Monday 1 June 2020

Picture Post 55: Making Assumptions

'Because things don’t appear to be the known thing; they aren’t what they seemed to be neither will they become what they might appear to become.'

Posted by Martin Cohen

A Twitter friend of mine posted this image with the comment: “Believe in your limitations”.

I wasn’t sure what to make of that, but he explained that he was being “quietly subversive” which I took to meaning gently mocking religious iconography. That aside, though, I think the image does illustrate something important about the way our minds process images. The traffic lights are not, in fact, the Buddha's eyes, yet the impression that they might be is so compelling that it makes us re-evaluate the Buddha himself.

I say ‘himself’, as Buddhas are traditionally male, indeed in some cultures being female is formally an inferior state and an obstacle to following the Buddhist philosophy. Of course, being male or female might not actually have any implications for the ability to transcend this world and reach ‘nirvana’ – yet for centuries such quick assumptions have prevailed.

Which brings me back to this image, because it illustrates nicely the way that we link things that in reality are completely unconnected, due to them fitting a strongly preconceived ‘pattern’. Such assumptions are not necessarily good or bad. But perhaps we should be on guard against them. Which maybe fits with my friend‘s cryptic comment after all.


Tessa den Uyl said...

Dear Martin, I am not sure if any-thing can be unconnected, it tells more about our culture than the connection of things? (I.e. we recognise things by division and following tend to separate a whole into parts). Is this what you mean by beware of preconceived patterns? For using, quote: ...that in reality are completely unconnected.., is actually confusing me. What I understand by “Believe in your limitations” with this picture, is the somewhat handicapped view we have developed which does not permit us to see/live the uncut/whole. ?

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

Yes, I think that is a good way of seeing it, assuming that I understand. It may refer most simply to our limitations as human beings. Knowledge, wrote Confucius, is to know both what one knows, and what one does not know. We would reduce a lot of our (post) modern troubles if we knew what we do not know -- and taught it in schools!

Keith said...

This image is riveting. I’m not sure what the advice ‘Believe in your limitations’ means in this particular instance. Likely it doesn’t matter; the image’s effectiveness independently holds up, regardless. That said, the picture taker saying he was being ‘quietly subversive’ is, in contrast, clear — though I might have restated it as ‘loudly subversive’, instead. After all, whether a trope or some other similar communication device, haven’t glowing and glowering red eyes always implied something sinister — whether that’s fair or not? Might, therefore, the seeming incongruity of menacing red eyes and a beneficent Buddha be what make the image tantalizingly ‘subversive’? And, in turn, voyeuristically hard to turn away from?

Martin Cohen said...

Thank you everyone for your comments. I do think, though, there is a difference between two things that are connected and two things that are not. For example, I might have toothache and blame it on my cat - perhaps maltreating it. Or I might link the toothache to my habit of eating sweets all day. Surely it is better to retain some sense of what things are really connected? That knowledge is then there to guide us.

But more directly on the image, as Keith says, there is a kind of wacky aspect to the 'red eyes'. To me it makes the Buddha's otehrwise calm and mysterious face become different: the mouth and nose start to remind me of surly, overconfident faces in real life. Of course we 'read' faces with such clues all the time. But here the clue is quite separate, so perhaps the image gently mocks not only the Buddha but us too, for being so easily led…

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