You See Only What Only You See

by Jim on 2014/11/10

[Jimbaux is in the flesh, baby, but you can’t see him, nor can you see much else.]

Chances are, you have many times in your life been unfairly judged, and, chances are, you have done the same thing to others (usually without realizing it, else you might not have done it.)  Today’s photo essay, in addition to being about the pictures and the subject matter of the pictures, is about why that unfair judging happens, and how you can reduce the frequency of its occurrence and the severity of its undesirable consequences.

Important to note, though, is that some judging is warranted and even necessary, and warranted because of its necessity.  Because it is sometimes at the very least appropriate to judge, that people judge at all – even if they can and do go to excess with it  – is understandable; the trick is knowing where the limits of fair judging are.

Knowledge and Wisdom – And The Limits Thereof

Blind Stares Of A Million Pairs of Eyes, Looking Hard But Don’t Realize . . .

Contrary to what you might believe, the primary mission of Jimbaux’s Journal is neither proselytizing nor railroad photography, but is instead education; however, being a person who understand that reality, values, and even facts are – and this is a major point of this essay – matters of subjectivity far more than most people either realize or want to admit, I would not argue with you if you suggested that what I claim to be education is indeed proselytizing, but then I’d wish to point out that very much of what else passes for “education” is on some level proselytizing.

First, I must begin by explaining – or attempting to explain – the title of this article of pictures taken on Monday 10 November 2014, and there is a reason why this set of pictures on this particular day comes with an analysis of why you see only what only you see; I say “or attempting to explain” because the writing of nearly the entirety of this article serves to support the idea, the truth, that you see only what only you see, a truth that is insufficiently understood by far too many people.  Built into the statement, the idea, the truth, that you see only what only you see is that you do not see all of the things that you do not see.  That may seem obvious to you, but it is another truth that is in far more need of exploration than you probably realize, as it is a truth that is generally acknowledged while simultaneously being generally grossly underappreciated.

What is more important than the mere fact that you see only what only you see is that you should know that there are indeed plenty of things that you do not see.  Specifically, ignorance itself is not a major problem in the world, since all of us are ignorant about many things; the real problem is the failure to recognize that ignorance, more specifically, not recognizing the limits of our own individual knowledge, intellect, analysis, and wisdom.  This is why both of the “only”s in the statement that “you see only what only you see” are far more important together than they are individually, indicating that there is plenty that one does not see.

Right Before Your Very Eyes, You Can’t Even Visualize

Judgmentalness is thought to be a bad thing; I don’t think that being judgmental is always bad, but the very common bad kind of judgmentalness usually springs from someone only seeing what only he sees, and it too often causes discord, suffering, and injustice.

What does this have to do with photography?  Everything!  What does this have to do with today’s pictures?  Well, when late this morning I arrived at Central Avenue in Metairie-Jefferson and saw three trains parked next to each other and attempted to get a picture showing all three of them in one view, I realized that I had forgotten to bring my normal-focal-length lens along with me.  That meant that I was restricted to only narrow telephoto views of whatever it was that I was going to photograph today.  In other words, you will see only what only my telephoto lens saw.  Had I had the other lens(es) with me, you’d have seen wider views, you’d have seen all three trains (and all of their locomotives) in one image, and you’d have had more facts at your disposal to make whatever judgments that you wished to make, true in all aspects of life as it is with this picture of a grain train parked at the railroad south end of Mays Yard.

At first glance, you might think that this train has something to do with the Union Pacific Railroad, but, if you thought such a thing, you’d be seeing only what only this picture shows.  You can’t judge only by what you see in only one photograph!  The tracks here are that of the Canadian National Railway, a former Illinois Central Railroad yard, and a closer inspection of the image reveals that the cars are all Norfolk Southern cars, all of which, combined with the fact that UP has access to grain elevators just across the river, suggests rather strongly that this is a grain train that NS delivered to CN, that CN brought to a nearby elevator, and that CN is sending back to NS (since this is where NS crews board such trains.)

Those of you who were able to use all that you could only see in the above image have, however, already ascertained (a word that I have been using ever since I watched The Hunt For Red October as a child) that the train to the right is a CSX train, or at least a train with CSX cars.  I think that calling it a CSX train – or a train that originated on the CSX and is about to return to the CSX after dumping its load – is a safe assumption.

