Perspective

Whenever you interact with people, Don’t be there primarily as a function of a role, But rather as a field of Conscious Presence.

– Eckhart Tolle from “A New Earth”

Perspective is a vital concept in our ‘enlightened’ world. My first experience of perspective was in learning how to draw the world on paper. Using paper and pencil, we are able to express a three dimensional view of the world in a two dimensional realm. At first, when learning to draw using perspective, the rules of logic as we understand them seem to tease us:

Perspective, drawing

  • How can a line in space that is level (i.e. a floor) rise sharply at an angle in the (flat) world of two dimensional space?
  • Why is it that what in physical space might occupy the largest portion of space, (for instance the sky) occupies only a small fraction of the space on the paper?

Perspective-Mona LisaOf course the answers to these questions, mastered by great artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Cellini about 500 years ago during the Rennaissance, is all to do with our point-of-view. Our eyes, a direct extension of our brains, have a wondrous ability to extrapolate assumptions from a “snapshot” image. Since our field of vision is necessarily limited (we cannot see infinite distances, nor can we see infinitely close detail), our brains have developed an extraordinary ability to take a tiny, reflected, upside-down image (that’s what’s in the back of our eye-balls, where the photon receptors are) and convert it into an imaginary projection of 3-dimensional space.

When we look up at a tall building, we imagine the total height and volume of the building. In reality, the eye is receiving an image a few millimetres in size (at most), projected into the back of our eyes. Our brain extrapoloates, based on our position, and the relative position of other observables such as the ground and what we know of other buildings, etcetera, to give us an estimate of the scale of what we’re looking at.

But what if our brains are wrong? This is what happens when, for instance, we go to Disneyland. Walt Disney constructed with a deliberately foreshortened scale. Since everything in his built environment is built to this reductive scale (3rd floors are 7/8 the scale of 2nd floors, which in turn are 7/8 the scale of ground floors), everything looks ‘larger’ than it really is. Our brain-eyes’ point-of-view ‘fools’ us into thinking everything in Disneyland is bigger than a tape measure tells us it really is. Without a stable external reference point our brain-eyes readily accept new  information and construct new mental maps based on prior assumptions and new information. This creates a convincing illusion:

Perspective-Disney LandThe effect of perspective representation is so fundamental to our world that its development has shaped human history. It was not until convincing perspective representation of three dimensional space into two dimensional areas (in paintings and drawings) became ‘normal’ in the Rennaissance, that the way was paved for the Age of Enlightenment when reason finally triumphed over the dogma of hereditary aristocracy, which, combined with the hegemony of church and state had for so long kept humanity in the dark intellectually.

This is useful to know and understand now, for the Age of Reason, as the Enlightenment was also known, became the foundation for much that was to follow, scientifically and philisophically, to the current day. In the short span of a couple of hundred years we have accumulated more human knowledge than in all of recorded history of 8,000 years.

Through photography we know and understand that in the small space of an image we can project vast cities, towers and landscapes—all because the foreshortening of perpsective matches our expectations built in the real world. But do we realize where our view is being ‘foreshortened’ through illusion, as in Disney’s Magic Kingdom?

Today, as it was in the Rennaissance, we have begun to trace the ability to represent in fundamentelly new ways. This is no longer about three dimensions being reprsented using two—it’s now four dimensions, for through video and other means of temporal representation we have developed a rudimentary ability to represent the foreshortening of time. Today, much as the Rennaissance masters developed skillful technique and science to represent the ‘real three dimensional world’ using a flat space, today’s movie-makers and others have developed mastery at recreation of a ‘real four dimensional world’ of time and space, which entertain and entrance us, now in 3-dimensionsal view (special glasses may be required).

But what in our world will follow? What is the equivalent of yesterday’s Enlightenment? If Reason was brought to mass consicousness then, what will be brought about by today’s artistic magic? What can we learn from perspective today, in the age of digital photography and instantaneous global projection?

Perspective-Nutrition FactsOur world today has become obsessed with reductive perspective. We are consistently represented to in this way. The back panel of every food package has ‘Nutritition Facts’ posted in a box which states (with a certainty that is surely misplaced) a specific and finite amount of clinical detail for a reductive formulation of the contents broken down to mass nutrients and a handful of known ‘essential’ elements. We are told we must communicate what we do and what we want in ‘10 second sound bites’. Any more doesn’t fit into the listener’s ‘view’.

