Rain and low cloud this evening on the mountain – good conditions for observing (and trying to photograph) the moment when things become indeterminate and disappear. Inside cloud, up high near the top, wind blowing and shoving, light rain now on now off, water pooling all around my feet, and feeling myself to be standing at the centre of a circle of invisibility.
More rambling researches on time.
I have borrowed a hand held sundial, and yesterday managed to tell the time with it by setting the dial to February, holding it in the first bit of sunlight I had been side-on to for days, and looking to see where a spot of light hit the numbers inside the ring (it told between 4-5 in the afternoon, which seemed credible, as against my body clock). You carry your own time with you with such a clock, although I imagine it will not be good anymore if I move too far north or south (or outwards). In this, it is like my body clock, but very much unlike our shared computer and national times – greenwich’s time? apple’s time? microsoft’s? Whoever it is that constructs and controls our shared time, it is clear that although no doubt world-changingly practical and handy for online meetings, it is stuck onto our lives from the outside. A bit like money, with which it is often equated, but with less flexibility, more limitations, and arguably more value. So anyway, I feel like we ought to be careful about believing in it too strongly.
As part of my researches into time, I have started reading a book about the physics of time called ‘The Order of Time’ by Carlo Rovelli (see https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/24/carlo-rovelli-the-order-of-time-review ). It is very good, very clear, very dense and quite debilitating, and as far from common sense as you’d ever want to get.
The part about entropy is especially unpalatable and queasy-making. The writer says that time has to do with heat, which has to do with molecular movement. Also, he says that time’s arrow, its flow (directionality) is not intrinsic to the laws of the universe, its a feature of approximation – of our bodies not being able to perceive finely enough. Or at least thats what he seems to be saying. That the flow of time, the one thing that probably everyone who has ever lived could completely agree on, share and understand, the fact of existence which absolutely defines us, is just a matter of perspective, and doesn’t, as such, exist.
Later, maybe worse, he says there is no such thing as a shared present moment, not in a universal sense at least. Its just that all of us living people are (relatively speaking) very near to one another (within our planet say), and our bodies aren’t very good at measuring very short intervals of time, and therefore we all share the same ‘now’, give or take a few tiny intervals of time. But that ‘now’ is only a bubble of present moment, surrounding us and our world. Everywhere else doesn’t share our now. As with the body clocks, and to a certain extent the sundials, everyone has their own ‘now’ and we carry it with us. If we could get far enough away from one another, our nows would separate out and diverge. (I think at that point our sundials would be quite useless too).
Time to end this now.
I’ve brought my mountain notebook in from the pocket of the car door, trying to make sense of the evening visits I’ve been making, maybe trying to find a pattern. I’m going to sort through, put the entries next to the photos and videos that I’ve made, see if anything starts to emerge.
On Wednesday evening I videoed a grimy sunset. It lasted longer than I expected. I balanced my phone on top of a stone at the centre of the bronze age burial circle close to the trig point, and which seemed to face into the sunset. All around me was sky and air and Westerly wind, too much of it that evening. I cowered behind the stone and forced myself to watch the sun slip right down to nothing, and meanwhile the wind numbed my exposed fingers to the bones.
I wrote quite a bit in my notebook back in the car, including that I saw
“clouds pillowing and piled up high, salmon and gold, south leaning. Distances disappearing out to smeary grey. Dirty sun set over the sea, slipping into fog.”
This evening it was warmer, soft rain came after the sunset. I wrote in my notebook
“The sea a shell bright line, pink and soft. Light filling the hollows of the land… Afterwards a soft rain, not cold. Two ravens on the wires.”
I went to the same stone circle, this time with a compass app installed on my phone (it didn’t seem very convincing). I found that the central stone, and also a large single standing stone further down are both aligned roughly the same, one ‘facing’ and one ‘pointing’ towards Caldey Island, just South of West.
(Or the first stone could be facing North of East, but the second stone is far below the brow of the hill, and in a shallow West-facing valley; so if its facing anywhere, it can only be to the South West).
I’d like to guess that the two stones are aligned the same, and for a reason, possibly to point to Caldey, or maybe to align with the direction of the sunset at the winter solstice, which I think might be that way. But I’ll have to get a better compass and consult with an astronomer, or otherwise wait at least eleven months to check, since I did not do it this year. I can at least say that there was no sunset this year at the solstice, only grey misty cloud and according to my mountain notebook:
“grey-white noise, indistinctness. All quiet and softened in, retreating.”
Today I made a new stencil shape based on the kitchen window of the cottage where I grew up, and used it to look up at the evening sky.
I’ve been researching, and I wanted to introduce you to Vatnasafn, the ‘Library of Water’, a sculptural installation created in Iceland by Roni Horn.
