you're reading...

The Scale of Reality (repost)

(FOAM Blog repost #9) The Scale of Reality by Ken Schles

I can’t help but think the way I see the world is the way the world is. But I know that the world as it appears to me (and fills my senses) is subjective: I perceive it in relation to the way I observe it.

I enter into a relationship with the world through my senses. The scale of what I experience is directly related to my physical size and how I interact with my environment. It is the way I’ve come to know my world, the way I’ve come to understand it. My initial sense of time is based on the speed electrical impulses travels through my neural network. My primary sense of scale is based on my body size in relation to the things I encounter and interact with. And within the span of my life my world-view shifts according to developmental and environmental needs and constraints.

I find flies hard to swat because of the time it takes my eyes to see where a fly is, process that information and react—it gives our little friend more than enough time to fly rings around me. We probably appear to smaller (faster) creatures as lumbering leviathans. Just try chasing a squirrel or catch a pigeon.

Elephants grumble in languages too low for us to hear, whales sing across distances too far for us to converse, birds call in trills whose subtlety and speed are too fast for us to pick apart. We hear their calls as a lilting and beautiful song, but science proves insight into our ignorance.

For all creatures the scale and order of their reality mimics their physical and sensory abilities. This makes perfect sense. Their consciousness is dictated by their senses in relation to their brain’s computational power and how they can perform in their environment. Some butterflies and shrimp can see colors we can only haltingly conceive of. But of what beauty and significance do these colors represent to these creatures? Bats use echolocation, and are more comfortable in the dark. Some recent studies point out that bats might actually be lunar phobic and avoid moonlit nights. Snakes (and some bats) can “see” prey by way of heat, the same way we find spicy food “hot.”

And while we measure motion by the length of our gait and time music to the rhythm of our breath and beating hearts, what would the world look like if we could see time slowed by orders of magnitude so we could see light actually bounce off objects. Or speed up things until we could see interstellar gasses move and coalesce into stars or see galaxies collide. And yet, in ways we do.

Physical being is the primary corridor through which we experience our world. But our tools extend our means of knowing and interacting with the world. Rocks, sticks, bone and sinew extended our fists and teeth and fingers. Clothes extended what our natural body fat and hair provided and what our feet could endure. Straw allowed us to snorkel or make rafts and travel distances over water. Our tools allow for other realities to be lived and made real for us. We can see proteins fold, see stars and galaxies bend light, image molecular bonds, stop time…

We may make tools to extend our physical abilities. But more importantly those tools have enabled us to see and understand the world in more profound and nuanced ways outside the scale and limit our physical bodies present. Our tools have transformed who we are and what we are capable of. Our tools have extended the boundaries of our reality. But it is this that we should remember: for more important than anything that our tools may concretely or discretely do, our tools also transform our ideas.

We are bound by physical constraints. Our tools extend those boundaries. But when we share ideas, we touch on something infinite. This, as wonderful as it sounds, does not negate what I said in my first paragraph. And I am well advised to read it again.

We live in a physical world and we live in an image world. They are neither mutually exclusive nor mutually dependent. We use one to describe the other. We use one to qualify the other. And it is through that exchange that we derive meaning.

For those keeping track this entry is a day or two late. I apologize. I just came back from participating in a very interesting festival in Bursa, Turkey, and gave a talk at the Istanbul Photo Museum where my exhibit with Ken Light and Edward Keating was extended to October 15th. I also want to share this recent review published in Le Journal de la Photography.


About kenschles

Ken Schles is the author of Invisible City (1988; reprint 2015 and 2016), The Geometry of Innocence (2001), A New History of Photography: The World Outside and the Pictures In Our Heads (2007), Oculus (2011) and Night Walk (2015 and 2016). His work has been nominated for the Deutsche Börse Prize, exhibited by The Museum of Modern Art, noted by the New York Times Book Review, cited in histories of the medium (Parr/Badger, Auer & Auer, 10x10 American Photobooks) and issued by some of the foremost publishers of our time (Steidl, Hatje Cantz, Twelvetrees Press). They're considered “intellectual milestones in photography” (Süddeutsche Zeitung), “hellishly brilliant” (The New Yorker). Ken Schles’ work is included in private and public collections such as The Museum of Modern Art, The Rijksmuseum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museo d"Arte Contemporanea (MACRO) Testaccio Museum, and more than 100 other museum and library collections world-wide. 
 Ken Schles is a NYFA Fellow. http://www.kenschles.com



  1. Pingback: The Scale of Reality | seeing images, seeing things - October 10, 2015

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: