Many years ago I had a friend that was very special to me. He was an artist, a photographer and florist. He lived on the 2nd floor of a bright yellow flat in Lindeberg, while me and my family lived on the 5th floor. I was between 5 and 12 years old, and he was old and wise. His name was Kjell Steen Tollefsen.
I can’t remember where our friendship started, but I do remember where it ended. He died of pneumonia and old age, and I was crying for days.
I’ve often thought back on my time with him. He was my best friend, in a strange grandfatherly way. I even worked as an apprentice in his flower shop there for a while, and he taught me so many wonderful things. I’d especially like to tell you about one of the main things, though, because it was and continues to be the most important thing driving my life.
Take a look outside your nearest window. Have you ever tried to analyze what you see? You don’t really do it unless someone tells you to, and in fact, you really don’t analyze things much even when you think you do. And that’s a beautiful thing. The brain doesn’t analyze at all; it breaks our perception into pattern models and try to find correlations between the new and old patterns. The human brain, our mind if you will, is the most amazing biological NAND-gate and our greatest adventure so far (it could be an XOR-gate when I think about politics, though).
Yes, this is all about perception, about our cognitive resonance and the pattern models the brain creates in order for us to understand the world around us. Now, we were not designed (and when I say “designed”, I mean “shaped by millions of years of natural selection of mutations through physical boundaries and changes”) to deal with big things. We are small creatures on a rather small planet, and as such we’re “designed” to survive on that scale. Our brain is wired to understand things on our scale, which is why it’s so hard for us to fathom what goes on beyond the microscope or past the solar system (and even the solar system is hard for most people to grasp; it is huge, much bigger than we tend to think it is!). We have some natural limits to our understanding, and we can’t understand things on greater or smaller scale unless we bring them up or down to our level of understanding. This is abstract thinking of the physical domain in practice.
My friend was cooking dinner one night while I was there. I patted his cat, his wife was setting the table, and he put a pan full of grease on the stove and threw a spoonful of butter in with it. He looked into the pan like when you’re squinting at the gutter thinking you mayhap saw a coin or something down there. He then ran out and got his camera, took pictures of the pan, and asked me to hurry over. “Look in the pan! What do you see?”
I saw a pan, some grease, a clot of butter. He saw the blackness of space with a comet racing through it.
His picture later featured in a photographic book with the title “Hayley’s comet.” I didn’t quite understand what was going on at the time, but a seed was planted; he saw something in the pan that I didn’t. He wasn’t deterred by the fact that what he saw didn’t really exist in the pan, because what he saw was as real as any other perception we have. So the comet was indeed real.
I have a similarly themed picture hanging on my wall right now, a picture he gave to me for Christmas one year a few years after the comet thing. It was a beautiful red sunset near the beach, with the title “Suzuki.” In fact, it was a sunny day near our flat at the parking lot, depicted through the shiny petrol tank of his son’s Suzuki motorcycle. By the time I got that picture, I had seen the light, and it is the most precious thing I own.
Ask my wife what she thinks of my photography, and she will tell you how I take bucket loads of pictures that doesn’t always depict what you think. I do take normal pictures as well, but these ones are the ones that gives me the most satisfaction and the greatest perspective on what life is all about; “life isn’t about what you think it is about. Regardless.“