Experiment: From All Directions

Background: What question or issue motivates this experiment?

This is copied from Piet's chapter 9.

Experimentation moves from part to whole, from analysis to synthesis, from particularity to unification. Or stating it more completely, from nothing to part to whole. The first step is to investigate the laboratory, thoroughly, familiarizing yourself with what is there when there is no experiment being done. The second step is to test and analyze specific details of various simple setups. The third step is to combine the insights thus gained, to arrive at a more integrated way of seeing a situation.

Description: What should experimenters do?

(Also copied from Piet's chapter 9)

Once again, do the subject-object reversal experiment, starting with a single object. After gaining some familiarity, add another object, and try to see whether you can simultaneously reverse the subject and objects poles with respect to you seeing the two objects. When you succeed to some extent, add more objects.

After a while, you can shift to a reversal of you as the subject pole with respect to everything that appears in your field of vision. Anything that you are watching, clearly or dimly, is now watching you. Stay with this reversal for a while, ideally for at least a few sessions.

When you have gathered extensive experience, and lab notes, of this approach, extend it to letting everything around you watch you. You can start with the wall behind you, or the sky behind you, if you are outdoors. Most likely this will yield a rather different experience than the other phases in this experiment, so far. Be very careful to notice the difference, and to include those in your reports.

Eventually, after several sessions, you can complete the process of incorporation of different objects and different directions, when you let everything watch you from any direction, without any preference to whether things are in front of you or behind you, near or far. You can let your attention go out isotropically, equally in all directions, and then you simply reverse the subject-object polarization, letting everything watch you from all directions.

Lab reports

I'm describing the first part of the experiment here - i.e., letting first one object and then two objects watch you.

First, I looked at a hat I wear during the summer, with myself as the subject. It was lying on a slant over some books. I notice that it's a large, brown hat. It's very worn at the edges, and one of the corners is about to peel off. The brim of the hat is about 5 inches in length. The threads are peeling off on the top of the hat as well as towards the edges.

I next let the hat look at me. I feel immediately an impression of age, a certain toughness and quiet character.

I now add a second object - a vase full of flowers. I look at it, with myself as the subject. I first notice how the stems of the flowers refract in the water. There's a large variety of flowers. Unfortunately, I don't know their names, so I notice their colors mostly. There are sunflowers, light orange flowers, some of which have not yet bloomed, and flowers that are pink on the outside while the inside of the petals are yellow with brown stripes (the length of the stripes increases with distance from the center). I notice the patterns on the leaves. There are about 2 dozen in total, I think, and the vase is about three-fourths full of water.

I now let the flowers look at me. For the first time, since I've seen them, I notice how truly intricate and exotic they are. They seem very young and very beautiful. Some of the flowers haven't yet bloomed - I touched one of their leaves - they're incredibly shiny and soft. I touched the large light orange flower - it has incredibly smooth petals. I notice particularly how some of the flowers are adult, while the others are like children, and will bloom when the full-grown ones are withered. They seem to be turning as if they're looking towards something, as if they're drawn towards something. The most significant impression I have of them is a sense of reassured beauty, i.e., they know they're stunning.

I now let both the hat and the flowers look at me. Again, I have a sense of toughness from the hat, and the flowers seem to have a regal presence.

-- SC- 19 May 2005

I did this experiment again in a quite different setting - while traveling from N.C. back to Berkeley, first at an airport, then on the plane.

The first time I did this was at the airport, when I was waiting for my flight out of N.C. I'm afraid I skipped ahead to letting everything around me look at me, instead of first starting with a single object. The first thing that struck me was an immediate sense of detachment - I felt like I was somehow outside and removed from the hustle and bustle that is typical of airport scenes, like an observer who is watching the scene might feel. It is interesting to me that this is the first time I felt less engaged, in a sense, when I let something look at me. Normally, I tend to notice more details about an object when I let it look at me. But, maybe I've erred here in not following protocol and not having first started with a single object!

