Campbell plays with the faculty of mind called perception: How we translate sensory information into a conceptual label of "what something is." We see a white blob contrasted against the blue sky, and we know it is a "cloud." We walk into a room, and we don't see a confusing montage of light, dark, and colors; we automatically parse the input into the floor, the walls, the furniture, the people, etc. Similarly, we can recognize the sound of a bird and the wet touch of our dog's nose against our leg. This is a remarkable faculty of mind, and we couldn't live without it.
How much information is needed to perceive something -- to change the raw sensory input into a constructed idea? We live in a world of extreme resolution; digital screens seem only to increase in pixel density. The above image was created by Leon Harmon of Bell Labs in 1973, based on a picture of whom? For most people (who also know American history), it's not difficult to identify Abraham Lincoln. So little information gets translated into a definite concept! Campbell's work uses moving images -- really flickering white LEDs -- to impart the concept of birds flying or people swimming with a similarly sparse amount of data.
Consider what this means for how your mind operates in the world. With scant information, your mind can construct entire worldviews, epic stories, and full-scale theories. (This goes beyond what is called perception in meditation, into the realm of "proliferation"). A glimpse from a stranger, and you have a whole story about their motivation and life story. An overheard phrase, and you instantly imagine the whole conversation. If you don't think you'd jump to such conclusions, just watch the show unfold in meditation.
Perception is a 2-edged sword. Essential for navigating the world, and highly prone to error. (A good study to undertake: What misperceptions are currently driving your life?)
Over the course of an hour at the art gallery, I guided participants through a "tour" of the body and mind, encouraging people to slow down, drop their habitual ways of seeing themselves, and open to the play of the senses. After a good amount of time to settle in and begin to experience the world more freshly, I asked them to open their eyes and view the art around the room. The pieces are simple, just light and dark and motion. They ask us to join their simplicity, while also serving as temptations for the proliferating mind to build judgments, stories, and ideas.
After today's session, the Development Director who had organized the meditations told me that she had a profound experience upon opening her eyes during the meditation. She suddenly saw the art "without any idea of what I wanted or didn't want. There was no overlay from my own desires."
Exactly. This is the world that meditation opens: The world as it is, not as we want it to be.