Ceçi n'est pas une piping plover
(click image to enlarge)
With apologies to Belgian surrealist painter Réné Magritte and his wonderful Ceçi n'est pas une pipe (1926)
In the last couple of days Bren and I have seen several of thes little birds who can vanish into the sands and shells of the beach, defying you to pick them out no matter how hard you stare. Your first knowledge of a piping plover frequently is when the object you thought was a shell, or rock, starts to move.
And so, of course, I love to turn my camera to the piping plovers - but their vanishing act amidst the shells and sand got me thinking of Magrite and digital imaging and the world in general.
For this is not a piping plover. I know that.
It is a flat, two-dimensional representation of a four-dimensional event.
The event – the moment – was on a beach. There was a gentle breeze, lapping waves, and the smell of salt air off nearby mudflats. And this little one – with a friend – came walking towards us and I watched him, magnified by the camera lens and at one particular instant I pressed the shutter button.
And that created another event. This one. The one you experienced when you saw the above image on your computer screen. The one I experienced when I saw the image of the plover and thought about him and the hard drive that had recently broken and been removed from one of my computers and about all that is stored in that block of exotic metals and sand – silicon. And of course the events don’t stop here – there is another and another and another every time I or someone else sees the image.
And what do they see?
Some see a piping plover. I do sometimes. But sometimes I see it for what it is – a glowing computer screen with certain dots of various colors turned on at varying intensities.
Because light traveled through a lens and came to a focus and fell on an electronic device that could react to that light in certain ways that captured the information the light brought. And that information was recorded by a series of on/off switches – millions of them. They store the information that represented in two dimensions some small part of what I had experienced first in the three dimensions of space and the fourth dimension of time.
And what was that?
A piping plover? If that was all it was it was a poor experience. No it was more. It was everything I was that morning. It was the sharing of that instant in time and space not only with the plover and his mate but with Bren who stood beside me, binoculars raised and saw something like I saw – smelled something like I smelled, felt the wind on her cheek, sensed the sun, still low in the east and battling through the clouds and heard the waves lapping on the gentle sands of the beach we call Horseneck in a place we know as Westport in the State of Massachusetts in these united States on the continent of North America, part of the planet we call Earth, grouped with eight or so others in a system that is tied to a star we call the Sun in a galaxy we know as the Milky Way in a particular corner of the physical universe we can describe abstractly and not come even close to knowing.
He’s captured, this little piping plover. I know who he is, and where he is. He’s trapped in my computer in several different forms – and he is trapped in my mind in several other forms. Is it really any different? (The computer - themind?) Oh, I admit the computer is quite crude. But it dealt with light and it dealt with information and didn’t my eyes and brain do the same?
And I mix up the two realities now. The two-dimensional reality I can experience again and again - and the unique, four-dimensional reality I experienced but once and the new reality I created by playing with images of the dead hard drive and the plover and memories of Magritte.
And I can only retreat in awe before all this – in awe and humility and perhaps a tad of embarrassment for I know how little I know. I know I have been playing this day with the essence of the universe as I see it – an essence conveyed by two fundamental qualities – energy and information.
Energy and information – light and the word. Have you read John lately? It begins.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
And later it says:
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
Information – energy. The Word – Light. Both are so basic, And light is constant, besides. Or at least constant in speed while all else changes and that makes it unique to the best of our knowledge. Is information constant? I don’t know. I know there are no pictures in my computer. I know that in an incredibly small space in an impossibly simple form of yes and no, the information to make a picture is stored. And I know light - in it many frequencies, visible and invisible – are the key to that event. (Remember that light is just part of a huge spectrum of electromagnetic waves, nearly all of which we’ve been aware of for just a century or so.)
And so it is with the greater reality? I don’t know. Is my four dimensional piping plover stored somewhere? Am I? Turned on and off – substantiated, unsubstantiated by the application of light to information? Or some greater equivalent I can hardly begin to comprehend?
Or are these things – light and information - only fundamental in terms of my perceptions, for I can’t know if they are genuinely fundamental. I just know that this is fundamental to how I relate to reality.
And why do I ramble on so about this image? Simply this – once again I know, how little I know – and I know that what I appear to know quite frequently gets in the way of my knowing any thing meaningful at all.
And someone said, let it go. Just be. Perhaps it is, a piping plover.Posted by Greg Stone at April 22, 2004 06:01 AM | TrackBack