Thursday, July 16, 2009

Assumptions Kill All Common Sense

I'm going to highlight a little concept for everyone today that perfectly illustrates how much your outlook, your mindset, controls your perception of the world around you.
We've heard this for years and most people go yes yes of course, I will strive to be HAPPY, but that's not just it. Being happy means that you are still making assumptions about everything in front of you. You are still forcing them to be perceived in a certain fashion, in this case happy. It's double worse if you don't FEEL happy but you're telling yourself it is. You're making the ego do a deep back-bend and just letting the "self" have as much time and energy as it wants for all of this.
Case in point, the story of the ghost picture at the Lambertville School.
Many years ago it was noted by people checking out the Lambertville School (abandoned) that there were strange images on the walls upstairs, and that they were ghostly images. When you see the pictures you'll see why, but they're really not ghostly so much as "white". Like the color. That a lot of artists use. But I digress, and must also allow that ghosts are typically painted in a white color.
Several stories about the place abound, and we get this first description of the images when one woman first looked at them:
"None of the children are smiling. They all have painful faces, and many have their arms clutched to their chests. The etchings all seemed to be looking to the right of the room, near the windows that give a beautiful view of the Delaware River and the woods of Pennsylvania. There was one girl, however, looking directly to the center, both arms crossed like she was in a coffin."
This woman walked in waiting to see ghostly images and she sees chilren with arms clutched to their chests. If you read the page you'll see that she's basically waiting for something eerie to occur/be produced at the place, and that it has colored her perception of what's in front of her. How do I know this? Well, because of the second description from another's perspective who visited the site:
"In one picture the kids appear to be saying the ‘pledge of allegiance.’ In the other picture it looks like a scene taken from a class in progress.
Whoever the artist is, the detail is fantastic. I am amazed on the detail of one of the picture: All of the little faces just looking so thrilled to be there. It reminded me of my time in school. All that’s missing is somebody staring at the clock waiting for the bell to ring."

They are happy. And they are saying the pledge of allegiance. Which, stop me if I am wrong, is generally what children do in school, right?
I'm not going to call the first woman a moron just yet though I am thinking it very loudly in my head, because I want you to be the judge of this. Here. I have a picture of the ghostly pictures.
Do they look like they're in pain? Nope. The girl with her arms crossed over her chest? Am I the only one that sees her arm hanging at her side and that she has the diagonal styling of her dress crossing underneath one of her arms? The children look like they're bored and/or reciting the pledge of allegiance, just as schoolkids would.
Nevermind that the artist is having to work with a fussy substance by carving these pictures in to the slate of the blackboard and that may not allow him to impart the usual expressiveness to his images. (Or perhaps he's captured their expressions perfectly. I'm sure I looked like that in school.)
Let's take a look at another of the images. You know, just for grins.
Oh, wait. There isn't shit going on in that picture, actually. Except kids sitting at their desks calmly while the teacher faces them. Granted, the picture isn't the best detail and there may very well be something disemboweling and consuming a student in the back of this picture that we can't see because it's a bit hazy. But I do think we can safely assume that this is just a regular school scene.
Here's the problem. Creepy abandoned places are assumed to be haunted because.. .well, just because. It is a common theme not just in Western culture, but in all cultures for abandoned and ruined places to be the domain of the restless dead. Why? Someone somewhere wrote a far more in depth and boring dissertation on it for their thesis at 156 pages and you're probably better getting it from them. But I think it's because we need to fill that shape that is familiar to us with other things that are familiar and of a similar vein. It is the ghost of a former used school and therefore the residual energy of the students must also be there. The happiest house on earth fallen in to great disrepair will spawn some story of hellspawn leaping from the basement and great misdeeds done to the family within the walls simply because it isn't regular, it's decrepit, and with the immediacy of this image and our inability to imagine beyond the present we assume that the decrepit nature of it must have extended back to the individuals from the past who were inside. It's assuming the moment exists forever on TOP of the ego telling you what the world around you is all about. Double foul!
Now of course, I make fun of the first lady and sort of chuckle at the second woman for their associations. The first let someone else's predisposition to believe the place was haunted color her own perceptions, in that she found out about the "ghostly images" from another who had visited the place. The prior individual had decided they were eerie and passed along this in their wording of what they saw. Then this woman walked in expecting to find something creepy and did, decided that the children in the images are in great pain, and staring off to the right not because of the perspective of the image, but because there's something weird about the forest. She is obviously not an artist and is not objective. And really I don't have a right to be smug, but in this case it was rather obvious she had specific thoughts in her mind before she even arrived.
The second woman is also guilty, deciding that they are happy, sounding as if she herself had happy memories of childhood and applied that to the image. I don't see that happiness in their faces. Perhaps in closer detail it's visible but we have a pretty good view of the overall feel of things and that doesn't come across. And there's just this nagging bit that she fed her own feelings about school in to the artwork.
We will ignore an entirely separate rant that I could go on about excitability of individuals who think they've encountered something paranormal. I could go on for pages about that stupidity. But you shall be spared. Perhaps another time.
This is how life goes. You already have the assumptions built in to you at this moment whether you realize it or not. And it will tell you for the rest of your life what you are seeing so that you'll never actually know what's in front of you unless you learn to sidestep and see past them.
Even I have this problem. Because I look at the image and snort and go "No, they're all bored schoolkids."
But they're not.
They're not even schoolkids.
They're incised marks on a surface that form a pattern human eyes pick up and automatically decipher as specific shapes and forms. In this case, we're seeing schoolkids.
It's when I see things like these and snicker that I'm smart enough to catch myself and take a step back. I can look at myself and see if I'm doing the same thing. Usually I am or I have in the past, and I have empathy for the person. But it really highlights for me just how much we let our ego and our thoughts control how we view the world, and how much we miss by letting that happen. These pictures are beautiful, and the individual who took the time to carve them is incredibly gifted. To walk in and see children in pain, not stopping to admire the perspective or the technique or even ponder the amount of time it probably took to do it, is something alien to me. But at the same time it isn't really wrong, per se. It's just not what's really in front of us. It boggles me that people wouldn't want to see what's really in front of them when it is so much deeper and richer than what their brain tells them is there.
In the meantime, this was for me a good exercise in seeing ego in action and being able to recognize it in myself even as I'm laughing about it in others.

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