This perspective does not tell us whether we will like a particular food, nor even it it is good, or palatable to us. What matters how many calories, if my body will reject it? A reductive perspective is particularly unhelpful when analyzing others’ abilities or gifts, as very few products of human creativity come readily packaged in ‘sound-bite’ size—excepting, of course, the producers of sound-bites. Today we are living in a world where if a quality doesn’t fit into the approved mass-distribution ‘Nutrition Facts’ box, then it doesn’t fit into our lives (or awareness).

Reductive perspective is akin to trusting the reproduced image, but not our eyes, ears and souls. We are living in a ‘Magic Kingdom’ where so much has been so consistently reduced that we fail to realize that distance, time and form have been skewed to create an effect. That the effect is one calculated to create a commercial outcome (as in Disneyland) might go without saying, if it were not for the fact that so many people are still unaware that their own vision in this synthetic fairy tale world is not to be trusted. After seeing everything in 7/8th scale for a period of time, you forget there is any other perspective!

Perspective-Pollock

Detail of Jackson Pollock abstract ‘splatter’ painting.

It is something like the experience of 20th Century abstract expressionist art. While a Rothko or a Pollock image may impact us emotionally and viscerally through the sensation of color and abstract form, by definition content is excluded from the image. The interpretation is at once left to the viewer, and held privately by the artist. After seeing enough art and design of this nature we forget that there ever was such a thing as depth of field or perspective. We are left exploring the two-dimensional surfaces seeking for psychological insight that is at once too arcane to illuminate and yet too precious to dispose of. This is the limbo of reductive persepective.

Our entire education and business systems work through reductive perspective. Children are taught early on that they should develop affinity for one of several prescribed roles and professions. Businesses are organized around employing these same roles and professions in a self-propogating hegemony that discourages broader understanding and analysis. University research is similarly hidebound.

Anything that doesn’t fit into this reductive paradigm is punished through society’s most powerful weapon: exclusion. Education does not provide for broad thinkers (there is no faculty of Enterprise Architecture at Yale, which like the majority of universities still holds the quaint view of architecture as the domain of the built environment) and businesses are rarely organized for the employment of holistic thinkers. The highest reward, in our current way, is reserved for those who have so trained themselves to see the world in 7/8th scale that they believe the representation is reality.

Perspective-almost trainWell, you may ask, what’s the big deal? Isn’t 7/8th scale fairly close to reality anyway? And isn’t the Magic Kingdom a pretty place? Unfortunately, close is not real. When catching a train, would you be satisfied with being there ‘almost on time’? Our world responds positively with a common agreement around items like when trains depart, so ‘almost on time’ doesn’t ‘almost work’—it doesn’t work at all. If you are ‘almost on time for your train’, you don’t ‘almost’ get to the destination. You get left on the platform.

Our earth is being punished today for humanity’s short sighted and myopic vision. Our ‘7/8s’ perspective isn’t ‘almost right’. It’s leaving real evolution and progress standing on the platform, while we congratule ourselves on making it in ‘the real world’. This ‘real world’ is a reductive commercial perspective construct that does not represent reality.

Perspective-AladinToday’s extraordinary and realistic animated 3-D movies from Disney and other studios, are the equivalent of the Renaissance Masters’ oil paintings. And like the sponsors of old, the business and cultural elite who finance these creations today are living in yesterday’s world, steeped in traditions based on mistrust, superstition and greed.

Although our new ‘Age of Enlightenment’ has yet to fully arrive, we can definitely consider what it might look like, based on our understanding of perspective. Since point-of-view is decisive in our interpretation (and internal recreation) of reality, what might a reductive global perspective (which almost all of us in the West grew up with) lay the groundwork for? And if we are fully accustomed to viewing the world through a ‘7/8s scale view of reality’, how different or distinctive can actual reality be? Finally, how might we use the developing artistic media of realistic 3-D movies to educate and enlighten, bringing a truer representation of the richness and variety of human endeavor and life on planet earth, to fruition?

One of the most important things to learn when drawing in perspective, is that your view changes (sometimes dramatically) depending on where your eyes are located. Sometimes, moving your head a few inches is enough to see entirely new realms, that were unnoticed and hidden from a prior point of view. Obviously, this will alter the product of your mental image—and your drawing—entirely.

