Have you ever been looking for your keys and you just can’t find them anywhere? You look where you normally put them. You look in that other place you sometimes put them. You look in the freezer and think, “I wouldn’t put it past me to put them in there.” You look until you’ve exhausted all your options and you give up. A little while later, there they are. You must have looked there three times and didn’t see them. So, you didn’t see them, were they really there? Or did they materialize when you saw them?
It used to happen all the time at the lab. Every sample had a unique identifying number, but we often searched for samples first by the size and shape of the container they normally came in. For instance, if a client often sent their samples in a plastic cube, when I went to look for it, I was looking for a plastic cube. I would go to every cart and look for that container. I would look where the analyst usually put cube containers. Finally, I would give up and go ask someone else to help me find it. Most of the time, they would find the sample right away, because they had no expectations about what the sample container should look like. I couldn’t see it because it was in a Nalgene bottle instead of a plastic cube this time.
Certain philosophical schools and even quantum physics would tell us that an object doesn’t exist outside of our perception of it. I’m not a philosopher nor a physicist, so I don’t know the science behind any of those schools of thought. I could study it if I wanted to, but it’s more fun to simply ponder and puzzle them out on my own.
Why am I talking about this? Because I like macro photography. I like to focus on the tiny details of the plants that often go unnoticed. Or the interesting way a lime looks after I’ve squeezed all the juice out of it. (My physics 101 teacher thought all universities should have a required class on noticing. I agree.) As humans, we like patterns and we like the security of knowing what a flower or a lime looks like. We like that we can all agree that, indeed, that green citrus fruit is a lime. That makes it real. However, what if we look at the parts arranged differently than expected? Or we look at them so closely that we notice the things we’ve never seen before like the tiniest detail on an already tiny plant? Can we be sure what to call it? Does it alter our ability to be absolutely sure that that photo is the plant we trample on every day as we walk across the yard or that, yes, it is a lime and not a macro photo of a flower or even some microorganism that has yet to be identified? And if we’re unsure of what to call it, how can we be sure it exists at all?