I hesitate to include this here. Though the experience had a rather dramatic quality for me, I suspect it is basically meaningless. It happened a couple of years ago- well literally about 2 years ago now. Really it seems ludicrous but, at the same time, lurking underneath its uncanniness, and that strikes me as an excellent word in this context, there are some interesting perspectives nonetheless.
In the city where I live, off a main road in the north section of that city, we have a Hotel Intercontinental. I have no idea how long the hotel has been there. It has been there a long time. At that time it wasn’t unusual for me to use that road and, depending on the direction I was traveling I could glimpse their logo as it was displayed on the side of their hotel. It wasn’t right on this main drag but it wasn’t far away from it. You can see the logo above and to the right of these words.
How many times I had looked at that hotel and their logo, not thinking twice about it, well I could not say. Many times. One day, for apparently no reason, driving down this road and glancing over at their logo, it appeared different. I saw a ‘leering’ alien face, reminding me of an insect.
Never before had I seen this face when looking at their emblem. As a matter of fact it was startling enough I wondered what in the world was this building I was looking at?! And it wasnt obvious that whatever this logo was supposed to represent had been completely effaced by this strange face… until I realized of course it wasn’t what it seemed to be.. Now it is difficult not to see this insect staring mutely from the side of their hotel.
I had forgotten, until I began to recall this phenomenon, how startled I was, at first, by this image. I remember looking at it several times, trying to decipher what it really was, and in the back of my mind some truly ridiculous notions were bobbing, was this building the embassy of the Schwa elite, was there a coup-de-tat, an incursion by the Grays that had escaped my attention, or have they been here all along, their home away from home here in the very city I reside…? Of course all these ideas are plain ridiculous but the transformation- and I didn’t notice any ‘transformation’ at all, it had never been a trademark for a hotel chain as far as I was concerned when I first noticed the face- only this thing I was looking at- anyway when I first noticed this face it was simply uncanny.
This is obviously a figure-ground reversal phenomenon. Why that day I suddenly saw this face in their logo I don’t know. Why had I never seen it before? Since that time I haven’t been able to shake some of the strange feelings the face seemed to awaken and of course I can no longer look at this image without seeing the face. There is a strange wry, even surreal, humor in all this too that I find appealing and even comforting.
Some related comments from a site with many examples of optical illusions:
“What is an optical illusion? “I know it when I see one”could not be farther off the track – as the best illusions are the ones where a discrepancy from reality is not ‘seen’ until one uses other modalities (eg. touch) or instruments (rulers, light metres). And even when we know that we are subject to an optical illusion, most illusory percepts still persist – a phenomenon called cognitive impenetrability. As Gregory aptly stated it “it is surprisingly hard to define ‘illusion’ in a satisfactory way”. According to the Merriam-Webster Online Collegiate Dictionary, an illusion is
- something that deceives or misleads intellectually; 2. perception of something objectively existing in such a way as to cause misinterpretation of its actual nature.”
I cannot go back to that time when this image was not a face. And of course I cannot see both the face and trademark simultaneously… This is a curious thing… and as the paragraph above mentions it is related to the issue of cognitive impenetrability, as well as Molyneux’s question…
“This question concerns a man born blind, who has learnt by the use of his touch to distinguish spheres from cubes. We suppose him now to gain the use of his sight. And suppose a sphere and a cube to be placed where he can see but not touch them. Will he be able to tell which is the sphere, and which the cube?”
If vision is ‘continuous’ with cognition in the sense of our knowledge ‘penetrating’ and being able to change our vision then the answer to the above question would be yes: the knowledge we have gained through touch would be sufficient to enable us to distinguish the cube from the sphere. On the other hand, and as the question stands today, it seems more probable the answer to the question is no. Though the visual system in general does seem affected by our knowledge and expectations a portion of this system is ‘encapsulated’ and remains unaffected and this portion would include our first knowledge of shapes and figure ground distinctions as well.
So even though I know the trademark is not the face of an alien that knowledge is not sufficient to enable me to simply no longer notice it; the most I can do is flip between these different views.
The First Time
It is interesting that this question seems related to a similar one concerned with seeing things for the first time. The first time we see something we have no categories yet for that thing and impressions of that first time, memories of it, are going to be plagued by that lack, just as afterwards, after a category has been chosen our memories will be affected by the characteristics of that category.
“Since the time that Cheselden published, in 1728, his empirical account of a cataract operation in a patient blind from birth or from infancy, and his observations concerning the patient’s visual perception, theorists as early as Berkeley (1733) have cited cases of recovery from congenital blindness as support for the negative answer to the Molyneux question. After such operations patients are unable to distinguish between objects. Some patients, with the assistance or tutoring of touch, go on to learn to visually distinguish objects; others give up the difficult education of the visual sense, ignore their imperfect vision, and return to the life of a blind person. In the face of this empirical evidence, is it possible to maintain a positive answer?
The problem is that the empirical studies of Molyneux patients are plagued by ambiguities. These are well rehearsed in the literature from La Mettrie (1745) to Oliver Sacks (1995) and involve uncertainties about the timing of onset of blindness, the degree of blindness in cases of cataract, and the confused experience of the patient after the operation. The uncertainties about the empirical data create uncertainties with regard to the negative answer to the Molyneux question.”
