What We Can’t See

The new moon is upon us once again.  As I write this post, it is about 6 hours before it will be visible in the western sky provided the sky is not cloudy.

Last month I photographed a new crescent moon that moved through the sky in varying light over a twenty minute period.  As elusive as the new crescent moon is in its own right, making it difficult to see,  some times the camera manges to pickup light that our eye just cannot perceive.

Pictured in the photo below is the new crescent moon of February 3rd, 2011 taken 10 minutes after the photo that was posted in the Rabi Al-Awwal Begins post.  It was a toss up for me as to which photo to actually post for that entry in the journal.  I chose the former due to its sharpness, as the photo below used a shutter speed that was a bit longer than I normally like to use and the moon blurred ever so slightly due its motion in the sky.

The shadow of the Moon

Ghost Moon

However, what fascinated me about this image was that after I had processed the RAW file, I could actually see the entire shadow of the moon in the sky.  There was just enough variation in the light from the moon to be recorded by the digital sensor.  Now this is not unique to digital cameras as I have recorded the shadowed moon on new moon nights before using film, however what is intriguing is the fact that my eyes could not see these subtle variations in the light.

Our eyes do not accumulate light the way a camera does.  As light enters our eyes the cones and rods on the retina become activated and immediately send their impulses down the optic nerve to our brain where in interpret what we “see”.

In contrast a camera opens its shutter to allow light to enter it.  The light hits a piece of film chemically treated to react to light, the longer the shutter is left open the more chemical grains on the surface of the film become activated and retain visual information.  The same is true with digital sensors however in this case the sensor is electrically active and starts to record light as charge build upset up when the photons of light cause current to flow through the micro-sized photo transistors on the digital chip.  The longer the shutter is left open the more charge is built up and interpreted as brighter light. In this manner the camera is able to “see” things in dim light that our eyes can never see.  As long as there is some visible light the camera can record it given enought time while the shutter is open.

Darkness has always been symbolic of mystery, the unknown and all that these ideas bring with them, like fear, terror, evil and so on.  And while there is nothing out there in the dark that does not exist in the day, our inability to see in the dark conjures up fear of the unknown.  Today however, with modern digital camera technology night time photographs have never been easier to make.  And for those brave enough to venture out into the darkness of night to make such photos, we can all marvel and rest assured, there are no monsters in the dark and to know that what we can’t see won’t hurt us.


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Mercy: Day 6 – Shade

For anyone who lives in a region of the world where it is hot, like in a desert, I think it goes without saying that shade there is a great blessing and mercy.  Temperatures in the shade can easily be 20 to 30 degrees cooler than in the sun.

However, I want to look at shade in a different way.  Actually from a different meaning altogether.  If we understand light then we should know that light, pure light, is invisible.  I have mentioned it before in this journal that right now, there is light passing between you and this monitor and you cannot see it.  Likewise, in the total absence of light we can’t see anything either.  Mix the two, pure light and pure darkness and the result is shade.  It is only in the shade that we can actually see.  This mixing produces a spectrum of intensities that range from pure darkness to pure light.  Also, depending on the physical objects basking in this shade, we also see hues of varying color.  Mixed with the intensities, we get all the millions upon millions of possibilities in the visual spectrum that we observe in the world, all of them emanating because of shade.

In spite of the digital nature of Creation, in its continuous flip-flopping between existence and non-existence at the hand of the Sustainer, the resulting interaction of shade produces a continuous spectrum from pure darkness to pure light.  It leaves the heart in awe and the mind in unfathomable perplexity.  At the same time, by permission of The Light, one of the 99 beautiful names of God, we are given a glimpse of this amazing Creation through the mercy of shade.  It leaves me in humble awe every time I look out to see.

Postscript Light

Postscript Light

Till tomorrow, Peace.

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Light is an abstraction.  We can’t see it in its pure form.  It is invisible until it interacts with other objects in creation.  When it does finally interact, it undergoes a transformation within the object it reaches by exciting the very electrons that make up the atoms of the molecules of that very object.  When the electrons calm down, for lack of a better description, they emit new photons of light that are unique to that object.  This is one reason why everything is distinguishable; why the sky appears different than the ground, why a tree appears different from a flower, why you are different from everyone else.

Pure light is invisible and if we were to look into pure light, in its full intensity, we would not only be blinded by its intensity, but we would only see white – that is nothing.  Likewise, in the complete absence of light, pure darkness, we would be blinded as well seeing only black – that is we see nothing. 

Light’s elusiveness prevents us from seeing at the extremes.  However in the middle, there is shade – the mixture of pure light and pure darkness. It is only here that our eyes can see the light and transmit that information to our brain where we can interpret what we see.  But even more amazing is that our brain is in complete darkness.  Light never reaches the actual organ in our head.  What we “see”, the light that reaches our eyes stops right there.  The light is not piped into our brains, only electrical impulses from the optic nerve reach the brain.

In addition to all of this, the objects that we think we “see” are not truly seen at all.  In reality we are only seeing the light that emanates from the objects in creation after they have interacted with pure light, which we cannot see.  So we may never know the true nature of creation.

One final thought – if the brain interprets everything that we perceive through our senses in this vast universe, then it would seem that the vast limitless size of the universe actually only occupies the space contained in our head. 

How’s that for abstraction?


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Reflections abound in our world. No matter where we look we see reflections. The light that that reaches our eyes is merely a reflection, in and of itself, of objects that exist in the world. In fact light, pure light, is invisible to our eyes. There is light streaming between you and the monitor right now as you read this that you cannot see. Light only becomes visible to our eyes after it has interacted with creation. In pure light we are blind and in the absence of light we are blind as well. That reflected light is really nothing more than shade – a mixture of pure light and darkness, and it is only in the shade that we can see. It is in these reflections that we can see all the various shades of color and luminosity. It is in the shade that we can start to understand the world we live in.

Reflections on Pebble Beach

Reflections on Pebble Beach


The sage Muhammad Ibn Al-Habib in his Diwan (a litany of poems sung to melodies) has a couplet in one of the poems that has a meaning translated as “Truly created things are meanings established as images.  Whoever understands this is among the people of discernment.”   For years I struggled with understanding why I would train my camera on a certain scene, why I found a particular arrangement of objects appealing, why sometimes things looked better than normal.  After coming across this couplet, I froze.  I finally understood that the images I captured had meaning in them, and I now had to reflect on those very ‘reflections’ to find out what they meant to me, and possibly what they might mean to anyone else who looked at them.  And while I am not sure yet as to what the photograph that graces this post means yet, I do know that the moments that occurred that evening when this photograph was made followed  a downpour that followed a clap of thunder that followed a brisk cold wind on a gray and dreary day.  And afterwards it was as calm as can be.  I have more reflecting to do.


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