Although the Rennaissance Masters were adept at this, the fundamental perspective they were working from was not that far departed from the ‘Dark Ages’. While their form and style were cutting edge, their sponsors were still the old world of church and state which thrived on a patriarchy of popular ignorance and illiteracy. The new psychological states suggested by this masterful style, however, could not but have an elevating effect on the populace. By the 1700s the integration of artistic elevation from the Renaissance throughout Europe brought about new, irrevocable ideas in the populace. The leaders of the church and the text of the bible were no longer the undisputed source of truth, and the age of Reason or Enlightenment was caused, which once started, could only run its course to the present day.

Today’s artistic masters, while still employed by the old chains of market capitalism, are similarly laying the groundwork for tomorrow’s Enlightenment. But what of that Enlightenment? How different is it from today’s earth?

While it took 250 years for the distillation of the Rennaissance into the Age of Reason, today’s society is much more mobile and agile. It is reasonable to propose that a similar scope of change may be currently underway and it wouldn’t be out of the question to suppose it may take only 25 years. Supposing we are halfway into it—what might the next few years hold for us?

Perspective-Coffee House

Think Starbucks invented the coffee house? Think again: lively early European coffee house, ca. 17th century.

If history is any guide we may suppose most extraordinary and systemic changes are in store for us. In the last Enlightenment new critical ideas, such as the centrality of freedom, democracy, and reason as primary values of society emerged. It was also the age when the coffee house first emerged as a trading point for conversations and new ideas. Now that these concepts are firmly planted parts of our culture, what might be next? How about the centrality of communal responsibility, the systematic advancement of individual consciousness and the development of rational intuition? These are but three areas we see that may emerge as growth areas of human endeavor over the coming decade(s).

Of course we do not know what the future will hold, but propose that the coming changes will be at least as radical in nature as those which previously led to the French revolution and the explosion of philisophical debate that characterized the Age of Reason. In short—revolutionary change is under way, and any characterization that looks like less than a revolution is bound to be short-sighted.

How is this possible? How could we be half-way through a revolution and not even have noticed? Reductive perspective (and reasoning) must be factored into our point-of-view to shed any light on the current moment. We must take the point-of-view that our current perspective is significantly skewed in trying to tease any lessons from the present moment.

In fact, revolutionary events are all around us, and have been occuring on a frequent basis for a number of years. However, our society’s reductionist myopia too often labels these changes as cyclical or even progressive changes that are simply moving us further along the current path. Nothing could be further from the truth. To name but one aspect, the recent financial collapses around the world are not routine market blips, or even adjustments. They are in reality the seismic warning rumbles of tremors in the tectonic plates of the global economy presaging what often follows tremors—an earthquake. There will be a massive breakdown in the old global economy. Like an earthquake, it is impossible to reliably predict or pinpoint the exact time and location of the cataclysm, though it is folly to ignore the warning signs. When buildings begin to topple, you had better be away from the densest construction, preferably at a stable rallying point.

Perspective-Escher

M.C. Escher became famous for his perspective-inverting drawings, especially of architectural elements such as staircases, archways and columns.

The reductionist perspective is just too flat to see what is going on around us. It’s akin to being inside one of those M.C. Escher pictures where the perspective is all mixed up and stairs run up and down into each other never going anywhere. With everything being a bit tilted in this amusement park world, there is not a stable reference point for what’s level or even. And, with the reductionist perspective of every thought or idea chopped down to the size and scope of the ‘Nutrition Facts’ label on a box of breakfast cereal, there’s even less scope to articulate the full scale or grandeur of natural reality. In fact, within this artificial perspective there just isn’t room to properly view reality. Looking through a fun house mirror always produces a fun-house image. The only way out is through. We must emerge from the fun house and develop a new, expansive perspective, one based on individual preference with a stable reference point so we are always able to identify which way is ‘up’.

Perspective-fun house

Which is distorted, the reflections, or the originals?

Reductionist perspective teaches us to zoom in close and make things small so that anyone looking through the viewer can see only the limited view put before them. It’s like looking at one of Rothko’s beautiful (but ultimately meaningless) paintings of colored stripes. There is no content. In contrast, expansive, preference based perspective pulls way back, allowing the viewer unlimited views (hence preference based). Within an expansive perspective system, the preferences of the viewer or more properly, the participant, are always crucial because from this distance there is more than one way one can properly see. Therefore the preference of participants is obligitory in creating the view. You might look West; while I am looking South from the same stable vantage point. Either perspective is equally valid, though both do not necessarily lead to a similar destination. Fair enough; who said you and I have to end up at the same place?

