THE LEARNING CURVE – FALLEN FLOWERS
and ADRENALIN JUNKIES.
By the Author of ‘The Absurdity of Pigeon Feed.’ Tom Tomlinson.
An extreme incline suddenly encountered, the rounding of a bend, a panorama suddenly revealed to take your breath away…
I pulled the 250cc – go-faster-thingy safely to a halt adjacent to the road’s gradient just above where the picture was taken. Traction with the road by-way-of the bike’s wheels was insufficient to brake it against gravity’s pull.
The bike slid away; downwards.
Hold onto that! First…
Big problem! No way, the picture describes the perilous degree of the road’s gradient I saw and experienced?
Why is that? What went wrong with the shot?
Answering those questions is an opportunity to dig deep, then come back simple to solutions.
The eye’s micro movements of astounding velocity take in a scene gathering light from the entire field of vision, it creates perspective with the eye at the centre of the visible world. But the process of seeing is less spontaneous than we tend to believe, because experience and convention play a big part too. End game; we see what we expect to see.
An edited portion of the Russian film director Dziga Vertov’s manifesto; 1923. (A cinematic cameras view point; which also serves, I believe, for a reflex camera.)
‘I am an eye, a mechanical eye. I, a machine show you the world the way only I can see it.
Recording one movement after another in the most complex combinations.
Freed from the bounds of time and space, I coordinate any and all points of the universe wherever I want them to be.
My way leads towards the creation of a fresh perception of the world.
Thus I explain in a new way, a world unknown to you.’
The above extract is taken from John Berger’s 1972 four part BBC series, ‘Ways of seeing’. It feels dated, but, its empirical and philosophical reasoning is most certainly timeless and brilliant.
I highly recommend it to all photographers and artists alike – see YouTube. Its subject matter is dense, deserving a replay followed by some hard chewing over to get the best out of it.
Perspective is a tough one for any photographer to tackle when it comes to capturing our mind’s ‘take’ of a gradient while looking at it head-on. An image of a gradient cannot record the feeling of insecurity felt at time of its capture; the mechanical camera cannot see it!
Compare pictures taken straight down green, blue or red slopes at a ski resort; it’s difficult to tell the difference between gradients devoid of information supplied by a horizon, vertical trees, strong shadows or any other points of reference.
A simplified take on the science regarding our mind’s visual perception of reality:
Information is scanned from the entire field of vision by our eyes, it’s then passed on for processing and interpretation by the brain.
The information gathered is filtered and the vast majority of data discarded because there’s simply too much of it for the brain to process.
The sum of the parts of significant information including even a fleeting subconscious glance at a horizon conjoins/is referenced to prior visual memories of shape, form and experience to build a ‘best-take’. That process renders our visual reality. ‘We see’.
All that still happens even when we believe we’re only focusing on a small patch of a perilous gradient at our feet.
The brain has created an impression, an ‘illusion’ of what it expects to see. In the case of extreme gradients the brain in-turn elicits an alert; a feeling of insecurity and danger. (That’s the product of a survival APP that has been genetically selected and passed down to us over untold generations.)
Taking the above paragraphs into consideration we can conclude the mechanical camera is limited in scope; again, it cannot record all the previously mentioned data.
So what can we do to capture an image of a steep gradient? First shoot side on to the gradient: get as many horizontal or vertical reference points into the shot as possible, shoot early morn, or late eve so shadows can tell their own story.
I designed and shot the image in memory of unfortunates who suffered disabling injuries or lost their lives along their personal learning curves in pursuit of excellence in sport.
Continuing from the intro above….
I’d lost control. So I dumped the bike and stepped safely away while gravity and the bike did their-thing up to the point when the road leveled and put an end to it.
No harm done.
I’d been completely unaware of the danger I’d put myself in.
I’d had no prior experience to draw on, no data base or algorithm to warn me to avoid such a set of circumstance.
That event became another close encounter with danger from which I’d gotten lucky and escaped without injury. An event worthy of logging in my memory for future reference; one more step up in my life long’s learning curve of experience gained. That experience became the inspiration to create the photographic conceptual art you see above.
A baby raises itself and falls repeatedly, sometimes painfully as it first learns to stand and later walk. The first encounter with a flight of steps represents another point along the child’s learning curve, again, it can only be surmounted at the price of pain and injury; so on and so forth.
We’ve all taken those same painful steps along life’s learning curve.
One might ask naively, why didn’t evolution find a better solution other than by using pain to guide and moderate our behaviour when it came to the task of successfully orientating and negotiating our way about the world?
