Tuesday, December 7, 2010

First attempt at a taxonomy of invisibility

In my personal world model there are many different kinds of invisibility. All of them are interesting. All of them are worthy of research. Each one hides interesting discoveries:

Things that are in plain view but are passively overlooked:

graffiti, paving structures, chimneys, numbers on lampposts.

Things that are in plain view but are actively ignored:

litter, garbage tins, dog shit, beggars and homeless people.

Things that are out of view:

underground cables, pipes, drains, alleys, back-sides of buildings.

Phenomena that are out of view:

ground water levels, geologic strata, the Mohorovicic discontinuity.

Things that have disappeared into history - but are still present in memory - more or less:

ice age soil structures, settlement history, vanished buildings, the snow of yesteryear (Jacques Villon).

Phenomena too faint for the human senses:

gravity variations, magnetic deviations.

Phenomena that are outside the scope of the human senses

infra-red light, ultraviolet, infrasound, supersonics, radio waves.

Things that happen while you are elsewhere:

wild animals that roam the city streets unnoticed while you sleep, the car crash that happened just around the corner.

Things that exist but are too big or abstract to see:

the power- and economic structures that determine how a city grows, the global economy. (Like the names on maps that are too big to notice. (E.A. Poe)).

Things that are kept hidden on purpose:

crime, espionage, corruption, fraud.

Things that exist only in fiction - but can be imagined at a specific spot:

site an itinerary descriptions in literature (Malte Laurids Brigge), mentions of real places in fictional accounts (Rotterdam is mentioned in V by Pynchon and the Demon Princes series by Jack Vance).

Personal memories:

the site of the first kiss, the sites that remember what I played on my mp3-player when I was there once.

Paranormal phenomena:

ghosts, EVP, the "stone tape" hypothesis.

Each of these modes of invisibility can be used to experience the city in a new inspiring way. Each one should be tried - at least once.

I am fully aware that his is not a proper taxonomy. But it is workable starting point. Feel free to add your own items.


  1. Apparently some people can see infra red light

  2. Two other categories:

    > Things that are there, but have already been experienced before they were seen. (Could be considered a subset of the first category, though)

    This sentence contains a
    a simple syntactic error.

    > Things that are experienced without being there.

    This sentence as well.

  3. Thanks for the comments!

    > Things that are there, but have already been experienced before they were seen.
    Like the "invisible gorilla"? This is something that I know little about (yet).

    > Things that are experienced without being there.
    Like "delusions"? A fascinating subject!

    In my "old news project" I have found another invisible phenomenon that I don't know where to fit (yet):

    > Censorship

  4. The invisible gorilla is spot on, but I don't recognize the delutions, but for example the given sentence missing a verb, which is hardly considered a syntactic error anymore.

    Where would you classify something you will hardly know: the contents of an unread book?

    And what's wrong with placing censorship under "kept hidden on purpose"?

  5. Just stumbled upon this:

    Relevant categories:
    - Invisible to the eye of a child?
    and more importantly:
    - Invisible to the grown up eye?

  6. Nice! I got a few new ones:
    - invisible because your brain operating system processes it and filters it out before the "me" program notices it
    - invisible because the time scale is too slow to notice the change: erosion, sedimentation, tree growth

  7. > invisible because your brain operating system processes it and filters it out before the "me" program notices it

    That one seems too easy, but it might be in the top of the taxonomy-tree. It includes invisible gorilla, passive filtering, and almost all the eyesight where the brain does not focus because there is not enough change to ask for attention.

    Another example that I just thought of for the "experienced without being there": the loud sounds a clock makes when it just stopped ticking.

    What to do with security people that have to watch 30+ screens at once or for a prolonged period and, as a result, don't see anything? Invisibility because the brain shut itself down?

    Where would you put things like 3d stereograms? (for example http://www.eyetricks.com/3dstereo.htm - McAfee reports the site as safe, but there might be some invisible danger there)

  8. Thanks! I will try to build a good binary taxonomy someday in the future, but I need to gather more ideas first. Your ideas certainly help.

    After hearing the Radiolab podcast (recommended) on "Time":
    - phenomena that happen too slowly for us to notice (drying paint)
    - or too quickly (hummingbird wings).

    - the shapes formed by the objects we see, but not the inside contour, but the outside contours, the shapes between the objects (from the otherwise horribble book by Paolo Virilio - and Carlos Castaneda mentions it too)