Vatnasafn is an archive of waters and weathers, housed in a hill-top building that used to be the town library of Stykkishólmur. Instead of its books, the building now holds a collection of waters in twenty-four tall glass columns, collected as ice from twenty-four of Iceland’s glaciers. The columns are surrounded by windows to the town, sea and sky, with weather words written into the floor, as well as an archive of weather reports from local people.
It is a generous space, where the ‘art’ stands back quietly, and the viewers can find a place for being. For reflection, contemplation and community. A place for feeling out the connections between climate and culture. What we have, and therefore what we stand to lose.
Probably the best thing is to link you to the website, which has pictures.
a few more small experiments this evening
gusty wind, light rain and a strange glow over the sea
Mynydd Llangyndeyrn, 4 to 4.30pm
last of the sun, bone cold, a few flakes of snow falling
making a few small experiments in framing
This evening much colder.
Up onto Mynydd Llangyndeyrn, following the road to the cattle grids, then crossing the common and climbing up to the right on to the ridge above the standing stone. Walking round to the east.
A hawthorn tree tangled in sky, on the ground low brambles looping and scratching across jeans and boots. Birds passing singly and in small flocks, low, urgent.
Distance disappeared, cloud gradually climbing the dome of the sky from north and west, dim and ominous, bruised and yellow purple, thick with sleety rain. Half a roof covering the high house of the hill. Three quarters now, the lid sliding grey and purple across the moon. Light rain gently falling as we turn back.
Before leaving, letting the silence settle on me, to carry through the evening, back to my other home.
Today I read this:
“Did you ever say “Yes” to one joy? Oh my friends, then you also said “Yes” to all pain. All things are entwined, enmeshed, enamored –
– did you ever want Once to be Twice, did you ever say “I love you, bliss – instant – flash” – then you wanted everything back.
– Everything anew, everything forever, everything entwined, enmeshed, enamored – oh, thus you love the world
– you everlasting ones, thus you love it forever and for all time; even to pain you say: Refrain but
– come again! For joy accepts everlasting flow! “
Crazy vulnerable amazing – from Nietzsche.
These photographs are taken with a mobile phone camera this evening on Mynydd Llangyndeyrn.
In digital photography, something called ‘noise’ appears in photographs taken at low light levels, making the image grainy.
What we are seeing as graininess is randomness in the image. Either the constantly present randomness in photography – a question of which particular light photons hit the camera sensor in the instant that the photograph is taken; or digital randomness caused by electronic noise from the sensor and the device itself. The conditions were dark this evening, therefore my camera was not able to collect a lot of light, so the randomness or ‘noise’ – which is always present – was this evening overpowering the image or ‘signal’, and the photos were grainy.
I am finding that I am very interested in grainy photographs, and have been deliberately making them – and also experimenting with introducing extra noise into videos and images.
I think especially, I am interested in how low light levels start to break down the camera’s ability to make images, and I find it so interesting to compare that with my own gradual loss of vision over a period of half an hour or so, as the night draws across the mountain from the east.
I have recently been doing some reading about vision and perception, and today re-reading and wrestling with a part about information and noise in perception. These walks on the mountain, and the images that I am making are helping me with making my understanding more practical.
One author I am reading, called Mark Taylor, explains aspects of the neurology of perception, and says that in our perceptual processes, information emerges from noise through progressive processes of ‘screening’.
He also says:
“There is no such thing as absolute noise; or, in different terms, chaos is not the complete lack of order but an alternative configuration that generates static for established schemata. Noise is information in the process of formation. What counts as noise and passes for information is relative to the level at which processing occurs.” (Mark Taylor: Refiguring the Spiritual)
The author points out a number of interesting aspects of these screening processes. Firstly, that the unfiltered data (the light in vision), which is not a ‘complete lack of order’, holds patterns that ‘sculpt’ the eye and brain. Secondly, that when information passes through our perceptual and cognitive screens or filters, the filtered parts do not ‘disappear’, but create resonances which ‘cannot be clearly articulated’. The author likens this to a penumbra, the partial or fuzzy area on the edge of a shadow, between shadowed and lit places. Thirdly, the structures of the filter, the structures distributed across the brain, very much influence and determine the perceptual experience – so seeing both takes a little time, and is made possible through accessing and using memory of past experiences.
This gives what I think is a very interesting model of how perception and thinking work, which the author states is very different from the ‘traditional philosophy of the cogito that informs much of modern philosophy.’
It is a model which includes a ‘cognitive unconscious’. (A way of describing these incredibly complex networks and processes of filtering and processing the information (and noise) which happen outside of conscious awareness).
The model is non dualistic – it doesn’t divide things up into mind and matter. It treats the various processes: light, chemical, mental, as similar – ie. as information and screening processes. Consciousness, thinking, is understood in this model as something which is an ’emergent phenomenon’ of these information processes.