Well, we almost got Nero’s CSX locomotive!  Does CSX even have a 666?  What railroads today do?  I understand that CN has EJ&E 666 now painted in CN colors.  You’ve seen my shot of KCS 666, but I think that it has been either renumbered or purged from the roster.

Anyway, also in these two images, you can see Kansas City Southern Railway train M-SHCX, stopped for its crew change with the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad.

Note, too, that the below picture actually does show all three trains, though not in the locomotive way that I could have done had I been able to take in a wider view.

Well, that shall have to suffice, especially if we can admit to ourselves that we are seeing only what only we are seeing, recognizing, therefore, that there are things that we do not see, recognizing, therefore, that there are limits to what we can see.

The Narrow View Of The World Continues

That’s not all, folks!  Frustrated by my own self-created problems, I endeavored in search of another shot this morning before resuming real-life responsibilities.  I happened upon an NOPB job switching the TCI place south of France Yard.  Since we are limited to really tight views, let’s take momentary advantage of the situation.

That’s not the best that I could have done here, but, with the proper lens, I was at least able to do that a little bit more than a year ago.  After I took this picture, however, the train moved forward, which presents me with a problem this morning, since I am unable to widen my view.  The inability to widen one’s view is a problem that most human beings seem to have, though widening one’s view is not necessarily necessary for many of life’s basic tasks.

Either Deny The Details, Or Deny The Big Picture

Myopia, which was my original choice in the subheadline that preceded this paragraph, is not actually the right word to use for this situation, since myopia is about seeing only what is right in front of you; for that word to be used to accurately describe lens-related problems of taking pictures, it would need to be used to describe a situation in which front-focusing occurred, regardless of the focal length at which the image was taken.  My situation this morning is more akin to looking at the world only through binoculars or a magnifying glass and not the wider view; in such a situation, you would technically be able to see everything that you can normally see, just not at once like you can normally see it, meaning that, for example, I’d be able to see your nose, and I’d be able to turn slightly to see your ear, and turn again to see your shoulder, but I’d never actually be able to see you.

That, mes amis, is the big problem in life, in discourse, in discussions, in debate; many argue about facts and situations, many debate, many vote, many make decisions that affect all of us, but very few – precious few – can see the big picture, and even those who do see the big picture are often blinded to at least some of the specifics.  In the case of this picture, this is one of the few times in which I photograph a train but am more specific than just the train; perhaps this is not really a “train picture” afterall.

What do you think?  We are unable to see the “big picture” of the train, but, at the expense of losing that wider view, we can see something else.  What do we see in this view that we could not see before?  I’m not looking for a literal answer to that question!  Your non-literal answer, however, can – and, perhaps, should – have a basis in the literal.

Varying One’s Perspectives Is Virtuous

Of course, in life, when people and situations get away from you – in time as in distance – you can often see them more clearly, more for the totality of who are what they are, as is the case for this train as it shoves back toward the plant.

We should have a closer examination of the statement that “you see only what only you see,” particularly the specific order of the words, the locations of the modifiers, all of which are very deliberate; ergo, I ask you to examine and re-examine them.  Only you see what only you see; even if you and another person agree on the reality or the nature(s) of some specific, individual things, nobody else sees quite what you see, meaning that nobody else sees all that you see, meaning, again, that you see only what only you see.  It’s easy for even me to judge other people for their decisions and their life choices, but I do not have the same sum total of life experiences, knowledge, insight, and understanding – much less desires – that they have.

Now that our train is shoving a little bit further away, we can see the other side of it, and so too it is in life, that when something gets further away from us, we might actually see – and have a better understanding, and even appreciation – of the other side, since what was right in front of us no longer eclipses our much longer view.

That’s all for the pictures today, but not all for the philosophizing.

More Than You Know

I feel like, despite all of the words that I have typed here, I have not conveyed what I really mean in the best way that it can be conveyed; it’s another case of the thoughts floating around in my head while I am driving around being unable to flow unimpeded through my fingers by the time I can get to a keyboard.

