Illusion and reality

As well as being a phlyarologist, I’m a wannabe poet.

I think that poetry is like any artform: it has subjective value, modified by our perceptions. Since we’re all different, we’ll each come to our own decisions of the extent to which a ‘work of art’ has value. The idea that art has commercial value, with monetary valuations (applied by self-proclaimed art critics) makes no sense at all to me. That someone would pay millions for a work of art by this, or that, painter is, of course, down to individual choice — but the crucial point is that the monetary values aren’t chosen by the individuals themselves. No matter how much I might like a particular piece, my relative wealth (or lack of it) determines my ability to pay the price. And when it comes right down to it, the pieces of paper themselves (or, rather, the digital representations of these in banks’ computers) that constitute the buying price only have value as long as people believe they do. The global financial meltdown — I’m sorry, I mean the ‘credit crunch’ — of 2008 shows us what happens when this belief falters.

Two orange circles of exactly the same size, each surrounded by grey circles; on the left large grey circles, on the right, small grey circles. The orange circle on the left appears to be smaller than the one on the right.

Which of the two orange circles is the larger?

Back in May 2007, I wrote a poem entitled ‘The Master and his Squire‘. Wendy asked me to elaborate, and I had begun an article attempting to do so — however, my draft, on which I spent a fair amount of time, was lost as a result of a combination of micro$loth’s decision to close Windows Live Spaces (forcing the move to WordPress) and my inability to acquire a round tuit at the time. (Which just goes to prove that just because digital technology allows you to store lots of information, this doesn’t mean that you will actually retain it for longer than you would if you’d written it on paper and put it in a box in the loft). I mention this as, while I’m not attempting to recreate my lost explanation of my poem here, my theme has a bearing on it. You could think of it as wine and cheese (though I’m not sure which is which).

Are squares A and B the same colour?

Recently, a thread on Lack of Environment arose, of a type with which anyone who has been following the so-called ‘climate change debate’ in recent years would be very familiar. Polarised views clashing heads, and, as ever, no end in sight. In the course of that thread I was directed to some information that prompted my minor rant about denial yesterday. On reviewing that thread, IΒ see I missed another important issue: the tentacles of the Kochtopus (many thanks to Lionel A for that).

Life is what you make of it (so They say — personally, I’d like to get my hands on Them, as I believe They have a lot to answer for). But it goes much deeper than that: Reality is what we believe it to be, and is modified by how we perceive it.

Two orange circles, anattended by grey circles, are clearly the same size.

The two orange circles are, in fact, the same size.

'Squares A and B' are, in fact, not squares at all. They are, however, the same colour.

The truths to which we cling depend greatly upon our own point of view; and if we are to change the world, we must begin by changing the way we look at it.


About pendantry

Phlyarologist (part-time) and pendant. Campaigner for action against anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and injustice in all its forms. Humanist, atheist, notoftenpist. Wannabe poet, writer and astronaut.
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33 Responses to Illusion and reality

  1. Martin Lack says:

    You simply must see how the story ended (with Punksta at least – read from here), although please note that he is now claiming I am the one who is willfully blind and Latimer now calls me a “bully”? Is this a valid line of argumentation when you cannot falsify what the other person says? I think not… Tell you what, lets have a vote on it. Colin can you help – can I embed voting buttons in comments?

    • pendantry says:

      Woah, I’m not getting involved — PDFTT πŸ™‚

      Voting buttons in comments? In WordPress? I don’t think so (though I may, as always, be wrong). If you’re talking about the ‘vote up/ vote down’ kind of widgets that are available on places such as Amazon, well, I’m not convinced of the benefit of such (where anyone and his umpteen sock puppets can vote; the scoring system that works on slashdot, on the other hand, seems to be of some use). I believe you’re already very familiar with the ways such voting can be manipulated.

      • Martin Lack says:

        Have you looked at the thread that led to Punksta being blacklisted though? (i.e. what does PDFTT mean?)

        • pendantry says:

          Grr… I gave you a link on PDFTT so you could self-edumacate! πŸ˜‰

          Ah, except the link was broke. My bad. It’s fixed now.

      • Martin Lack says:

        Its CTRL+F all over again! Thanks.

      • Donald says:

        Yes you are wrong, Pendantry, but never mind, wordpress can be complicated at first but it gets easier with time, I been at it for many years so I kind of know my way around it. πŸ™‚

        If you look in your dashboard you will find there a tab called “Polls”; by joining PollDaddy you will then be able to have people vote on any subject you wish.
        I never use it myself but I know of others who use it and can vouch for their reliability which by the way, depends on how many people vote as it gives results based on a percentage of how many people care to click on the vote buttons. It runs by IP and only allows you the one click.

        (This is for you too, Martin.)

        • pendantry says:

          I’m glad to be proven wrong! — but can polldaddy be used to vote on comments? I didn’t think so. I’ve only looked at it once before (to try to get feedback on a short story) (the result was a dismal failure, so I’ve not bothered with it again).

        • pendantry says:

          @Martin – you might want to look at:
          Dashboard > Ratings (comments tab)
          I think, maybe, this may offer what you’re looking for?

