“We shape our tools and then they ape us.”

The quote is from Father John Culkin, SJ, a Professor of Communication at Fordham University with modification from his friend Marshall McLuhan. Embodied in the sentence is the (extremely) condensed version of what Thomas Kuhn wrote in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. How we choose to look at something will determine what we will see. Our tools create for us our imaginative view of the world. Our mental constructs will let us work with a world that is manageable instead of an endless source of unrelated sensory experience. (A world that is “sensible.”)

The quote holds true at the practical level as Eric Kim tells us in a blog article on what he learned about street photography from Joel Meyerowitz; Eric Kim’s blog piece on Joel Meyerowitz.  It seems that Meyerowitz spent some time with an 8 by 10 view camera. Rather than changing the way one does the same photography the end result is that the radically different tools change the way one views the world. (Meyerowitz is best known for his street photographs using a hand-held Leica.) And so it goes for whatever way we wish to conceptualize the world around us, whether the concepts are religious, political, or foundational doctrine from a particular area of scientific inquiry.

image from http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2014

image from http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2014

Eric Kim’s blog explains this point very well and you can get through it in a lot less time than Thomas Kuhn’s book and with a lesser requirement for grounding in the physical sciences and mathematics.

Kurt Friedrich Gödel let us know (by extension) that our world view cannot be both consistent and complete.  It is important, then, to understand what tools and concepts we are using when we try to make sense of the world.

I suggest taking the time to read the Eric Kim blog. It is about more than just street photography. It’s a good philosophical tract done under the title of 12 Lessons Joel Meyerowitz Has Taught Me About Street Photography.

 

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