Blindness, Blinking and Boredom: Seeing and Being in Buddhism and Film
2. Total Cinema, Realism, and Hyperreality
In the same vein, the late film critic, Roger Ebert, described HFR as “incomparably more realistic than anything I had ever seen before on a movie screen” (Ebert, quoted in Turnock 2013, p. 39)9. For Trumbull, this confirms that HFR and other cutting-edge cinematic technologies are creating cinematic experiences that are more intense, more immersive, and “more ‘true to life’” (Turnock 2013, p. 45) than ever before.There’s a tremendously changed response. People unanimously reported not only greatly increased physiological response to the film, but better color, better sharpness, a sense of three-dimensionally, a sense of participation and an illusion of reality.(Trumbull, quoted in Studlar 1983, p. 1)
In the spirit of this third way, I contend that both of the foregoing perspectives on cinematic realism—the progressivist optimism of Trumbull and the historical constructivism of Turnock—have something to teach us about our experience of reality. Indeed, as we shall see throughout this essay, like the false dichotomy between the red and blue pills, these two positions should not be read as an either/or choice. Rather, it is their very tension that creates film’s capacity to tap into a basic truth of our existential situation: whereas some audiences feel swept-away by the new HFR cinematic aesthetic, others find it fake and alienating. I argue it is precisely this oscillation between absorption and disbelief that is fundamental to cinema’s therapeutic function.the choice between the blue and the red pill is not really a choice between illusion and reality … I want a third pill! … [A] pill that would enable me to perceive not the reality behind the illusion, but the reality in illusion itself.(italics added, Žižek 2006)
3. Life, Lifeness, and the Emptiness of Emptiness
In other words, this use of narrative detail does not make a novel any more real, it merely conforms to a stylistic convention we recognize as “realism”. By way of analogy, Wood cites Barthes’ humorous example of how the laurel-leaf headbands worn in 1950s–60s Hollywood epics denote “Romanness”. The cheesy hairpieces, Wood explains, signify “Romanness” in the same way Flaubert’s use of detail signifies “realness”. In both cases, nothing “actually real [is] being denoted” (ibid.); these are merely agreed-upon conventions within an arbitrary style known as “realism”.The selection of detail is merely the quorum necessary to convince the reader that this is ‘real,’ that it ‘really happened.’ It may be ‘real’ but it is not real, because none of the details is very alive. The narrative, the grammar of the realism exists in order to announce to us: ‘This is what reality in a novel like this looks like’.
Thus, although innovation becomes convention over time, it does not follow that it has no connection to the real.untruthful per se, but it has a way of becoming, by repetition, steadily more and more conventional. Love becomes routine (and indeed Barthes once claimed that ‘I love you’ is the most clichéd thing anyone can say), but falling in love is not nullified by this fact.
4. Seeing with Our Ears: The Unreality of Real Life
Film does not only reflect these variations in our perceptions of reality, but actively manipulates them, as in a memorable experience I had after a group film screening at the Flaherty Film Seminar.When you say things like, we don’t see reality, people think you’re being a post-modern relativist. That’s not the case. There is a physical world. It’s just that we don’t see it. Red doesn’t exist, the note “C” doesn’t exist. These are all things inside our heads that we project out into the world.(Lotto, quoted in Worrall 2017)
5. Boredom and the Boundaries of the Self
Now in real life you don’t watch dead time. [In] De Sica’s Umberto D … the famous shot of the maid striking the match three times … was no longer about the activity of striking the match. It was about how long you’re going to sit and watch. The filmmaker is using the power of cinema against itself to get you into a sense that you have to participate.(italics added, ibid.)
It is precisely this alternation—of deliberately increasing the distance between the audience and the film, and then suddenly collapsing it again—that is the dance of cinema. Every film engages in this dance with each beat, each moment, each choice, each scene. By leaning toward us and then leaning away—by causing us to forget ourselves and then remember—film pushes and pulls not only the boundaries of our attention, but of our self-awareness.If you consistently withhold, and now the viewer is leaning toward you, now you have to, I think, in a certain moment, free them. Do something unexpected. In Ida it’s the tracking shot at the end. In Bresson, it’s just a burst of music. You show a movie for an hour and a half or two hours with no music at all, and all of a sudden at the end: boom! They blast Mozart…. The characters in Ozu’s films never show any emotion at all, and then at the end: whamo! There’s a big blast of emotion.(ibid.)
