasures of the world can’t be an end in themselves. They are here to permit a settled mind and calm spirit. This is how the material world can free the heart.

[R' Chaim Luzzatto, Mesillas Yesharim]

Seeing or Deciding?

The Geometry of Service

During my explorations here at ODB, I shifted focus from the act of deciding to perception. I believe that most decisions are made without involvement of deliberative, conscious level thought. Mental models that shape the perception of the state of the world or desired goals are more important than methods to make better choices. I now call this mistaken focus on conscious thought the Cartesian Fallacy, in recognition of the power we give to the subjective “I” that seems somehow separate from the body. The brain is a complex processing and behavioral system that has an executive level supervision with limited access to the brain mechanisms that shape what we perceive, what we feel and what we do.

Unfortunately, it makes the work of deciding better much more difficult. The work of shifting mental models from within is challenging, a task the world’s wisdom literature has taken on for thousands of years.

Let photography symbolize the quest to perceive what is not always readily apparent at least in the visual world and its mental constructs.

The Ongoing ODB Project

By the Sea

It’s almost 15 years ago that I looked at a web page that challenged me to “Edit This Page”. It was Dave Winer’s open web logging experiment that gave me a voice on the internet. I called it “On Deciding . . . Better” in recognition of my interest at the time in Decision Theory.

I now call the project ODB in my personal notes. It’s a project that has moved through areas of philosophy, through photography and most recently to neuroscience. It’s a big project that simply extends my lifelong project to understand brain and mind, perception and thought, knowledge and belief.

As this continues to be a journey, ODB remains some record of the path, a personal journal.

Angled and not

Angled and not

It’s the seeing that is all. These maps are metaphors that remind me of seeing.

Boston Street



Boston Street, originally uploaded by jjvornov.

One of the drawbacks of the Sigma Foveon is the lack of support for RAW conversion by the usual tools. Files get processed by the Sigma software prior to being brought into Aperture.

Sigma has added a monochrome conversion to the newest version of Sigma Photo Pro. In keeping with Vincent Versace’s dictum to do RAW conversion for Nikon “the Nikon way”, I’m trying monochrome conversion for the DP2 “the Sigma way”.

I think it’s an impressive result, providing a level of image quality that can’t be reproduced by any other camera this size. The Leica ME has a different way of rendering as a system but also requires a good bit more of me as a photographer for image capture.

Splattered Right



Splattered Right, originally uploaded by jjvornov.

With the price reductions of the new Merrill versions of the SIgma compacts, I finally upgraded from my original version of the DP1. I found that the Sigma was not only the camera I’ve been carrying with me lately, but it’s also been the instrument used to capture some of my best images over the years.

With a single day of ownership, so far I’m impressed with the improvements in the labeling and operations of the camera. It’s a bit bigger and a bit heavier, but it’s faster and more convenient to control.

At this point I have too many tool choices to have a capture workflow that lets me work without the fumbling that can ruin seeing. I’m hoping that daily capture with the Sigma will start to get me there.

2012 Photography in Review



Cracked Earth, originally uploaded by jjvornov.

Cracked Earth
Negev, Israel

Overall, not a very productive year for me as photographer. On my extended trip to Israel in Febuary, I was unimpressed with the images I captured. Some nice travel landscape shots for personal memories, but nothing that spoke to me. Overall, only 24 images from 2012 posted to Flickr, most in the last 3 months.

With my new position, the drive to create visual art is back. The limitations of my current visual world seems to be part of the inspiration as I face the fact that I am a photographer of walls, parking lots and rocks.

I’m drawing much of my inspiration from the medium itself. Cameras and software provide a rich visual world that needs just to be fed with color, form, composition and gesture.