I was watching a segment of some MSNBC political show where host/analyst Steve Kornacki was doing his favorite thing: creating completely unnecessary visual aids for the audience to follow along. In this case, he was drawing on a map of Ohio to delineate voting districts. He drew a square over one and then two adjacent ovals to show another two. The ovals connected to the square at such angles that a picture formed, immediately recognizable to me as two eyes and a nose. If he’d added a semi-circle below the square, we’d have a cartoon face, no question.
We do this all the time, right? Find faces that aren’t there? We see them in the clouds; they leap out at us from topography. How many pieces of toast has Jesus inhabited?
Finding faces where they are not is deeply engrained in us. Why that is isn’t the focus of this piece. I’m sure science has figured out that we look for faces because back before we learned how to annihilate predators and block them out with solid housing, we were on the lookout for their eyes hiding in bushes and trees. Or something along those lines. But that’s not important to us. To us, that’s just the excuse.
The deeper reason is that we are hardwired to create psychological time. To recognize faces in patterns is to conjure images of the past to look toward the future This is how deeply engrained the problem of becoming the timeless 1st-person point of view of oneness is for us. How hard is it to see through time when you are creating time on all apparent levels of your being?
If I’m not allowing myself to see what’s actually there in this tiny, basic, TV screen way—two ovals and a square—but am creating a picture to engage with imaginarily, how can I have any downtime where… well… time is down?
Creating a face in my mind’s eye is drawing on the past to create something to see, which I engage with mentally and/or emotionally, if only for a brief few moments. If only to giggle at the cartoon. In this case, the face wasn’t fully formed. The “eyes” didn’t have “pupils” and there was no “mouth.” I filled those in in my head. I whipped up a half-formed creation of mind by drawing on the past to unnecessarily fill in the blanks, which got me thinking about what could be. I created a movement of time even while zoning out on the couch in front of the television. I created an interaction with the television that was completely one-sided: I made an imaginary second side—a cartoon person, as if Steve Kornacki isn’t cartoon person enough. This was neither the point of his display nor the reason I was watching. It just happened. Naturally. Unconsciously.
And this, by the way, describes how we meet each other every day. We are nothing if not caricatures to one another patched together from our personal and cultural pasts. Especially Steve Kornacki. What’s up with that guy? He talks to us like we’re in kindergarten.
Come to think of it, he might be onto something.