6. The Edit and Intermittence
Murch is describing a dynamic alternation akin to that discussed by Schrader, and he reaches the same conclusion: that striking a skillful balance between revelation and concealment—between giving and withholding, leaning toward and leaning away—incites a special level of participation in the viewer.Your job is partly to anticipate, partly to control the thought processes of the audience. To give them what they want and/or what they need just before they have to ‘ask’ for it—to be surprising yet self-evident at the same time. If you are too far behind or ahead of them, you create problems, but if you are right with them, leading them ever so slightly, the flow of events feels natural and exciting at the same time.
Indeed, it is quite remarkable that films should feel continuous at all, given that, strictly speaking, every moment in a film is one of discontinuity. There is the jump from one scene to the next (which often involves a radical disjunction of physical space or time), as well as the jump, usually several times per second, between one shot and the next (which requires reorienting our visual position within the scene), and even, on the most basic level, the discontinuity that makes the illusion of motion itself possible: the sequential projection of 24, 30, or as we have discussed, 48, 60 or up to 120 still images per second. As Murch remarks,vast amount of preparation, really, to arrive at the innocuously brief moment of decisive action: the cut—the moment of transition from one shot to the next—something that, appropriately enough, should look almost self-evidently simple and effortless.
The question, then, is how can such a seemingly unintuitive process—the radical use of discontinuity in film—feel so natural?the mysterious part of it… is that the joining of those pieces—the “cut” in American terminology—actually does seem to work, even though it represents a total and instantaneous displacement of one field of vision with another, a displacement that sometimes also entails a jump forward or backward in time as well as space.
On a visceral level, the intermittent quality of film is close to the way we experience the world. We don’t experience a solid continuum of existence. Sometimes we are here and sometimes not…. After all, do any of us know who we actually are? Although we assume that we are something solid, in truth we only experience and maneuver through our existence…. We try to make the whole thing seem continuous and solid, but it’s actually more intermittent than we often want to admit. In a sense, for film to be true, it has to trust this intermittence.
This suggests one reason the discontinuities of film feel so natural—imperceptible, even—is because we operate with such discontinuities all the time. Like a film, which an editor chops up and then reassembles, we are continuously chopping up and reassembling our experience. We do this visually, as in Murch’s example of how we blink, as well as in “our own thoughts—the way one realization will suddenly overwhelm everything else, to be, in turn, replaced by yet another” (Murch 2001, p. 57), or even in our large-scale perceptions, as when our interest in something causes it to stand out, while other information fades into the background (as illustrated by the famous “invisible gorilla” test28). Indeed, Murch has observed people unconsciously curating their blinks in real time. People, he writes,Look at that lamp across the room. Now look back at me. Look back at that lamp. Now look back at me again. Do you see what you did? You blinked. Those are cuts. After the first look, you know that there’s no reason to pan continuously from me to the lamp because you know what’s in between. Your mind cut the scene. First you behold the lamp. Cut. Then you behold me.27(Huston, quoted in Murch 2001, p. 60)
Blinks, in other words, mark a point of transition from one thought to the next. They are a kind of physiological punctuation that enables one to pass from engagement to disengagement29. Like Schrader’s “leaning toward” and “leaning away,” it is the alternation here that is vital. As Murch puts it, “the blink is either something that helps an internal separation of thought to take place, or it is an involuntary reflex accompanying the mental separation that is taking place anyway” (Murch 2001, p. 62). Blinking, then, points to a fundamental principle of our existence that also finds expression in the cinematic form: namely, that the flow of our experience requires not only continuity, but discontinuity as well.will sometimes keep their eyes open for minutes at a time—at other times they will blink repeatedly—with many variations in between … On the one hand, I’m sure you’ve all been confronted by someone who was so angry that he didn’t blink at all: This is a person, I believe, in the grip of a single thought that he holds (and that holds him), inhibiting the urge and need to blink. And then there is the opposite kind of anger that causes someone to blink every second or so: this time, the person is being assailed simultaneously by many conflicting emotions and thoughts, and is desperately (but unconsciously) using those blinks to try to separate these thoughts, sort things out, and regain some sort of control.
