2010 | Superstition


At the start of any investigation, artistic or otherwise, it is important to first look at the conceptual foundation of that, which one wishes to investigate. If I wish to investigate the way the eye works, it is essential that I not only look at the biological ‘mechanics’ of the eye and the visual system, but also question the way we think about what seeing is and how that thinking places us in relation to the world.

An often heard statement about the eye is that it functions like a camera ‘filming’ the world around us and relaying that information to the brain. This conjures up an image of the brain, or the self, sitting inside the head in the dark, watching a movie – very much like most people in the Western world do every night in their living-rooms. How does a metaphor like the above influence our perception of and our relation to the world? And if, as it turns out, it does not represent the way the visual system actually works, should we not try to develop more accurate descriptions and metaphors, and force ourselves to adjust our present view of the world?

How much, of what we think, we know about the world we live in, is based on accurate descriptions, and how much is not? Are we aware that some of the descriptions we use in our daily lives to describe our world are proven inaccurate? Descriptions, which were founded on concepts belonging to, what can best be described as a world, which does not exist anymore. Such descriptions once made sense within a certain scientific or religious paradigm, but became outdated with the changing of paradigms. The changing of a paradigm on an ‘academic’ level however, does not necessarily cause a change of the descriptions and metaphors from the previous paradigm on an ‘everyday’ level. On the contrary, these descriptions can seem to be the only solid ground in a sea of change, and therefore they grow into statements about our world or reality which are mostly taken for granted and left unchallenged; they represent ‘common sense’.

A description may be ‘true’, in the sense that it fits within the current paradigm, but still the users of the paradigm may not know why, or have the correct knowledge to ascertain for themselves, that such a description corresponds with a general idea of reality. For example, we all ‘know’ that the Earth revolves around the sun, but very few of us have actually ever witnessed anything that would put us in a position to ascertain this statement – in other words, we have never personally observed the Earth and our solar system from a perspective which would enable us to draw that conclusion. The reason we still accept this description, is that it fits within the overall paradigm we call reality (a paradigm, which is made up of several other sub-paradigms). That the sun, in most languages, still ‘goes up and down’ does not influence our faith in the heliocentric world view.

A description may also be ‘false’, in the sense that it does not fit within any of the existing sub-paradigms. In this case the description can be a left-over from a previously accepted paradigm which still holds a prominent place in our world-view. It can appear to be a sensible and plausible statement but when scrutinized it reveals itself to be standing on a crumbling foundation, or even floating, supported only by the power of ill-informed ‘common sense’ – it has become superstition, something we believe in without knowing why. Such superstition can play a part in our daily lives but can also influence our view on science, religion, philosophy, history, politics, economics etc.

The strict dualistic distinction between experience and consciousness, the psychological and the physical, mind and matter, body and soul is such a superstition. It belongs to a world(view) which is no longer supported by any current paradigms, and yet, I believe, it remains the foundation on which most people today still base their world-view, their reality. It is embedded in our daily, political, scientific, philosophical discourses, the way we view ourselves and our society1.

How come we still cling to this outdated, metaphysical description? Does it matter? What are the consequences? Can art somehow ‘prove’ it wrong?

These were some of the questions I wanted to raise with my project Saccadic Sightings. My aim with these questions was to use them as a starting point for reexamining the superstition of Cartesian Dualism. Although this paradigm laid out the foundation to the highly developed technological society we know today, it diminishes everything living to ‘automatons’ with or without a divine soul and thus paved the way for a ruthless exploitation of the world and its resources (including peoples lacking the divine soul), which has brought us to a point of possible total collapse of our ecosystem and civilization. The deep foundations of our current political and economic theories are based on this dogmatic superstition, and it seems to me that until we accept this and establish new foundations, new ‘common sense’ concepts, we will never be able to rethink our current society, never truly understand the world we live in or our position in it.