Perception & Perspective

The Arnolfini Portrait, 1434, by Jan van Eyck ((c. 1390 – 9 July 1441), a Northern Renaissance artist. The painting is significant for its use of perspective and the 'fourth wall.'
The Arnolfini Portrait, 1434, (detail of head) by Jan van Eyck (c. 1390 – 9 July 1441). See Wikipedia.

Our perceptions are limited – the Universe is not what we think it is. We’ve evolved to sense in certain important (to us) areas of the electromagnetic spectrum in the cases of sound and light and feeling. We have chemical reactions that translate into taste.

By the time our nervous systems process information it is in the past. We don’t experience “now.” Maybe this was the Universe, and maybe it’s sort of like the Universe, but it isn’t the Universe that we experience – not the real thing. It certainly isn’t the truth, except as we see it.


Perspective is another thing that limits us in knowing truth: we only can experience things from within ourselves. Both our current positions and our pasts are unique, and necessarily differ from others.

Discovering truth requires shifting one’s perspective in order to see it from as many sides as possible.

Unfortunately, the more one becomes adept at shifting perspective and perception, and the more knowledgeable, the more likely it is that person will loose the narrow perceptions that we share and be unable to return. This is a risk Faust takes.

Striving for knowledge like Faust involves trying to shift perception and perspective to make new discoveries, new realizations, new comprehensions. It’s a dangerous path to lunacy and exile.

Does Faust really sign a pact with the Devil, or is he really affirming his own dedication to a dangerous pursuit? His pact, like John Dee’s, is with himself: that he will pursue knowledge over all other things – that he will eschew the common things like marriage and children and stable employment and social pleasures and obligations – risk everything in the hope of achieving that elusive epiphany that every Faust-like creature has sought after since the first dim light of realisation that there was something more out there.