7. The Uncanny Valley: Affinity and Difference
Mori provides several examples of the uncanny: the masks used in Noh drama, prosthetic appendages, a human corpse35. In each case, these non-human objects transcend the “established category of ‘other’ (animal, object), [and] begin to approach the human, but the likeness is not perfect” (Hanson et al. 2005, p. 30). This results in a categorial anomaly: they are not quite self, not quite other, and this produces a powerful anxiety36.we experience a thing as uncanny if we regard it as belonging to two, incompatible kinds. One of [Jentsch’s] examples concerns the reactions that some people have when viewing lifelike figures in a wax museum. The viewer knows that she is looking at inanimate simulacra of human beings, but nevertheless cannot help responding to them as human beings. Consequently, her mind is pulled in two antithetical directions at once. Categorizing the figures as both human and non-human, she is unable to fully settle on one interpretation to the exclusion of the other. This is Jentsch’s paradigm for understanding the uncanny. It is the seemingly contradictory or interstitial character of a thing that imbues it with an aura of ‘umheimlichkeit’.
In other words, the key to this design’s success lies in its ability to achieve similarity while preserving difference. Although the hand resembles a human hand in its shape and movement, it deliberately includes features that foreground difference, like the unadulterated color of the natural wood and the absence of fingerprints. Mori’s insight echoes the motif we have developed throughout this essay about the vital importance of alternation: similarity followed by difference, intimacy followed by distance, continuity followed by discontinuity. What is essential is the alternating ebb and flow, rather than a melding of categories.Consider this model of a human hand created by a woodcarver who sculpts statues of Buddhas. The fingers bend freely at the joint. The hand lacks fingerprints, and it retains the natural color of the wood, but its roundness and beautiful curves do not elicit any eerie sensation. Perhaps this wooden hand could also serve as a reference for design.
8. “Trans-Descendental” Style in Film: Something More from Something Less
This circular pattern in which the water in the whirlpool flows is more constrained and simpler than the otherwise freer, more turbulent, and hence less patterned flow of water in the rest of the river…. Water flowing through a whirlpool does so in a way that is less free when compared to all the various less coordinated ways in which water otherwise moves through a river. This redundancy—this something less—is what results in the circular pattern of flow we associate with whirlpools.(ibid.)
The goal of “transdescendence,” which was later also taken up by Nishitani, is not to seek out a higher-order resolution to the problem of dualism, but instead to descend into dualism itself in order to resolve it from within.not meant to simply relativize the opposites from a higher standpoint…. It was not a matter of finding a standpoint from which to ‘transcend’ opposition but rather of bringing it down to a problem of consciousness, a standpoint of ‘transdescendence’ as [Nishida] called it”.
This view is echoed by filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky. In a statement reverberating with echoes of Emmanuel Levinas40, Dorsky explains that when we defer to the tyranny of meaning, we render the “other”—in this case, the film—to our own measure, foreclosing the possibility of surprise and genuine encounter. As Dorsky puts it, if a film‘the meaning we find in what we see is always both a necessity and an obstacle. Meaning guides our seeing. Meaning allows us to categorize objects. Meaning is what imbues the image of a person with all we know about them. But meaning, when we force it on things, can also blind us, causing us to see only what we expect to see or distracting us from seeing very much at all’.
fails to take advantage of the self-existing magic of things, if it uses objects merely to mean something, it has thrown away one of its great possibilities. When we take an object and make it mean something, what we are doing, in a subtle or not so subtle way, is confirming ourselves. We are confirming our own concepts of who we are and what the world is. But allowing things to be seen for what they are offers a more open, more fertile ground than the realm of predetermined symbolic meaning. After all, the unknown is pure adventure.
9. Go to the Pine to Learn of the Pine: Ethics and Appearances
Significant for our purposes is that this empathic capacity is made possible by appearances; emotional contagion is essentially an iconic process of mimesis. In the same way that the indexical and the symbolic rely on the iconic, De Waal argues that complex moral behaviors can be ultimately traced back to mimetic emotional contagion—in other words, to the ethics of appearances43 (De Waal 2006, p. 39).At the core of the empathic capacity is a relatively simple mechanism that provides an observer (the ‘subject’) with access to the emotional state of another (the ‘object’) through the subject’s own neural and bodily representations. When the subject attends to the object’s state, the subject’s neural representations of similar states are automatically activated… (changes in heart rate, skin conductance, facial expression, body posture). This activation allows the subject to get ‘under the skin’ of the object, sharing its feelings and needs, which in turn fosters sympathy, compassion, and helping.