Perspective-Rothko

Mark Rothko was one of many ‘abstract expressionist’ painters who rose to prominence and commercial success during the mid-twentieth century. This is one of many he painted of a quite similar nature.

The important aspects are to provide a stable (unmoving) reference point that is not affected by skewed perspectives and therefore from which vantage point it is possible to distinguish reality from unreality. This allows and even encourages individual perspectives (or preferences) from that singular point.

The stable reference point has been a moving target for far too long. Existing references (such as International Organization for Standardization or ISO) are heavily burdened with industrial (vs. human or ecological) prejudice and are far too coarse to take on the subtlety required to portray human perspective(s). What’s needed is something almost infinitely granular on the one hand, and at once useable by anyone with, say, a kindergarten education, on the other. Particularly within our world of overnight technological advancements this fundamental aspect has been ignored for far too long. As we navigate a faster and faster changing world, where milestones no longer appear in previously predictable places, an accurate compass becomes more than a luxury—it is a necessity. Where is our compass?

Perspective-musical notationThe only clearly continuous reference points throughout our evolution (besides the cosmos) have been language and dna (itself, a kind of biological language). Both of these, however tend to mutate and evolve fairly rapidly—even, it turns out, within one generation. There is one language, however, which has maintained consistency and ability to communicate with almost anyone for a long time. The language of music has remained stable for a number of centuries. In fact, a piece of music written during the Renaissance 500 years ago, is still easily playable by any musician today, on any modern instrument. Fundamentally, the language of music is harmonic, and as such it obeys mathematical and scientific laws which are a function of the universe as we participate in it. While styles of notation, instrumentation and musical tastes vary considerably, there is a quality of music which speaks to us universally, regardless of personal taste or perception. This is a quality of harmonics possessed by rainbows, heartbeats and sunrises as well. Harmonics register on a very deep level within our beings. The lines and spaces of musical notation are stable reference points upon which we may notate our individually preferred melody.

Taken to abstraction, which is required for the immense variety of actions and perspectives that humanity persues, this is what we see: a music-like system of stable notation points from which anyone may stipulate their individual perspective, and their preference from that point. Within this construct, it is possible to easily stipulate any preference, whether for breakfast cereal, physical exercise, or community action; with but a handful of ‘notes’, because, like music, each ‘note’ connotes much more than its independent value—each is a relative reference point in a musical phrase which communicates much more than the spoken phrase equivalent could in an equivalent interval.

Given a stable reference point and a notation system for perspective-reality as well as for our preferences within it, what might the consequences look like? The outomes will be wide-ranging, crossing all sorts of domains—from diet and exercise, to business, design, engineering and philosophy. Fundamentally, however, we see four outcomes from creating this sort of access to a stable reference system:

  1. The ability to view reality as it truly is, (the ‘naked’ truth);
  2. The ability to experiment with hypothetical expressions of preference without consequence (i.e. real-time ‘what-if’ scenarios);
  3. The ability to communicate and connect effectively with relevent community in such a way that our contributions connect immediately with the whole, creating a greater and more connected whole;
  4. Finally, the ability to specify future outcomes with a clear understanding of potential consequence, and the certainty of producing a predictable outcome.

Now, in ‘reality’ how might this system for perspective-reality actually appear? Given the rapid evolution of binary technology (i.e. Information Technology) and the development and market emergence of a structured conversion mechanism that accurately translates native human grammar and nuance into binary notation (a relatively straightforward, but required breakthrough), it appears most likely to the author that the coming environment will belong to a new class of systems that communicate with humanity using a combination of natural language and real-time three-dimensional holographic representation.

Following is a relatively straightoforward example of the possibilities of expanded perspective using a stable automatic reference point, called ‘Mark’.

Person:      Mark, show me what forms of physical exercise you suggest might benefit me today?

‘Mark’:      Given your history, including your fall during rock-climbing last week, I have developed three options with a 96% likelihood that one is just what you’ll want today. Pictured before you is Yoga at the community center at 2 o’clock; or a 68 minute interactive body-mind stretch unit I have developed especially for you, available on your iScreen at any time today; or an invigorating 90 minute walk with meditative musical tracks I can download to your iPod—the best time to do that given the weather today will likely be around 3:30, after your mid-afternoon snack, when the sun will be coming out from currently overcast conditions.