        • Martin Lack says:

          Thanks for the info. Now then, how am I going to remember that, if i chose not to implement it straight away?

          • pendantry says:

            A perennial problem. One option would be a bookmark link: but I’ve always found that when I add interesting things to a bookmark list all I ever end up with is: an ever-increasing list of bookmarks. I think it’s best to decide whether the information is important enough to follow up now, and if not, accept that I’ll have to go looking for it again should I feel the need for it in the future. After all, the important thing is to know that something is possible, and have a rough idea of where to go looking for it (WordPress Help might be a good place to start, in this instance). I feel this approach has improved my ability to search the Innerwebz no end; though there are times I do wish I’d kept a bookmark link….

  2. Martin Lack says:

    “This planet hasβ€”or rather hadβ€”a problem, which was this: most of the people on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.”
    Douglas Adams – The Hichhikers Guide to the Galaxy

  3. Donald says:

    Dear Pendantry and readers, allow me to introduce you to what in unarguably the best web site on the planet. The site is called and is populated by some of the smartest people in the world who regularly post blogs and comments which to me at least, are not only captivating but also full of their enthusiasm for the issues they write on. The site is run by a man called John Brockman who can only impress you with the sheer number of incredible people whom he counts as friends.

    The site’s motto says it all: πŸ™‚

    “To arrive at the edge of the world’s knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.”

    • pendantry says:

      Thanks for that, Donald. I’ve taken the liberty of adding in a link to the site you recommend. Since you’ve described it as ‘unarguably‘ the best web site, I won’t dispute you. I will, however, riposte with, which, were I to offer a ‘best web site’ would probably get my vote on the grounds that it (arguably) has the greatest potential for doing the greatest good to humanity in the long term (by picking it up by its bootstraps).

      /em wanders off, wondering what relevance this has to illusion or reality πŸ™‚

      • Donald says:

        I guess for me it is the illusion the people who run these site have that they are somehow smarter than me, and the reality being the fact that they are πŸ™‚
        ?? 😦

        • pendantry says:

          Nice πŸ™‚


          I’ve been mulling over how to respond to this more fully, Donald. I don’t know you well, but I suspect that you’re a pretty smart cookie.

          I recall, as a schoolchild, I had written about various animals, and had ended with a comment about ‘intelligence being relative’. My teacher castigated me for having suggested that some people were smarter than others. I hadn’t intended my comment in this way, but this is how he interpreted it. This incident taught me that ‘intelligence’ can be an emotive concept, and a ‘trigger’ for some people; as a result, I’ve always been a bit cautious talking about it since.

          It’s possible to empirically ‘prove’ that one measure of ‘intelligence’ (the intelligence quotient, IQ) follows a normal distribution. It follows from this that exactly half the population is below average intelligence; but I think it can be shown (don’t ask me to find sources!) that most people believe that they are as smart (or more so) than anyone else: so here we again have the ‘perception modifies reality’ theme.

          Personally, I’ve come to believe that it’s about ‘potential intelligence’. Where ‘civilised’ humans (whose basic needs are, mostly, satisfied) are concerned there’s relatively little need to exercise the grey matter, so the potential is, sadly, wasted.

          I know you were cracking a funny, but speaking as one who is ‘running a site’ right this moment: for me to place these words in the order I’ve chosen, I have to believe that what I’m saying is worth writing (or I wouldn’t be doing it at all). But do I believe that I’m smarter than my readers? Heck, no. Well, not all of them πŸ˜‰

          I guess what I’m always hoping when I’m scribbling this rubbish is three things:

          • that I can entertain some
          • that I can educate some (or at least get them thinking)
          • that I might actually, one day, come up with some nugget of original insight that someone smarter than me will recognise — and run with.
      • Donald says:

        Thanks for the link, I checked out the site and found it very informative, I even downloaded many of their videos … made my day it did, thanks again πŸ™‚

      • Donald says:

        Intelligence is no good without talent, all people have a talent, some are unlucky in that they never find out what their own talent might be so they never get to show their intelligence but I believe that everybody is born with the same IQ and given the chance they can all elevate themselves to the great heights God meant them to climb.

        The trick is to show them the way and through reason alone help them find their own talent and meaning in life, it’s not too hard, words are powerful tools in the hands of good teachers.

        • pendantry says:

          I have to take issue with your premise that ‘everybody is born with the same IQ’. This is clearly not the case where someone is born with brain damage that curbs the child’s development (caused by, oh, I dunno, let’s say ‘environmental pollution’).

          I hear your point about ‘talent’. Everyone is different; we should celebrate the differences, because life would be pretty dull if we were all clones — as it is, the current rate of species extinction we’re bringing about is making our home less interesting all the time.

  4. witsendnj says:

    At the risk of earning well-deserved ridicule, the “not” square parallelograms really don’t look like the same color to me. I tried masking the surrounding colors with post-its and they look distinctly different.

    • pendantry says:

      You’ll get no ridicule from me, Gail; instead, I’ll make a suggestion. Look at the last image, the one with the caption “‘Squares A and B’ are, in fact, not squares at all. They are, however, the same colour.” Zoom in on the image (you might try ‘Ctrl+’ — if your browser supports that). Tell me: do those two ‘squares’ appear to be the same colour?

