I’ve been fortunate to travel throughout the world. The experience has allowed me to understand the interconnectedness of life and to develop my compassion for our common humanity.
These journeys have also taught me that while our minds are quick to see differences, things are often more similar than they appear. Although our sensory apparatus is expert at making discriminations and distinctions, our higher order meaning-making systems are also at work actively seeking a through-line of commonality. These two systems are mutually dependent, the higher order system sorting through the stream of difference data looking for patterns, for unity.
Similarity targets that unity. In preparing this book, I evaluated over 55,000 photographs, most taken during travel in nine countries between 2015 and 2018.
I selected the most promising source images from experiments I made with digital manipulation software I assembled, my “aesthetic engine.” The source images are manipulated by mathematically transforming their coordinate space, resulting in pairs where one is an inverse transform of the other. (The full description of this software would be a book-length essay in itself, but basically it’s a pixel-bending, polar matrix inversion apparatus.)
In the course of this work, I realized that the software is highly sensitive to minute, easily-overlooked aspects of a source image. For example, changes to the precise cropping along an edge, even in one- to four-pixel adjustments, or the geometric relationships of elements, or the proportions between, say, heavy and light areas, or textured areas and open space, all have a dramatic impact on the final images. The images are similar, and yet the images are different, and our mind reaches to understand how and why.
As I sorted through the results of a year’s worth of these manipulations, living with and engaging with them, I noticed some things about how they made me think and feel. I found that if I spent fifteen minutes contemplating the twinned images before bed, I would fall asleep faster and sleep better, as though the contemplation had erased unnecessary patterns leftover from the day. I found it was a bit easier to get along with other people, because I was strengthening the muscle that helps me see situations from multiple perspectives. I found that I could help other people increase their leadership and make better decisions by finding commonalities everywhere they look and improving their ability to hold paradox in mind.
What I found the most rewarding was that contemplating the images both accelerated and amplified my ability to hold the witness-observer perspective. This was incredibly satisfying, and mind-expanding.
When I showed these images to close friends and we discussed their own experience with them, they reported a shift in themselves, too. That’s what made me realize the potential of Similarity. There is a great and peaceful power that comes from looking at an image (or a life situation) and being able to notate the sequence of your mind’s reaction. Becoming aware of and attuned to your own habits of reaction can create enormous flexibility in your responses to the world.
A fruitful way to approach the Similarity images is to give yourself over to them with immersive intent. Let them drift around inside your mind; linger on each pair to observe what emerges. Hold the book closer, then farther away; look at the edges, then concentrate on the center; look outward along the spokes; defocus your eyes; lose yourself; examine the textures; find a triangle; look carefully at a tiny element; search for concentric circles; trace the shapes with your fingers; look for animals or faces; observe the light areas, then the dark; discover subtle symmetries; notice the balance between elements. You might find that even apparently simple images have significant offerings.
When engaged with seriously, attentively, and mindfully, Similarity can encourage your mind to see how it sees.
Hanover, NH, United States