10. Concluding Remarks
This, in a sense, is the same paradox articulated by Nishitani; namely, the tension between the eye’s seeing and its quest to see the eye itself. In this essay, I have argued that film can have a therapeutic function by virtue of its ability to echo this state of paradoxical alternation: as we watch, we lean toward a film and away from it, we are engrossed and we are bored, we experience intimacy and distance. This dialectical ebb and flow is at the core not only of film but of all experience: even the highest reaches of meaning and symbolic discourse, as we have seen, flow back to the basic and primordial building blocks of appearances. As Berger put it, “when we give meaning to an event, that meaning is a response, not only to the known, but also to the unknown: meaning and mystery are inseparable” (Berger and Mohr 1982, p. 89).As human beings we find ourselves in a strange situation. We have the same basic qualities, problems, emotions, and interests that animals have: we experience danger and often need to defend ourselves, we need to eat and sleep, we feel anger and tenderness, and we reproduce. At the same time, we also have the ability to observe this entire experience, to see through the moments of anger, fear, and tenderness rather than just experience them. We are part of our experience and yet we can see through it. We can see through it, yet we are not free from it. We are both appreciators and victims of material existence.
Conflicts of Interest
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Specifically, the essay is at times technical, philosophical, or phenomenological in tone, and at other times closer to a manifesto that draws on personal experience and affective, material, and embodied approaches.
As we shall see below, I draw inspiration from the work of Francisca Cho, who critiques the “literary approach” to film analysis that treats films like texts to be read. Instead, Cho advocates for non-textual modes of aesthetic, embodied, and sensory filmic engagement. In light of this, I use linguistic metaphors here only heuristically—when speaking, for instance, of the “grammar” of cinematic “language”—not to suggest that films should be read like texts, but to highlight the particular aesthetic and semiotic networks at work in cinema, such that we can, in my opinion, speak of film as a form of non-textual language.
Such technologies have been put to use not only in major commercial films like James Cameron’s 2009 film, Avatar (Cameron et al. 2010), Peter Jackson’s 2012 film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Jackson et al. 2013), Ang Lee’s 2016 film, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Lee et al. 2017) and rumored for Lee’s forthcoming Gemini Man (Lee et al. 2019), but also in independent films like Werner Herzog’s 2010 Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Herzog et al. 2011) and Wim Wender’s 2011 Pina (Wenders et al. 2013).
Douglas Trumbull rose to prominence in the 1970s with his groundbreaking visual effects work on Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick et al. 2007), as well as Steven Spielberg’s 1977 film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg et al. 2002), and Ridley Scott’s 1982 film, Blade Runner (Scott et al. 1999). In the 1980s, Trumbull developed “Showscan,” a high frame rate capture and projection system combining HFR projection with large format film, like 70 mm and IMAX (see Turnock 2013). Currently, Trumbull continues his experimentation and invention at his home studio in the Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts.
Even without realizing it, many of us are already familiar with the “look” of different frame rates from watching television. The news, for instance, is typically shown at 30 fps (technically 29.97), resulting in a smoother, more realistic image than most television dramas, which are usually exhibited at 24 fps (broadcast at 23.98). Soap operas are a notable exception, being generally exhibited at 30 fps, like the news, or 60 fps (59.94), which to some results in their “cheap” aesthetic when compared to the more “cinematic look” of 24 fps. To reduce motion blur and achieve maximum crispness, many video games use 60 fps.
Although audiences today are used to the look of 24 fps, this frame rate was not standardized until the introduction of sound in the late 1920s. Prior to that time, frame rates varied widely—anywhere between 16 fps and 22 fps—and were often deliberately manipulated for effect (as in the technique of “undercranking,” which involves purposely shooting fewer images per second such that, when replayed at full speed, subjects appear to be moving more quickly, a technique used to great effect, for example, in F. W. Murnau’s 1922 classic, Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (Murnau et al. 2013), or in any number of Buster Keaton’s comedic action sequences).
