Updated: Oct 25, 2019
(or: The Mind's I-I)
A slightly elaborated comment to Shirley's What Do You See?, a very fine illustration of freedom (choice) and facticity (forced reality) entwined.
I think that there are at least three choices here, in sequence. The first choice is of the anonymous German artist, who, I imagine, intended to create this visual “double entendre.”
The second choice is ours, the viewers, choosing to choose.
I’ll explain by illustration. I just had a look at Schröder's Stairs, and could only see the ones going up, from bottom right to top left. For the life of me I couldn’t see the “upside down.”
It took that frustration and an act of will – finding another image, and following the suggestion to shift focus from A to B – for me to see.
I think that that move – choosing to choose, indeed wanting to – is at the heart of Kierkegaard’s Either/Or. And it’s all the more meaningful when the realization of choice – when seeing the hidden rabbit – dawns on you with the help of another person, by taking notes (“Now I can see that”) or, better yet, perspective-taking (“I see you - and so that too”).
The third choice happens once the options become apparent. But I’m not sure choosing either duck or rabbit truly allows us to “obtain comfort and certainty in committing exclusively to one perception.” It’s all so transient. After all, facticity/reality keeps kicking us back: once you see the duck you cannot unsee it.
Once you see the duck you cannot unsee it. Or can you?
This is why I like the 12 black dots illustration; it allows choice, while defying it: you can focus on a single dot, turning it black in your mind’s eye, but here and there you’re bound to spot other spots, popping in and out, suggesting that you may choose otherwise.
Moreover, facticity goes beyond the illustration itself. It’s entrenched in biology, our brain supposedly hardwired to harden interpretation into truth. Society and culture too fabricate facticity. This may explain why Americans, both young and old, tend to see a bunny during Easter, and a bird/duck in October (I imagine that during Easter, facing the frenzy, the actual bunny-duck might well opt for being the latter).
But if you’re right, if we can “tame our perception” to unsee what we already did, then I think it’s less about choosing one over another but about negating one, so that we don’t have to choose. Wasn’t that at the heart of our conversation on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? But need we turn to sci-fi when we can try it ourselves (or with the help of substances and science): let go of certain rabbits so we can focus on the ducks in our life?
Trying to unsee what we already did might be less about choosing one perspective over another but about negating one, so that we don’t have to choose.
And all this says nothing about the fourth, far more creative, choice, the one you raised at the end, calling us to imaginatively transcend the given, building new worlds between facticity and fantasy.
Finally, Marxism aside, moving from a sequential rabbit/duck to a simultaneous rabbit+duck, though seemingly impossible, might be more prevalent now than ever, an exercise in an Orwellian doublethink – but that’s for another post, with its own politics...