One Must See That Others See Things That He Does Not See

So, what have we learned?  Perhaps the most important thing is that we do have plenty to learn, that what we know is all that we know and not all that there is to know.  That you do not see something does not mean that it does not exist.  Conversely, what you claim to see may not at all exist.  An enormous problem with the ongoing debate about incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, and similar issues nationwide is that so many arguments are presented that are based on assumptions which are questionable, all of which means that debate on the matter is often unhealthy; as I said two articles ago, none of us really know what happened specifically with the Michael Brown case, but the real issue are the widely-held perceptions themselves, the broader issues of widespread mistrust and systemic injustice – or the perception thereof, which itself is a problem.

Don’t Confuse The Inability To See Something With That Something’s Nonexistence

For example, an often said statement made by drug prohibitionists – the people who think that other people should be incarcerated for specific personal choices – is “I don’t know any responsible marijuana users.”  Well, no kidding!  That you don’t “know” them does not mean that they do not exist, but, actually, you probably do know several responsible marijuana users; how would you know that everyone you know doesn’t use marijuana?  Just because someone doesn’t come out and say “I don’t do X” doesn’t mean that that person doesn’t do X activity; I’ve never publicly stated that I do not murder people, but that doesn’t mean that you get to assume that I am a murderer.

First, prohibition means that use must be hidden.  So, usually, the only time that marijuana use becomes publicized in when it happens with a really irresponsible person who uses too much of it – you know, just like some people use way too much alcohol – in a manner that spills out into the public, even if that means only to seek professional help.  The responsible user is able to conceal his use; you therefore truly do not know who among the many people you know is a responsible user unless that person tells you.  Second, if a responsible user whom you know – like a family member, a colleague, or a neighbor – sees you commenting publicly about being against marijuana use and being in favor of prohibition and against legalization, then of course that person is not going to tell you that he uses marijuana!

You don’t even need to publicly express support for prohibition or criminalization for people to not share with you the fact that they are users; simply not saying anything at all still leaves a responsible user uncertain of your thoughts on the matter, meaning that it is too risky for him to share with you that he is a user.  So, you go on thinking that you “don’t know any responsible marijuana users” when in fact you do!  I should know, since I was, until recently, a default prohibitionist; it was only recently when I started making, both privately and publicly, anti-prohibition statements that some people I know, including some I have known for a long time and who have respectable, middle class careers, confided to me about their use.  So, some people whom I had known for a long time were marijuana users, and I did not until recently know it.

You see only what only you see; you might see someone who “never” uses marijuana, but “never” does not equal the specific times that you happen to be hanging out with the person.  You see that person only when you see that person, and you therefore do not see that person when you do not see that person; therefore, you see only what only you see.

How You See Something Is Different Than How Others See That Same Thing

Appropriate on this day of me forgetting a lens was my hearing of a great segment on NPR.  As I wrote a few years ago, my eyes are, compared to those of the majority of human beings, color deficient; ironically, my knowledge of my inability to see things that most people see does help give me insight on how each of us does see things differently, both literally and metaphorically.  That great NPR segment, which I ask all of you to listen (or read), revealed something that I have intuitively known for many years: that how Person A sees a certain color is probably different than how Person B sees that same color, but since each only has his own eyes, he’ll never know how the other sees that color, but since they both agree that Color X is Color X, that they see Color X very differently does not matter.

In other words, when you and I look at the color blue, what meets my eyes might look very different to me than what meets your eyes looks to you (it might look to me what yellow looks like to you), but since both you and I have been told our entire lives that that color is blue, we simply agree that it is blue; there simply is no way to know if what your eyes see as blue is the same color that another pair of eyes also see as – and agree is – blue.  A reader recently sent a picture of a green object that she owned, and she asked me how it looked to me, based on my color deficiency; I had to explain to her how pointless of a question she was asking me, since, even if I saw the color differently than she did, whatever answer I gave would be the label I use for what we agree is green, regardless of how it actually looks to me!

I do want you to listen to that NRP segment, but I must quote my favorite part of it toward the end.

Because it’s a perception, trying to understand color leads to questions that are downright philosophical.