I had to get on the plane, so I had to stop doing the experiment. Once on the plane, I was determined to follow protocol. So, I first started the S/O reversal with a single object - a bottle of water that was lying beside me. I looked at it, with myself as the subject. It actually is recycled - it has a Sprite label and the familiar green color, and was filled with water for me. It's a 20 ounce bottle; I notice the pattern of circular indentations that go across the perimeter, and the familar shape of bottle. I notice also the coldness of the bottle resting against my leg.

When I let the bottle look at me, I first feel a sense of appreciation for it - my mom had filled it for me. I see the green glow and the fluid lines of water moving back and forth. I particularly notice now the detail of water droplets on the sides of the bottle and what seems now the mass of water underneath - it seems as if it is a small world of its own, enconsced within a plastic bottle.

I then look at the surroundings. The person next to me is napping, resting her head on the window. The person diagonally left in front of me is reading a magazine, and further ahead people are talking. It seems what I notice most are the actions of people. It is a bit difficult to do this here without too much eye-contact. When I let the surroundings look at me, the children seem to take the most genuine interest in me. Otherwise, people seem to look at me as if to check off an item - to see that it's in its proper place. This is close to the time that the plane is about to take off, btw. The seats seem tired and resigned. I again have an impression, though less pronounced, of a certain distance from the surroundings. I'm quite tired at this point, and have a headache, so I decide to stop.

In contrasting the S/O experiments with objects and people in a busy environment, it is interesting to me that I felt more engaged with the object when I let it look at me, while when I let the surroundings (in an airport) look at me, I felt removed from it.

-- SC- 27 May 2005

I did this experiment in one of the rooms in my parents' house. I think it's important to say that I'm now relatively more relaxed than usual; I don't think my report would have been quite the same had I been writing from Berkeley. The collection of objects were: a medium-sized plant directly in front of me, a harmonium (an Indian musical instrument to my left), and some photo albums to my right. Even when in the subject role, I tended to focus more on the plant than the other objects. I noticed that it was sitting slightly tilted, and the particular leaves some of which bent over like an umbrella over seedlike (sorry, not a botanist) things. I also tend to notice the relations of one object to another more in this context (i.e., doing this w a collection of objects vs a single object). By relations, I simply mean the relative positions of the objects, how they are in contact, etc.

When in the "object" role, I felt that the plant was not quite comfortable, so I got up and moved it into a more stable position. The uppermost leaves look very much like a palm curved slightly inwards, while the leaves at the bottom look like a hand with the fingers spread out. It also seemed the photo albums were too cramped, so I rearranged them.

When I let the wall behind me look at me, I did feel initially somewhat uneasy. It's difficult for me to do this with everything around me; there is almost too much to process. It's easiest with a single object, particularly with plants/trees. As I said before, with colletions of objects, I notice more the inter-relations between the things rather than the things themselves. When I do focus on a single object and "let it look at me", I am usually reporting on my own projections onto this object--that's why it's easier with plants (it's easier to project human like qualia onto plants rather than on a pen, for instance).

But I do wonder about the motivation for this subject/object reversal. When I do this, I'm usually projecting some aspects of my consciousness onto some (unwitting) object. It's certainly true that it usually has a meditative effect on me and makes me feel more disposed towards the things I do the experiment with, i.e., I tend to value them more. And of course, this kind of projectionism or story telling that I engage in does highlight our tendency to project aspects of our consciousness onto the external world. Perhaps, this is also part of the motivation?

-- SC

I decided to do the first experiment a couple more times before trying a new one. It was much more difficult the second and third time. I did it again with a cup, but a different one with nothing written on it.

Both times, my mind was wandering a lot, and though I was kind of staring at the cup, I did not manage to pay attention to it at all times. Once I actually fell asleep over it (I'm known to fall asleep over things that are a little difficult to follow). The second time I was really fidgety.

When trying to behold the cup as a subject that sees me, I was thinking about Piet's comments from last week. I was trying to figure out what it could mean that my cup can be a subject if I realize that the experience of it is my mental content. I could not much any sense of it, and somehow over all that hard thinking, I forgot to continue watching the cup and observing myself in watching.

Also the following thought came to me several times: maybe the point of the exercise is simply to see what the mind does when confronted with a task it cannot fulfill?

