Patterns generated by a kaleidoscope.

Image via Wikipedia

There is an entrancing iPhone app called videoscope.  It is a kaleidoscope that uses the phone’s camera to feed colors and patterns to the kaleidoscopic transformer within.  (You can even use your own face as fodder for transmogrification, which is usually grotesque.)  But unlike any traditional kaleidoscope, you can reduce or enlarge the image by “pinching,” just as with other images.  You can also set the whole frame spinning at any speed, which introduces a whole new riot of patterned colors.

To those of us who do find such abstractness captivating, what is it that captivates?  Do our minds just happen to like color and pattern, as our tongues like tastes?

I think there’s more to it than the fun of sensory stimulation.  To explain, consider these descriptions of what I see as I gently move the phone and watch the changing shapes upon the screen:

  • they break apart, then open up, then join hands
  • the little shapes are overtaken
  • symbols of cultures–a star of David, a Moroccan splay of stars & octagons–morph into others
  • hard angularity becomes expansive, turning inside out on itself
  • the contracting space at the tips of 3 triangles sucks itself into itself, then vanishes into nothing, then reappears at the edges, now the container of what had been contained

One need not have the phantasmagoric imagination of Carl Jung to read these descriptions as also applying to soul, that is, to psychological life.

  • In our relationships, we sometimes break apart, then open up, then find our way back together.
  • On a playground, in politics, at the office, “the little ones” may be overtaken.   Power exists everywhere.
  • Cultures are not as distinct as we often assume and as our language sometimes suggests.  When we look beneath the surface of any culture, we always find multiple influences, sometimes from precisely those cultures with which there is tension and conflict.  One tiny example:  Felafel, thought of by many as the signature Israeli food, is itself an Arabic word.
  • Sometimes we feel, act, and even look angular, sharp, harsh, judgmental; then something shifts within us, the shell recedes and the inside comes out.
  • The final image may have sexual associations or a hundred others.

In these ways, the shapes and their transformations in the amazing iPhone kaleidoscope behave as symbols.  The abstractness of shape and color conveys feeling.

Of course this is what music is, with sound.  Sound–when it is organized and patterned–carries emotion.  No accident that sight metaphors are used to describe music:  a chromatic scale, a blue note.  And colors come in tones.

Moods and feelings may be described similarly:  feeling grey, feeling blue, seeing things through rose-colored glasses, “purple prose.”  Feelings exist, and very strongly, though they may be abstract, like tone and color.

Sometimes a person in therapy will say, “I don’t know why I feel this so strongly.  I mean, it [the original experience] wasn’t such a big deal, and it happened 15 years ago!”  It can be very frustrating to feel pushed around by strong feelings that have come unmoored from specific causes.  They are like the cold spots in a lake.  They shift around, surprise us, change us.