If two people are looking at, for example, a construction worker hat, and both saying, “This is yellow,” are they really having the same subjective experience?

“I think we have no way of knowing. I think it’s not known,” says Brainard. “Each of us is essentially stuck inside our own brains with respect to the nature of that experience. So your yellow could be like my blue, your yellow could be like my experience of sound, and my experience of sound could be like your experience of color.”

Yes!  You really do see only what only you see!  The two people agree that the hardhat is yellow, but we do not know that they see it the same way; we only know that each has been told his entire life that whatever he is seeing is yellow, regardless of how it actually looks to each individual person.

Indeed, it is all about perception.  This is as true for colors as it is about facts.  The most destructive kinds of judgment come when the parties see different things, especially if they are unable to see the same things.

You see only what only you see.

Jimbaux

{ 2 comments }

1 bob December 19, 2014 at 13:35

James;
Some days it amazes me what comes out of that mind. This one was quite good. It made me think (ahh but did it make me think in the ways you thought I’d think…you only think what you think you thought-nah, I’m not as clever with a phrase).
In some way, through reading you writings for so long, I think i know Jimbaux, but of course I know you very little non-the less. Deep thoughts indicate a deep thinker and there is certainly more to you than makes it to these blogs.
As I read today’s entry I thought of things I might say, places I agreed and a thought that reinforced, etc. but I kept reading and thoughts were pushed out by others.
Perception is a tricky word, and like all words can be twisted. Your section on color made me think of how some will dismiss one point of view as irrelevant (because it doesn’t equal theirs of course) by using the word in a phrase like ‘that might be what you perceive…’ and yet since we’ve all been told that color is ‘yellow’ when someone says ‘his hat was yellow’ it is what they perceive and what they see and that you perceive yellow differently matters not, your ‘witness’ of a person with a yellow hat stands (the danger comes when you say ‘all people in yellow hats are stupid’ because of some limited exposure to people in yellow hats, etc (Curious George’s friend not included!).
My #3 son has to talk through EVERYTHING, he uses way more that his share of words in a day. But it is how he figures out some aspect of the world, by talking about it, so I force my self to not say ‘duh!’ and ‘what?’ and ‘thats crazy’ and ‘well of course’ as he talks, he doesn’t need my feedback most of the time anyway he just needs to hear the word, phrases as he sorts his thoughts.
Maybe that is what these blogs are for you.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and good luck seeing my comments as i intended them…

Bob

2 Jimbaux December 28, 2014 at 20:29

“ahh but did it make me think in the ways you thought I’d think…you only think what you think you thought-nah, I’m not as clever with a phrase”

No, that’s great! First, it is correct that I can’t accurately foretell how someone will think of what I say or write. Second, though, what you wrote here made me realize something else, that I can and should broaden what I said to “you feel only what only you feel” and, moreover, “you experience only what only you experience,” and what one sees will be a component of what one experiences.

Consider how often you hear the phrase “I know how you feel”; consider that it is never true! You don’t know how I feel, and I don’t know how you feel. As my father likes to say, “I know how I think you feel,” and “you know how you think I feel,” but it is impossible for me to know how you feel and for you to know how I feel; therefore, it is presumptuous to say that you know how I feel or that I know how you feel! Certainly, there can be some similarities, but, ultimately, one’s experiences are only that person’s experiences.

I’m going to write more about this in an upcoming post. Stay tuned for it! While I am am it, I will point out the folly of the phrase “if I were you,” but I think that, given what I wrote here, you might be able to foretell some of what I will say about that!

You also wrote: “Your section on color made me think of how some will dismiss one point of view as irrelevant (because it doesn’t equal theirs of course) by using the word in a phrase like ‘that might be what you perceive…’”

Yes . . . but . . . there are cases in which what some other person perceives is indeed something that needs to be questioned, and I am talking specifically about when someone’s perception includes some claim, especially if it is the kind that can rightly be called an accusation. If I am having a conversation with a person with whom I disagree on some issue, some observers might claim that I behaved like a bully, even if I merely pointed out the wrongness of the position that the person was arguing; this has happened before! In that case, I definitely will challange a perception that ’causes’ such a claim.

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