-- LW

I have done this with a bunch of different objects, but for the sake of this report I'll do a little squeeze toy that looks like a globe. In reversing subject and object I find that it is helpful to perceive objectness with a few things, since it is this being-as-object that I am going to try to assume in a moment.

I. The globe (could be any object) seems to have these qualities (as an object):
1. volume
1a. a back side that I can't see but is really "there".
2. aspect that changes if I move from side to side
3. distance (relation) from me
4. distance (relation) to other objects
5. possibility; what I can do with it. I can squeeze, throw, or look at the little globe.
5a: one possibility that is more of a purpose: its main possiblity; its d esigned possiblity within the cultural environment it was created.

My being a subject? Suffice it to say for now that there are a lot of objects as defined above all arrayed around me at verious distances, awaiting my attention (even if they are doing their own thing).

Now to reverse these, is basically for me to have those object properties for and from the perspective of the ball. (I first was able to actually "get" this sitting on my couch staring at a light on the ceiling and suddenly getting a sense of myself "down there" on the couch, and not just like imagining myself up there looking down. More of an inversion of relations of all the things in the room from myself to the light). This is quite a different thing from imagining the ball as another person, being seen by a subject, which still leaves me at the subject-pole.

II. Rather, the relations must be inverted, and I am the object for the globe:
1. I have a shape, a seen shape different from my somatic sense of myself, and importantly, I have that unseen side
2. On movement (mine or the ball's doesn't matter; I can still be the object-pole) different aspects become available
3. This and #4 are really the key ones. The center of relations to all the other objects in the room is shifted from me to the globe. Everything is some distance from the globe, presenting some aspect (#2) to the globe, and taken as voluminous things (#1) for the globe.
4. I have relations to other objects. While they bear similarity to the me-centered relations in I.3 above, there is a difference, for they are relations to me as seen from the perspective of the globe.
5. This one is a little amorphous for me still, but I seem to be taken as the "squeezer" or the "thrower" as my possibility, this odd behavior that comes out of the world toward the subject-pole (the globe).

-- JL

Here I report on the subject-object reversal with a collection of objects (stuff on a kitchen counter: plates, napkins, glasses, mail, fruit), a wall behind me, and, um, everything.

A. Collection of objects. I start this out by iterating through the one-object drill (as described in my P-030520 Report), and switching subject poles among the objects faster and faster. Several things stand out:
1. The presence of my unseen side for the various subjects. But this side is different for all of them.
2. This rapid variation, and the variation of unseen aspects, makes all sides of me available. Interestingly, this makes the inversion a little more difficult, since all relations keep converging on me, making me feel much more subjective again.

B. The wall behind. This is a little uncanny. There is that initial "someone's watching" twitching of the Spidey-sense, but that feels more like imaging someone there, and so still being a subject myself. Getting into the object role, I see that this is actually a good drill:
1. Since I can't see it, I am less inclined to notice its "objective" features as a material thing. So I don't have to forget them when I make the switch.
2. The unseen side of me is the side with my face (eyes) and so the side of me I know most well, which is for me the most seen (and somatically felt) as a subject. I confess I can't quite let this go, but I can feel the spatial relations from the wall to me and all the other things.

C. Um, everything. Still having the same problem as in A. above, where there is no hidden side of me at all, and everything seems related to me, and radiating out from me. This exposes the flaw in my conceiving this experiment of subject-object swapping in more narrow terms of spatial relationship inversions, but that's good too.

-- JL

Here is my report of two experiments - being in the presence of a wall which was not in my visual field and taking in the entire field of experience.

EXPT 1. The wall was at my back while I was in the shower - I felt it was a good use of that time. Of course, the wall was a lot closer than walls usually are in living rooms and offices -it made an appreciable difference. The presence of the wall was quite direct -even though I could not see it, it was *there*. There was an experimental confound because the shower was on and coming from the same direction, so the report really incorporates the wall and the water. I noticed some interesting differences from the visual presence of the wall.

First the wall was felt in the body -at the nape of my neck and all over my back. The bodily presence doesnt usually manifest when seeing -though when I turned around and looked at the wall after I had felt it in my body, the wall maintained presence in my front and in my face; I guess I ignore that presence in normal life. In any case, this observation made me think that visual presence often washes out other kinds of presence for me - I am such a visual animal.

