Training the Eye Training the Mind

Ásmundar Sveinsson’s Troll Woman is called art, although it is an example of a kind of technical device which allows the eye to think by processing bodily shape in manners native to the eye’s method of sorting the world.

Troll Woman at Ásmundarsafn

The results are very cool:

The visual cortex of a newborn baby has a hypertrophy, or overgrowth, of haphazard connections which must be carefully pruned, based on visual experience, into crisply defined columns. It is actually a reduction in the number of connections, not an increase, that improves the infant’s ability to see fine detail and to recognize shapes and patterns. Source

Well, that’s pretty wild. Experience allows us to sort information so that it naturally flows into specific channels, and what we see thereafter depends upon that experience.  The highly-sorted landscape below for instance.

Ashcroft Ranch

Note the smoothed out grassland hills.

Likely, it is different for us all. I’m betting that someone who has not learned to think in a hierarchal academic institution, or someone not trained to see life rising from base states of randomness and chaos  …


…. or someone not at home among sorted columns of information, graphs, and flow charts…

… would describe the sorting differently and, accordingly, draw different conclusions, which would, in turn, lead to different sorting behaviour. It would even be within the realm of information, not just in visual perception itself. This, for example:

Scrap Iron Viking, Ingolf’s House God, and Nail-Studded Curse, Reykjavik

Ásmundar by another name, or add a bit of drama and stir, et voilà.

Or this, with more flow and less clank:

Sagebrush Buttercup, Ellison Provincial Park

The flower has succeeded in sorting its pollinators from the sky not by receiving colour but by giving it, and keeping them by offering a body-shaped landing ground marked by the sun on a cool day. A neat trick!

One could go on like this all day, opening further and further into the world, none of it precisely random but all of it opening from interaction. Here’s a great explanation of the fine-tuning of these understanding from Gil Kalai’s blog Combinatorics and More, in discussion of this image:

Reality and our models of reality must be distinguished. Regarding reality it is still unclear if there is a truly random phenomenon in nature (radioactive decay ?). Regarding our models, if you are lucky enough, phenomena in nature, can be captured by a random rule ; with more luck, by a deterministic rule (which can be seen a special case of rendomness)…but if unlucky they might be no captured at all. Source

So, let’s look again at sagebrush buttercups. Here, one is not interacting with an insect just yet by attracting it with heat and colour, but is being nurtured itself by the heat of a stone.



In a sense this is what an infant’s brain does as it develops the capacity to see by aligning information in patterns: it is trained by its relationship to its mind and its immediate environment to discard possibilities and focus on certain more precise patterns. The patterns of the sagebrush buttercups below, for instance, as they open from their winding stem as it winds through cheatgrass and bunchgrass presents a host of patterns. Which will be chosen? Patterns of roundness? Patterns of openness? Patterns of closed space? Patterns of threading? Patterns of coming through? Linear patterns? Colour patterns? Whew!

Where can you even start! (Well, one starting point is to view it all-at-once. A great start… but what then? Well, you can stay in that understanding, or you can explore it. Likely, you can do both at once.) Fortunately, what applies to infants also applies to all of us. If you burn off landscape like the one above, for instance, you get a simplification like this:

Cache Creek

Not only is it beautiful but the blurring effect of the grass that binds the land together into a stable form and makes all this space (which burned last summer) into a single landscape has been removed.  With the grass removed, this blending is gone. Suddenly, new patterns are evident as multiple levels of complexity and bridges across them are erased. Not only are openings present, which will allow for new blending…

… but the landscape becomes a set of simple signs. You begin to be mapped by it. Which is the same as beginning to map it. You can follow it again and again. Childhood imprinting with human faces and bodily forms is laying down pattern. The pattern remains, and will over time become story.


At the same time, the power of grass to smooth and bind the landscape has been replaced by wind, which has left some grass unburned and moves and drifts soil, sorting it into heavy and fine grains and laying down new soils in the lee of even small heights, which catch the wind.

Not only is this process shaping the land and the plants that will grow on it in following years, but it is shaping the observing mind. Patterns are being laid down, which will later be deepened, be mapped, and become trackable. 

At the same time, the patterns of water that made this landscape even before wind, become clear…

Cache Creek

… and are joined with later patterns. In the image below, patterns of wind and water begin to blend. These relationships, these openings, are not random.


The patterning continues. As with the bushes above, shaped by water and wind to stand both within and apart from the landscape, other features stand apart (and within) due to their embodiment of visual patterns…

Cache Creek

… much like Ásmundar’s work.


A fascinating point is that in both cases the object, whether stone monolith creating landscape-based stories and maps or artwork creating a map for the refinement of human perceptual ability, is created by a shared process. Both bind humans with space.

Nighthawk, Washington

The mind is called to an object by the eye, which then sorts the mind’s response to it based upon its previous experience, which allows the mind to extend its own understandings, in a process of continued mutual support and development controlled by observation, not by thought, and more by environment than anything else. Soon, the dimension of story laid down by experience…


… will merge by simple contrast, with environmental observation, without shedding story.

Ashcroft Ranch

Note the red saskatoons trickling as blood from the red claw marks above.

Soon story can lead you through complex physical relationships, in a way culturally reserved for science today. The corollary is also true: ancient stories, read back from the land, can uncover past knowledge and, like the burning of grass from the grassland, reveal foundational principles, which can be recombined. Because what has been created is actually thought and memory, or consciousness, between a body and the world through the sorting processes of vision and the mind following and extending them, such seeing, promoted by Ásmundar…

…trains the mind to act but within the world. It’s not that these understandings are processed through rational thought, leading to rational action. It’s that they completely replace it. The role of rational thought as force leading to action within the landscape is completed in the same way that language completes it. After all, you can call this stuff rock, which gathers water…

… or a cleft that sheds it. Either way, rock, water, cleft, shedding and gathering have already been predetermined by language’s sorting experience, guided by the eye. What stands apart from it is the all-at-once of undifferentiated experience, in which the eye remains alive to change and guides it, while at the same time being guided.

Note stone, lichen, sun, flower, time or grass but stone-lichen-sun-flower-time-grass sorted to arising needs in a continually-opening process.

Rational thought breaks the flow.


Next: rebuilding the flow.




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