The Schwa Conspiracy
The Schwa Conspiracy is something of an artistic tour-de-force. The originator now seems to be in the shadows but the original idea of exploiting the alien image in our culture survives. There are now several sites on the internet trying to revive his use of the image. Of course my discovery of the alien face in the logo of the Hotel Intercontinental is but a small detail in the larger picture of the Schwa Conspiracy.
Marjorie Fish & Mike Clelland
Recently Mike posted something on his site, mostly I think tongue-in-cheek, but also an effort to express something about his state of mind, and because he mentions he may take this posting down I will quote in full:
“During the middle of March I was swallowed up in the obsessive throws of map weirdness. At one point I was on a skype call with my pal Natascha, and my cat walked across my desk and she ended up spilling a full cup of coffee and it splashed all over everything, including some pencil notes on that map.
As I cleaned up the inky mess, I saw that the coffee had splattered quite an compelling array of speckles on the paper with the notes. There was something captivating about the new image. My first reaction was: “Wow, is this looks like a constellation, is this a star map?”
I spent a little bit of time with H.A. Ray’s beautiful book STARS (a book I dearly love) trying to find some correlation to the polka-dots of coffee on that paper.
After a while, I realized that this was a little bit fanatical, even for me.
Please know, I am probably gunna take this post down at some point. I think it’s funny, and there are a few readers who might think so too.
Also – To write this post, I made good use of the thesaurus to find synonyms for the word compulsive. No foolin’ – that map got really intense.”
Now of course this seems pretty ridiculous. What is more ridiculous: seeing a map in some coffee stains, or an alien in a hotel logo? Hmmm… well they don’t seem too far away from each other…. He does include a picture of his napkin:
I will refer you to his posting here.
The coffee stains do have a resemblance to the constellation Cassiopeia but really I think this resemblance is without meaning. And my incident with the alien in the logo I suspect is equally meaningless. But I think it does say something about how ubiquitous just the idea of ‘the alien’ has become.
The whole idea behind ‘the Schwa conspiracy’ is really to play with this idea and even turn it around, co-opting it for a whole array of separate ideas and attitudes that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the connotations this image has acquired in our society. The end result of that co-option throws into stark relief how much power we have given the idea of ‘the alien’.
Marjorie Fish seems like a fitting coda to this sprawling post. Here, from Wikipedia, is the origin of the star map Marjorie Fish ‘identified’:
“In the dream, Betty asked the leader if she could take an artifact from the ship in order to prove the reality of the encounter. The leader let her take a large book whose pages were filled with symbols filled in columns.
She then asked the leader where he and his craft had come from. Betty wrote that, in response, from the wall the leader “pulled down a map, strange to me … It was a map of the heavens” marked with numerous stars and planets. (Clark, 281) There were different types of lines between some of the stars which denoted, she was told, trade and exploration routes. The leader asked Betty if she knew where the Earth was located on the map. Betty responded by saying that she did not, being unfamiliar with the map. The leader then said that because of her ignorance, it was impossible to explain where he had come from.
Betty then suggested that humanity would like to meet other inhabitants of the universe, and tried to persuade the leader to openly announce their presence on Earth. Amid her pleas, the men brought Barney into the room. He seemed to be in a daze.
The men began escorting the Hills from the ship, though an argument broke out amongst the men in the strange language they’d spoken before. The leader then took the large book from Betty. She protested, saying that the book was her only proof of the encounter. The leader said that he personally did not care if she kept the book, but the other men of the ship did not want her to even remember the encounter. Betty insisted that no matter what they did to her memory, she would one day recall the events.”
Later, under hypnosis, she finally drew this map. And later still, in 1968, 7 years after the original encounter, after she had read ‘Interrupted Journey’, Marjorie Fish wondered whether or not, through logic and trial and error, she might be able to identify the stars in this map. Her identification of Zeta Reticuli as the home of the Greys is now, not unlike Roswell, almost an article of faith for many of us.
Initially, like Mike Clelland’s coffee stains, this map looked just like dots on a piece of paper. Here it is:
Just as primitive as Mike Clelland’s coffee stains but, thanks to Marjorie Fish,an entire mythology now surrounds these dots.
The Pleiades and Beyond
It seems that the coffee stains above most closely resemble the constellation of the Pleiades. I will refer you again to Mike’s blog and the ‘addendum’ to his original post. I am flabbergasted at the resemblance. I dont know what else to make of this but a synchronicity in the truest sense of the word, the kind of thing Jung really meant when he referred to the idea; still and all at the same time it seems to be stretching this meaning almost beyond our understanding. His coffee stains seem to take on the nature of hieroglyph, something of undecipherable significance.
There was something more from this rambling post I wanted to follow up on, something about noticing something for the first time. Surely our first communications with something beyond us, our first contacts, will be consumed in the beginning with many illusions, misunderstandings, and false starts…
Just as a blind man attempting to really see for the first time doesnt quite understand what he is seeing. The panorama and vistas available to us will be only a blur to him in the beginning until he fills in the meaning of what he is seeing. I suggest we are filling in that blur… we are still in the groping stage and dont know what we are doing. We have many mistakes to make yet.