The creation of a coherent environment out of chaotic stimuli is one of the brain’s primary activities. There are no colors in nature, only electromagnetic radiation of varying wavelengths (the visible spectrum is between 390 and 750 nanometers). If we are aware of our “real” visual worlds we would see constantly changing images of dirty gray, making it difficult for us to recognize forms. Our visual stimuli are stabilized when the brain compares the variations in the different wavelengths of light; the consequence of these comparison is what we perceive as “color.” The brain creates a sense of “color constancy”; no matter the lighting conditions—bright sunlight, filtered sunlight, or artificial lighting—colors remain more or less the same. This phenomenon is not fully understood. But colors themselves are not in our surroundings. Brains therefore create something that is not there; and in doing so they help us make sense of our environments.
Rosenfield is concerned with color perception, but the implications are clear: we have little right to talk about “reality” when our notion of it is a creation of our own biology.
In his first Duino Elegy, Rilke writes: “we are not really at home / in the interpreted world”; he’s right, of course. And maybe what we call “modernism” is little more than an expression of the anxiety our “interpreted world” inspires.
Post-modernism? The post-avant? All the other “posts”? They are nothing but an attempt to force upon the reader deeper drafts of contingency. But these writers forget the “real” issue”: we have successfully evolved (to the extent that we can claim success) based on “the creation of a coherent environment out of chaotic stimuli.” Maybe our art should do what our brains have developed to do—”help us make sense of our environments,” that is, to produce ever more useful, more coherent interpretations of the world.