Avoiding pain as we grow equals avoiding serious injury which assures the reproduction of our genes.
The brain is super economical, once a sensory region of the brain has been dedicated to an algorithm such as the detection of pain, it capitalises on it, adapting it for other uses wherever it can.
Hence pain verses no pain or a positive reward (a dopamine hit,) was selected as an efficient method to regulate positive goal directed behaviour. Anciently evolved sea slugs of today even employ those same algorithms.
Pain is a necessary utility expediting learning as events unfold, it blooms in our minds at the time ensuring crucial lessons are logged for future reference whilst the suffrage endured quickly fades.
Similarly the metaphoric flowers shown in the picture are already wilting.
As a young boy of eight and a leader of a small gang of like-minded friends I headed for the woods each windy day to climb the highest tree to its uppermost spar. There I would display my daring-do out-competing friends as I clung to, and then dangled from a tree’s top spar as it bent back and forth in the wind. Cool; what a rush.
Oops, the inevitable happened. One high winded day a spar broke while I was dangling at its widest arch of reach. I fell. I accelerated downwards until my stomach interacted with a tree bow momentarily impeding gravity before to accelerate downwards again. Hospital, recovery. I’d escaped an escapade in search of the free frill of danger and I even got to walk upright again three months later.
As a teenager, with my immature frontal lobes still in catch-up mode, it didn’t take long before I became addicted to stupid manoeuvres at high speed after the purchase of my first car. Speed, oh frilling intoxicating speed, result; innumerable accidents. By the age of thirty years I’d abused, tortured and wreaked one poor undeserving car after another, more than one for each of my birthdays leaving not one in a fit state for resale after its brief encounter with me. I even remember, ‘in the bloom of my stupidly,’ taking solace from the smile on the face of the scrapyard owner each and every time I turned up there.
We became friends.
And my car driving learning curve? At the age of 64 I’m nearly, but not quite at the end of it.
No, I am not so proud of any of that.
Horses: walking is cool, trotting exhilarating and hacking awesome.
One day galloping at full speed on top of a former race horse with a brain the size of half my little finger, it suddenly, decided on its own accord to change its angle of attack to its general trajectory. Each step left me fighting harder not to be thrown sideways from my seat.
Well, I found all that downright frightening at the time. The ungainly mechanics of the motion demanded my learning curve to be instantly and exponentially extrapolated in order to stem off imminent death.
I went through and came out of that learning curve unscathed yet again.
Next up on the cheap frills production line.
Learning to ski.
My very first descent on a ski slope was made stoned out of my mind.
No lessons required; skiing is easy!
First take careful aim for the middle of the bottom of the slope. Got it?
Now adjust the skis with precision in the direction of the target area assuring they’re parallel to each other and then….
Push-off hard as you can with the two sticks EVENLY.
Then it’s all, ‘Here we go and right on man.’
Whoosh, zoom, splat.
That first experience was like a predictive precursor hailing in a haze of numerous falls, uncountable collisions, not forgetting and essential – the accruement of an encyclopaedia of earnest apologies fit for each and every accident scenario.
All respect for other skiers was given over in favour of my never ending search for the ecstasy of mind dizzying speed.
I’d put aside a scholarship in finesse and skill, preferring a frivolous ‘hit and run – fun only,’ line of attack to the sport. Even so, I still learnt enough to navigate hot dog mole hill slopes with a certain dash and occasional splat technique.
The softness of snow and those I hit buffered me from serious injury, hence my learning curve became drawn-out resembling slightly rising flat line.
No, I’m not so proud of any of that either.
Then it was windsurfing.
First speed and then jumping that left me eight metres ‘high’ from the wave tip, soon followed on by big wave riding.
At which point my search for ‘head highs’ led me to change my life and eventually on to relocate to a spot where my craving for scaring the shit out of myself each and every day could be well and truly satiated.
I was never much good at that sport either, but I was out there scaring myself shitless with the cream of the world’s windsurfers no matter how big or aggressive the wave.
Pain and injuries undertaking a learning curve in water sports should be mitigated by the softness of water. Then again, that depends on angle of attack and speed of impact.
Slowly but surely my body bones where broken, too numerous to mention here, finally my spine rearranged itself and that brought an end to all that.
Open water diving; love it. Who wouldn’t? Brilliant, there’s another universe down there.
But even there, my limit for leaning was hobbled.