This process, also known as “motion interpolation,” is called “Auto Motion Plus” in Samsung televisions, “MotionFlow” in Sony televisions, and “TruMotion” in LG televisions.
Laboratory experiments have attempted to empirically confirm these qualitative reactions by measuring audiences’ physiological response to HFR with electrocardiograms, cephalograms, and galvanic skin response and muscle tension sensors. According to Trumbull, these “physiological tests showed that brainwaves, pulse and skin responses rose as the frame rate rose” (Turnock 2015, p. 254).
For example, Turnock cites Vittorio De Sica’s 1949 film, The Bicycles Thieves (De Sica et al. 2007), and Robert Altman’s 1975 film, Nashville (Altman et al. 2016), both lauded at the time for their “realism”—with De Sica still credited as the progenitor of Italian neorealist cinema and Altman celebrated for the naturalistic and improvisational character of his films—though audiences today are liable to find the realism of these films extremely dated. See (Turnock 2013, pp. 44–45).
The critical response to The Hobbit, Turnock notes, also reveals the implicit economic hierarchy of value that shapes audience perceptions of certain forms of media. In this case, the look of higher frame rates (which audiences recognize from low-budget television soap operas) is associated with cheapness, whereas the “cinematic” look of 24 fps familiar from film is perceived as more sophisticated and artistic. As Turnock explains, reception of The Hobbit was “mixed at best, if not hostile. The most common negative judgment is what is variously called ‘the soap opera effect’ or ‘the Sports on TV’ effect, meaning the footage unfavorably resembles these other (less prestigious) media forms … HFR filmmaking not only reveals the extent to which we are conditioned to accept cinematographic styles and traditions, both realistic and fantastic, as natural, but also hold them to a different and, for some, higher, aesthetic standard than other forms of moving images” (Turnock 2013, p. 44).
Ang Lee’s use of HFR in Billy Lynn incited similar reactions, with one reviewer describing the look of the opening shot as “a 3-D printout of a human being … The scene looked queer, uncinematic, like a theater sketch acted out in virtual reality” (Engber 2016).
As Daniel Engber remarked, in The Hobbit, “Gandalf’s staff and Thorin’s axe looked too fake, like low-end gear for LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) …. The actors, too, are more exposed in HFR. Just as high-definition cameras revealed the use of heavy powder and foundation, so do higher frame rates spotlight an actor’s put-on smile. I couldn’t tell if the performances in Billy Lynn were wooden, or if they’d been made to look that way when viewed at finer grain” (Engber 2016).
Turnock notes that these recent technological innovations in digital cinema have actually trained viewers to become savvier, making even non-experts hyperaware of the effects and value of cinematic mediation. “Viewers are no longer fooled by claims of transparency, immersion, and immediacy…. Instead, [they] are beginning to recognize and embrace the layered artifice that moving image technologies have long striven to erase” (Turnock 2013, p. 48).
This is the scene in The Matrix when Morpheus presents the main character, Neo, with a choice between two pills: the blue pill, which will erase his memory and return him to the virtual reality in which he had been previously living, or the red pill, which will awaken him to the truth by revealing the behind-the-scenes workings of the matrix.
As Wood puts it, “just because artifice and convention are involved in a literary style does not mean that realism (or any other narrative style) is so artificial and conventional that it is incapable of referring to reality” (Wood 2008, p. 234).
As in the opening verse of Vasubandhu’s Vimśatikāvijñaptimātratāsiddhi (Silk and Vasubandhu 2016).
Though dismissed by some as a frivolous social media fad, neuroscientist Beau Lotto cites “The Dress” controversy as an example of how fundamental questions about cognition can trickle down from scientific circles into popular culture, specifically, he argues, because they tap into profound issues regarding perception and experience that have widespread resonance. See Lotto’s book, Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently (Lotto 2017).
See Josh Katz et al.’s series of articles on this for the New York Times (Katz et al. 2018).
