Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Recognition



Walking a woodland trail the other day through an area with a number of dramatic rock outcroppings, I zeroed in on this particular boulder incised with what, to my eye at least, very much resembled the profile of a crow, a raven, or perhaps a buzzard, with a second, more ambiguous profile directly behind it. The resemblance — the protruding beak, the circular eye — became more convincing the longer I looked.

It's at least dimly possible that a human hand has been at work here, perhaps in adding detail to a stone that originally looked only vaguely avian, but I suspect it's entirely the chance work of nature. With different light, from a different angle, on a different afternoon, the "profile" might not be evident at all. But our psychological impulse to find facial figures even in inert matter must be very strong, and lies, I suspect, at the origin of many things — art, language, religion. The ability to recognize a pattern, to transform that pattern into an information-bearing symbol, is surely the first step down the road to reading. And yet the ability must long predate us; animals too know instinctively what a face is, and even if differences in vision and psychology make it unlikely that they would see anything at all in this particular boulder, they are alive to all kinds of signs — visual, aural, olfactory — whose interpretation is a key part of their mental world.

Below are two more woodland presences: a stone cat (with a bit of imagination), and a howling Ovidian wood-beast.

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