Secondly, when the wall was to my back, it was not a wall, just an inchoate presence that (conceptually) I know as being the visual wall. Its felt quality was more like an energy that got stronger as I approached it and it started repelling me me when I got too close.

Third, there was a clear distinction between the wall as such and its feeling in the body, I felt the wall both *out there* and *on my body*. In vision (it seems to me) we identify the object and its percept, my experience with the wall suggested that the proprioceptive senses might be different than vision in that regard.

Fourth, the subject-object reversal was a lot easier. In fact, the entire time, I felt that the wall was in a two way interaction with me -it was as much the subject as the object. Maybe the visual sense is normally used with an "objectifying" function than the other senses?

EXPT 2. Taking in the entire environment was a very interesting experiment, not because it was new - I have been doing a meditative practice that advocates exactly that - but because I never did it with the intention of verbal description. I have to say that I found the task of verbal description mutually exclusive with the task of taking in the entire environment. Any time I described a portion of the environment, the rest of the environment would vanish - for sure, I knew it was there and I could come back and describe portions that I had missed earlier, but the felt experience of opening out to everything was diminished whenever I tried to describe a subset of the experience. However, when I stopped trying to describe the world and just speak (internally to myself) freely, I could just incorporate the speaking as part of the taking in of the entire field of experience. When I did so, the linguistic component did not serve a descriptive purpose. I cannot remember what I said -since I made no attempt to concentrate on the words. I am going to use a tape recorder and talk freely and let it record whatever I said.

-- RK

I found myself repeating the first experiment without really planning to do so. The experience was interesting enough that I thought I would share it.

I was walking across the Charles river in Cambridge on Massachusetts ave. It is a beautiful walk, the bridge is about half a mile long, with a panoramic view of Boston and Cambridge. While I was walking across, I found myself looking at some of the college rowing teams in the river. When I was doing that, I noticed the railing on the bridge because it was blocking my view of some of the boats. There was something intriguing about the shift of focus, that I decided to treat the railing as an "object" while walking. The rest of the walk (on the bridge) must have lasted about three minutes.

What I noticed was that if while in some sense the railing was one object, it definitely was experienced as many different objects depending on what I was doing. When I let my gaze rest on the portion of the railing immediately to my right there was no sense of it being an object at all -it was just a flow of regularly shaped bars. It was such a hypnotic feeling that I was completely absorbed, losing any sense of subjectivity.

In the next phase, I lifted my eyes a little to look at the railing at a distance of five or ten feet in front of me. Then the railing took on a different character. It was more of a solid object with a defined shape and I had some sense of being in a stable relationship with it as an object. While this railing-2 had more of a object like character to it, it was still a dynamic entity since it was coming into focus and receding behind me at a relatively rapid rate. In the third phase I looked all the way across to the end of the bridge and tried to take in the entire bridge at the same time. In this phase, railing-3 looked like a ladder with a rather rigid, object like character. I could actually feel my eye muscles contract to "objectify" the entire railing. At the same time there was a perceivable shift in my character as a subject was well - it felt like a classic case of "detached observation" that scientists are supposed to perform.

At this point, I suspended my observations and started thinking about the experiences. The question came to my mind -which one was the "real" railing? What did these three have to do with each other? I felt that treating the three experiences as being that of the same object was not doing them justice. Only the last of the three felt like a clear object with me as a subject.

After these thoughts, I started staring at the railing immediately next to me once again. When I established a flowing visual state my attention was captured by a piece of paper flying off the bridge. It was a powerful experience to watch that paper float down just after having connected with the railing. There was something intense about engaging with the floating itself than on the object that was floating (I am pretty sure that was able to focus more on the motion only because I was primed by the experience of staring at the railing). The paper lost its objecthood -it felt more like "just floating" than "piece of paper floating".

When I started thinking about these events, I realized that apart from experiencing the world using different sensory modalities, it might be useful to look at the same object when you are still or moving. I felt that the subject-object dichotomy is greatly reduced while moving.

-- RK

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