      I created the second image, the one with just the two ‘squares,’ directly from the original, masking out all the other content; I promise you that there was no jiggery-pokery involved. Also: Paint Shop Pro’s ‘dropper’ tool (which allows one to inspect the attributes of each pixel in an image) confirms that the pixels of ‘squares’ A and B both bear the RGB colour value #787878 (grey). They are both the same colour.

      Now, you can either test this yourself (if you have the tools and skills); or you can believe that I’m right — which is, of course, the link in to the truth of the anthropogenic climate disruption theme.

      (Thanks for proving to me that how we each perceive reality depends upon how we each look at it!)

      • witsendnj says:

        Curiouser and curiouser. I took screen shots and they were indubitably the same color when I opened them on my desktop. So I went back and masked the *not* squares off with post-its, and this time I COULD see that they are the same.


        On your other topic I’m sorry but I have to question the “intelligence” of anyone who would willingly choose to have David Brooks write a preface for his book. David Brooks is a smug, sophomoric ignoramus and a profoundly immoral arm-chair warrior with bloodstained hands.

        Compared to the neocon monster Brooks, Freeman Dyson is downright dangerous. Indeed, with a couple of notable exceptions, the contributor pool is a snake’s nest of delusional technophiliacs whose worthless cleverness obscures at least one simple reality, that we are on a trajectory of overpopulation leading inevitably to collapse.

        “The scientists of today think deeply instead of clearly. One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane.” – Nikola Tesla

        “The most significant feature of modern civilization is the sacrifice of the future to the present, and all the power (and genius) of science is prostituted to this purpose.” – William James, 1900, American psychologist and philosopher

        “The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment.” -Nelson

        “Nature always bats last.” -Gould

        • pendantry says:

          I’m assuming that the second part of your comment refers to Edge. I haven’t spent any time there as yet, and I’m not familiar with those of whom you clearly have such strong views.

          I do tend to agree, though, that one of the biggest problems we face is that of dealing with those who believe that all problems can be solved technologically; a seductive trap. Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

          Love the Tesla quote in particular: very relevant to ‘illusion and reality’ — even to the point that if you revisit my poem you’ll find a link in the comments there to the Pinky and the Brain theme tune (about which the real question is: which one of them is the genius, and which is insane?).

        • Donald says:

          Edge contains the thoughts of hundreds of people in all the fields of science, the arts and politics, please don’t be discouraged by the few people you read so far, there are many more.

          • pendantry says:

            I’ve just read one ‘conversation’ and I tend to agree. Lynn Margulis 1938-2011, Gaia Is A Tough Bitch (my bold):

            If science doesn’t fit in with the cultural milieu, people dismiss science, they never reject their cultural milieu! If we are involved in science of which some aspects are not commensurate with the cultural milieu, then we are told that our science is flawed. I suspect that all people have cultural concepts into which science must fit. Although I try to recognize these biases in myself, I’m sure I cannot entirely avoid them. I try to focus on the direct observational aspects of science.

            Gaia is a tough bitch β€” a system that has worked for over three billion years without people. This planet’s surface and its atmosphere and environment will continue to evolve long after people and prejudice are gone.

            Bells of truth ringing out clearly there, to me.

        • jpgreenword says:

          “Nature always bats last.”

          And she always bats 1.000.

  5. witsendnj says:

    Lynn’s was the best, hands down. You might want to check out Alder Stone, an old friend of hers with a deep understanding of Gaia ( There was one other essay by a geologist that mentioned climate, and that’s all I found.

    Given that absolutely every other conceivable concern is going to be defined and eclipsed by climate change, the rest just seems like so much fiddling while Rome burns. The NYRB is much the same. I’ve been a subscriber for over 30 years and loved it, but for too long it was the same distraction, dominate by Dyson. Lately slightly improved though, it’s had Bill McKibbon write some posts and the new issue I just received today has a sensible article by William Nordhaus.

      • witsendnj says:

        Yes and Yes!

        I mean for instance, Edge has all these psychologists and neurologists and so forth, you’d think one of them would discuss the process of denial, since it completely dominates modern humans, at least in the US. You’d think they’d talk about how it is that humans seem genetically inclined to be so greedy they are destroying their home. Maybe someone could discuss the emotional consequences of realizing we’re doomed?

        They did have one really really fascinating article by Beatrice Golomb about the connection between obesity and oxidative stress which, being an ozonista, I intend to investigate to the extent of my limited abilities.

        • pendantry says:

          A very good question! Perhaps the answer is that scientists are human too: those who are themselves suffering from cognitive dissonance may find it difficult to consider the process of denial. I also suspect that there’s a whole lot more money to be made from articles on positive thinking than, err, realistic thinking — we are, after all, talking about the US, here (cue cries of ‘anti-American! Persecute; kill the heretic!‘).

          I think it’s also important to note that discussing the emotional consequences of realising we’re doomed could have a profound effect upon the economy, and therefore oh, no, we can’t even think about that.

  6. Pingback: Seeing the real world | Wibble

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