Person:       Which one will best prepare me for a tennis match with Ruth on Sunday?

‘Mark’:      In your current condition you have a 30% chance of further injury should you play tennis with Ruth on Sunday. If you are committed to this path, I would recommend I alter my program for the interactive mind-body stretch unit and that I book a physical therapy session with your masseur for this evening. This combination will reduce to 12% the chance of further injury should you play tennis with Ruth on Sunday.

Person:       Book the yoga session today and sign me up for your stretch session tomorrow morning. Send a voice note to Ruth saying: “Hi Ruth, I can’t make tennis on Sunday, sore shoulder, can we go for a walk instead?”.

‘Mark’:      Done. Ruth’s Mark has responded and let me know with 96% certainty that Ruth will accept. Your yoga session is booked. You should drink at least 2 glasses of water in the next 45 minutes. You’ll need to leave for yoga in 55 minutes. Thank for you allowing me to be of assistance.

Perspective-machine head

Imaginary confluence of human head with mechanical components. Artist: Diarment.

The fundamental challenge in creating this reality in the current mileu of rapid technological advancement is not mainly technological, but again one of perspective. The stipulations for this level of ‘machine intelligence’ are not primarily those persued by researchers into artificial intelligence (AI). The real breakthrough that is required is in articulating a language for the architecture of human enterprise (the industrial term is EA or Enterprise Architecture) that is both harmonic and sufficiently granular to describe human activities and organization. Put another way, the challenge is in understanding that it is not computers that need to be taught, but humans that need to be observed to create this new reality.

Even a rudimentary working system based on this form of perspective would be preferable (and potentially far more powerful) than the current status quo. Using Noam Chomsky’s research and hypotheses of a universal grammar that is hard-wired into the human brain regardless of culture or learned language as a starting point, and a basic understanding of color harmonics, the author has been able to demonstrate through practical application that this grammatical structure may also be used for the organization of binary data relevant to the organization of communities and human endeavor in general. Current technology is sufficient to bring this reality to form in at least a rudimentary form, though the final completed version using 100% ‘natural language’ will take some time to form, using the foundational aspects of the system itself to build the final product.

Conclusions: Perspective is an intrinsic part of the human condition which is decisively altered depending on the surrounding context. Humanity’s entire current perspective is swayed by commercial concerns that illuminate only a slanted fraction of global potential. This reductionist perspective hinders our access to breakthroughs in individual development, community connectivity and communications because our notion of reality is only a limited and skewed reflection of actual reality. To bring about a more expansive and useful perspective, born of natural reality, two factors are required:

  1. We require a stable reference point from which vantage point it is possible to distinguish reality from unreality. This requires that the language or nomenclature of the starting reference point is unprejudiced by commercial bias and that it behaves predictably regardless of language, operator, time, or place.
  2. We need a preference based harmonic perspective system that references the stable reference point and provides granular access to descriptions of human activity while accurately translating native human (analog) grammar into computer (binary) code.

The important aspects are to provide a stable (unmoving) reference point that is not affected by skewed perspectives and therefore from which vantage point it is possible to distinguish reality from unreality, allowing and even encouraging individual perspectives (or preferences) from that singular point, and to develop a harmonic granular description system that will allow these choices to be communicated from humans to computers.

This perspective is preferable because it encompasses a greater reality than the reductive perspective currently in popular usage, and because it encourages individuals to persue more meaningful and personally relevant paths, allowing individuals to freely and easily choose directions that are communally relevant and personally rewarding, whether or not they have been previously explored by others.

Development of the stable reference point and a preference based harmonic perspective system will provide access to instantaneous, granular real-time interactive 3-D representations (i.e. holographic imagery) based on reality, in contrast to today’s non-interactive 3-D films based on fantasy.

Bryce Winter is Chief Architect at The MarkBrand Group, a breakthrough branding incubator located in Edmonton, Canada. He is also the architect of the unimatrix, a harmonically integrated knowledge-building languaging system also referred to as X8 (short for QUFARIED, the Quadralinear Universal Fuzzy-logic Architectonic Rapid Input Ergonomic Database.

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