Indeed, this reaching into a film is necessary for the most foundational feature of cinema, the illusion of motion, to occur. Given that film is simply a sequence of still images, it is in fact the viewer who projects the illusion of motion onto their rapid succession. The physiology behind why our brains convert a series of still images into motion remains contested, with some speculating that it is due to a principle known as the Persistence of Vision (that is, the momentary imprinting of images on the retina) or the Phi Phenomenon. See (Anderson and Fisher (1978)) and (Anderson and Anderson (1993)).
Incidentally, one of the most common early hurdles of meditation training is grappling with—and eventually learning to enter into and engage—the experience of boredom.
Paul Schrader is known for co-writing Martin Scorsese’s 1976 Taxi Driver (Scorsese et al. 2005), 1980 Raging Bull (Scorsese et al. 1996), 1988 The Last Temptation of Christ (Scorsese et al. 2000a), and 1999 Bringing Out the Dead (Scorsese et al. 2000b), as well as his own work directing eighteen feature films, including the critically-acclaimed 1980 film, American Gigolo (Schrader et al. 2000), 1985’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (Schrader et al. 2008), and his most recent film, First Reformed (2018).
Saliently, social anxiety about the incursion of technology and social media into both public and private spheres of life seems to have generated an uptick in mainstream interest in the value of boredom, as illustrated by the popularity of self-help books like Manoush Zomorodi’s Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self (Zomorodi 2017).
This is precisely what Schrader says when describing how films “lean away”: they “hold on shots too long” and “are not going to cut” (Schrader, quoted in Teti 2018).
Walter Murch, author of In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing (Murch 2001), is a film editor and sound designer, best known for his work on Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film, Apocalypse Now (Coppola et al. 2010), The Godfather trilogy (Coppola et al. 2008), and Anthony Minghella’s 1996 The English Patient (Minghella et al. 2004).
Murch continues, “What Huston asks us to consider is a physiological mechanism—the blink—that interrupts the apparent visual continuity of our perceptions: my head may move smoothly from one side of the room to the other, but, in fact, I am cutting the flow of visual images into significant bits, the better to juxtapose and compare those bits—‘lamp’ and ‘face’ in Huston’s example—without irrelevant information getting in the way” (Murch 2001, p. 60).
The “invisible gorilla” test was a research project by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons (Chabris and Simons 2010) designed to demonstrate selective attention bias. In the experiment, viewers are asked to watch a video of people passing a basketball and count the number of passes. Meanwhile, a person in a gorilla suit walks in and out of the frame. Because viewers are focused on the ball, they fail to notice the gorilla.
Scientific research on blinking supports several of Murch’s observations. A 2013 study by Tamami Nakano (Nakano et al. 2013) concluded that the precise moments when we blink are not random. “Although seemingly spontaneous, studies have revealed that people tend to blink at predictable moments. For someone reading, blinking often occurs after each sentence is finished, while for a person listening to a speech, it frequently comes when the speaker pauses between statements. A group of people all watching the same video tend to blink around the same time, too, when action briefly lags” (Nagano, paraphrased by Stromberg 2012).
Mori illustrates his point using a graph that has since become quite famous. Charting emotional affinity relative to human likeness, the graph displays a steady increase in affinity as the non-human entity becomes increasingly humanlike, until suddenly the affinity line plummets; this is the uncanny valley.
The uncanny effect of many CGI characters is often due to extremely subtle movement and micro expressions, things that most viewers do not consciously perceive but can “feel”. As Michelle et al. note, “virtual bodies often appear unconvincing because they do not conform to the physical norms and laws that viewers associate with and recognize from actual human bodies and movements, being subject to gravity and laws of physics governing mass, motion, impact, and so on, and with particular muscular and skeletal movements” (Michelle et al. 2017, p. 12). See also (Purse (2007)) and (Lamarre (2006)).
Some have proposed evolutionary explanations for the uncanny valley effect, relating to mate selection, pathogen avoidance, mortality salience (that is, avoidance behaviors related to the awareness of one’s death), and threat avoidance. These theories, however, remain far from conclusive, see (Smirnov and Pracejus (2011)) and (MacDorman and Chattopadhyay (2017)).
As Jentsch noted, “Among all the psychical uncertainties that can become a cause for the uncanny feeling to arise … there is one in particular that is able to develop a fairly regular, powerful and very general effect: namely, doubt as to whether an apparently living being really is animate and, conversely, doubt as to whether a lifeless object may not in fact be animate” (Jentsch 1997).
