Subconscious observation

Gombrich shows in Art and Illusion that painters achieve the illusion of “realism” (accurate representation of visual experience) by learning techniques that take advantage of the viewer’s visual instincts, especially his need to make some familiar sense of what he sees; they don’t do it by “painting what they see” with an “innocent eye.” For subtlety of seeing, then, we might look more to a tracker (see Rezendes 1999) than to a painter. In a similar vein, Peirce remarked that the “character sketches” usually found in successful novels are not particularly subtle compared to the observations of a truly skilled reader of people.

But then it is to be remembered that the first and most genuine element of observation,—the subconscious observation,—was not the principal task of those literary artists. What they mainly had to do was to translate observations into words,—and to draw character sketches which the not too fine reader would recognize as agreeing with his own subconscious impressions.

— Peirce (RLT, 184)

The role of the reader, then, is to play along, which she can’t really do if she takes ‘too fine’ an interest in the details of the artist’s work. That would be a reader’s error comparable to the error of premature precision in dialogic. In both cases, these are errors because the ‘subconscious element of observation,’ as Peirce called it, is far ‘finer’ than the crude models consciously made.

That subconscious element of observation is, I am strongly inclined to think, the very most important of all the constituents of practical reasoning. The other part of observation consists in moulding in the upper consciousness a more or less skeletonized idea until it is felt to respond to [the] object of observation. This last element is quite indispensable if one is trying to form a theory of the object in hand, or even to describe it in words; but it goes a long way toward breaking down, denying, and pooh-poohing away, all the fineness of the subconscious observation. It is, therefore, a great art to be able to suppress it and put it into its proper place in cases where it attempts impertinent intermeddling. Do not allow yourself to be imposed upon by the egotism and conceit of the upper consciousness.

— Peirce (RLT, 182-3)

Perhaps ‘the fineness of the subconscious observation’ is the ‘implicit intricacy’ of which Gendlin speaks. This may not be a way out of the ego tunnel, but it can bring some light into it.

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