While diving in an active volcano lake, my buddy guide dove down into the fine silt on its steep side disappeared from view and then emerged some ten meters further down.
‘Now you,’ I was signalled? What? Ya kidding me?
NO, No, no, not on any account whatsoever am I doing that, no chance for a quick and assured learning curve there mate. Fuck off.
When it comes to cheap ‘n’ free frills like that, I’m a hardened coward at heart and happy with it.
Next up motorcycling.
Northern Thailand is one of the premier locations for clubs and individuals alike to prove their skill set. The empty roads are stupendous, wildly intoxicating as they wind their way through astoundingly beautiful mountainous terrain. I call it the land of exotic aromas; an understatement, especially after the first rains.
And, oh boy, do the expert bikers ride those roller coaster roads. Absolute madness from an unskilled observer’s perspective.
At high speed, twenty degrees to the roadway around outrageous bends on treacherous inclines they scream, and yes; sadly each year some lose their lives in the midst of adrenaline highs.
There, I set about scaring the shit out of myself yet again. Joy oh joy was to be had for free; again at my own meager level of skill. Bones were broken and skin lost. I survived to write this and present the photo that does no justice to my mind’s eye vision of that world.
(On the other hand cruising at 60 K/h enables keen eye-spying for opportunistic click-click-clicking with a camera. Effectively there is no better way to ‘feel’ and experience such a land.)
Now looking back at my entire life experience I can see the profound effect adrenaline addiction has had in moulding my life by way of its influence subtly affecting every life-changing decision I’ve ever made.
The village I live in is crammed fall of adrenaline junkies, it’s Europe’s surf-city where females and males alike get their ground-hog-day surf experience repeated day-in, day-out ‘death do they part’.
Not one to judge, but on a personal level, I have a problem with ground-hog-daying a singular cheap frill experience for life. Life’s too short, its golden challis of experience needs topping-up with as many differing and varied experiences as possible for it to overfloweth.
My advice is if you’re stuck in a groove – it’s time to be moving on. And oh boy, did I get stuck fast at time.
Just like a record player’s needle gets stuck in a groove and they both wear down, the crystal clear definition of a repeated experience is incrementally lost, it no longer offers the same challenge novelty brings.
I’m very content and feel privileged to have lived a life crammed full with a variety of different experiences, to have repeatedly ‘been-there’ and moved on.
So, I admit it, I’m a junkie.
I’ve always been a junkie, maybe the free-fall from my mother’s womb got me started on cheap thrills. Who can know?
One thing is clear – Adrenalin’s been my life-time favourite recreational drug and as with other hormones and recreational chemicals it’s only a neural transmitter go-between that leads on to the brain’s dopermergenic pathways; and there lies the brain-nailer for all behavioural addiction.
Will I always be an addict? Guess I am and always will be, since there is no twelve-step-program out there to help wean me off my addiction.
Once an addict always an addict!
Maybe the photo above will one day serve as a visual epitaph to my own demise. I hope not, and yet if I’ve got to go one day, I would prefer to go out high as a kite in my very own adrenaline soaked stratosphere.
Risk addiction on a genetic level – for those interested.
The ‘wander-lust’ gene.
Mapping the world wide human genomic differences brought about an interesting discovery. Those populations who migrated the furthest from the humankind’s African birth cradle, show a distinct gene variant.
The theory goes: from the ice trekkers crossing the Bering Straits, to the dare devil seafaring populations of the South Pacific Islands, they all got there by way of having an increased proclivity for taking risks. The risk taking ‘wander-lust’ gene became a meme morphing on the internet to become erroneously known as the ‘warrior gene’. Don’t be falled by fools.
Then in a recent study of over a million subjects of European ancestry, over a hundred genes were found to be associated with risk taking. Don’t get too excited over that one. It was a self-report study and they’re famously known to be dodgy.
And finally genes don’t act on their own; they interact with environment.
Nature – Nurture.
We can but wonder as to what drove some characters to take ridiculous risks? Daredevils like Evel Knievel and his son Robbie – who jumped the Grand Canyon – and then there was Houdini and the rest, along with free climbers, sky-suit flyers and the high wire walkers of today.
I conclude: no-matter their genes, environment or acculturation, they were/and will remain junkies; dopamine addicts ‘par excallance’ death do they part.
By the Author of ‘The Absurdity of Pigeon Feed.’ Tom Tomlinson.
Published by, ‘Brain Nailed Publishers’ ®.
Copyright; R. H. Tomlinson. © All rights reserved; 22 Dec. 2019.
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