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A Thousand Points of Refraction

Recursive Ferris Wheel

What’s summer without eye candy?   In this case, you are looking at how a ferris wheel has been reflected in raindrops on a car windshield.  But you knew that, right?

One reason we enjoy tricks of the eye is that they reveal facets of the act of perception.  Reflection, distortion, figure/ground, form and content, symmetry and dispersion–these and other features of ordinary optics are all put on display in this seemingly mystifying image.  But that’s not the whole of it: what is really uncanny is how each of the droplets becomes a miniature vehicle of visual reproduction: almost like an eye, you might say.  Or a camera.  Or, if you think sci-fi, like spacecraft or alien creatures or some strange galactic dispersion: a little bang, perhaps, just big enough to spew the original form of the mandala across a few billion worlds.  A random hiccup in the cosmic field, but one that might seed some poor primate’s consciousness someday.  After all, the light that stopped inside the camera will also continue to travel far into space, chasing the I Love Lucy Show and everything else we’ve ever beamed out there.  And so an allegory of dispersion may not seem so far fetched after all.

Light bends when it passes from one medium to another.  That’s called refraction.  The term can serve as a metaphor for how images change as they pass from one medium to another, or one mind to another.  What this photo can teach us is that in a condition of constant dispersion, systematic distortion, and drastic changes of scale, images can still retain their essential form and other information as well.  As those are the conditions of modern media use, the news might be comforting.

So it is that this summer you might want to take the time to enjoy visual spectacles, tricks of light, and other signs of the strange universe unfolding right before our eyes.

Photograph by Clay Jackson/The Advocate Messenger, Danville, Kentucky.

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A Thousand Points of Refraction

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