Jentsch also identified the human corpse as an example of the uncanny, noting that we find the corpses of familiars uncanny because they simultaneously occupy two incompatible categories: “As Jentsch pointed out, corpses are experienced as uncanny [unheimlich] because we tend to see them simultaneously as persons (the ‘dear departed’) and as cold slabs of inanimate flesh” (Smith 2018, p. 11).
Some work has argued that reactions to the uncanny valley are not purely negative. Hanson et al. argue, for instance, that the uncanny valley can produce not only feelings of danger or anxiety, but also “‘surreal’ (dreamlike) feelings, rather than fear” (Hanson et al. 2005, p. 30).
A lifelong Buddhist, Mori went on to write a book about the intersection of Buddhism and robotics, The Buddha in the Robot (Mori 1981).
See (Deacon (2008)). An oft-cited example of emergence is the ant colony. As far as we know, individual ants are not consciously aware of the larger architectural project in which they are involved, and there is no master ant-architect orchestrating the group’s efforts. Yet, the cumulative result of each ant’s individual activity is the tremendously complex and elegant structure of the ant colony. In other words, the ant colony is an emergent property that arises from each ant’s work. For fascinating research that uses the theory of emergence to analyze the self-organization behaviors of ants, see the work of Deborah Gordon (Gordon 1999) at the Gordon Lab of Stanford University.
As Feenberg and Arisaka explain with reference to Nishida’s approach to the opposition of subject and object, “In [the] customary view, we take the subject and object of knowledge as forming together an object for a higher self-consciousness which perceives them as mutually determining. This critical perception, in turn, can become an object of reflection for a still broader self-consciousness which can itself be considered as a candidate for further reduction to an element in a higher unity, ad infinitum. At no point do subject and object escape the antinomial regress” (Feenberg and Arisaka 1990, p. 187).
The affirmation of transcendence within immanence, a major philosophical preoccupation of the Kyoto School, has a long tradition in Western philosophy as well (in, for instance, Levinas’ Ethics and Infinity (Levinas 1985) or, more recently, in works like Rivera’s The Touch of Transcendence (Rivera 2007). Indeed, a major focus of the Kyoto School was to creatively combine Mahāyāna Buddhist philosophy and European continental thought. Nishida’s Buddhist philosophy, for example, sought to actively incorporate the insights of William James’ notion of “pure experience,” and Nishitani famously studied with Heidegger in Germany, where it is speculated that both thinkers deeply influenced each other’s work.
One of the most effective discussions of the principle of iconicity and the broader system of semiotics is that put forth by Charles Sanders Pierce (which Kohn also discusses at length). Pierce proposed three levels of semiotic signification: the iconic, in which the sign resembles its referent (like a photograph of a fire and a real fire); the indexical, in which the sign does not resemble but has a relationship with the referent (like smoke and fire); and, finally, the symbolic, in which the sign’s relation to the referent is utterly arbitrary (like the word “fire” and the phenomenon of fire).
As Kohn explains, referencing Deacon’s work, “something emergent is never cut off from that from which it came and within which it is nested because it still depends on these more basic levels for its properties” (Kohn 54). The iconicity of appearances, Kohn argues, is fundamental to all levels of signification, including the symbolic and indexical, each of which is “nested” in the level below: the symbolic depends on the indexical, just as the indexical depends on the iconic. All semiotics, in other words, rest on the foundation of iconicity, that is, of appearances.
Similar research investigating the connection between mimetic behavior and moral development is being done on the phenomenon of yawn contagion, which researchers think is an involuntary mimetic behavior that correlates with empathic capacity. See (Norscia et al. (2011)), “Yawn Contagion and Empathy in Homo Sapiens”.
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Verchery, L. Blindness, Blinking and Boredom: Seeing and Being in Buddhism and Film. Religions 2018, 9, 228. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9080228
Verchery L. Blindness, Blinking and Boredom: Seeing and Being in Buddhism and Film. Religions. 2018; 9(8):228. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9080228Chicago/Turabian Style
Verchery, Lina. 2018. "Blindness, Blinking and Boredom: Seeing and Being in Buddhism and Film" Religions 9, no. 8: 228. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9080228