Fragrances and droodles to satisfying curiosity and opening the mind
What is essential is invisible to the eye.
“What is essential is invisible to the eye”: this famous phrase from The Little Prince - the masterpiece by Antoine de Saint-Exupery - can also be the synthesis to quickly understand the power of fragrances and their evocative force which allow us to access the knowledge of our inner self and of the world through emotions.
If we paraphrase the sentence in full, we could certainly state that: “You only manage to see well with the heart (and with the nose). What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
The profound teaching of such words is that we are the sole creators of our world, of everything we see and of all those with whom we come into contact every day. Thus, even via the invisible action of fragrances, new sensations and ancient memories are mixed in the silence of our inner self to create our future for which we are, or should be, always fully responsible.
If, as it happens for the sense of smell with fragrances, everything we see in the visible world is created from the invisible world - Visibilia Ex Invisibilibus, as they used to say once upon a time - also as regards to the sense of sight, the power of imagination and interpretation of many drawings and graphic signs is large.
The sense of smell, the oldest sense from an evolutionary standpoint, and the sight, the one most utilized and through which we obtain up to 80 percent of all information and perceptions, are an invisible and essential key to decode reality and make sense of the world world around us.
Visualizing the signs and exercising our own imagination by interpreting the different messages they convey to us is an important exercise like the one of exploring, by means of the sense of smell, the most diverse fragrances to intuit and make resonate within us what they want to communicate.
This is the case of the droodles that appear to the eye as small scribbles, sort of little abstract drawings with multiple meanings.
Just those who created them can perceive their true essence. Each droodle the term is the result of the union of doodle (scribble) and riddle (puzzle) is accompanied by a single implicit question: “What is it?”, and usually by one or more ironic answers which induce the observer to nearly see their obviousness: “How did I not think about it?”
They appear nonsensical at first glance but, slowly, they take on a more or less clear meaning in our mind... most of the time it will be trivial, however, our neurons will manage to bring out the more bizarre and disparate ideas with a bit of effort and training.
Unfortunately, and yet luckily, the moment we discover their true meaning, we will no longer be capable to perceive it differently and this will be so obvious and indelible as to reinforce the magic, even if it will make vanish much of everything we had previously imagined.
The origins are long-lasting and a first example comes from the Italian Renaissance, with the droodle of a blind beggar around a corner, the work of the painter Agostino Carracci (1557-1602). But the widest diffusion of droodles occurs only from the second half of the last century, by the hand of the American Roger Price (1918-1990), one of the founders of the US publishing house Price Stern Sloan that issued the book Murphy's Law. When Simon & Schuster published Price’s Droodles in 1953 achieving resounding success, the volume launched a droodle craze fueled by a series of college newspaper ads offering cash prizes for droodles created by college students. In 1954, Price also hosted a Droodles television game show with panelists Marc Connelly, Denise Lor, and Carl Reiner. Over the years, many of the drawings (minus the author's droll commentary) have been reprinted in collections such as Classic Droodles. One of Price’s original droodles serves as the cover art for 1982 album Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch by Frank Zappa.
The resolution of those puzzles would not be possible without an innate tendency of the human brain: pareidolia (from the Greek εἴδωλον - eídōlon, ‘image,’ with the prefix παρά - parà, ‘alongside’), that is the subconscious illusion with which known figures are associated with random shapes. It is an innate human tendency to impose meaning on ambiguous forms. Just think about the primordial drawings of small children, the scribbles we make while talking on the phone or listening to a boring speaker, about the deeper abstraction by famous artists, the constellations, the pattern of the clouds flying over us.
Ancient stimuli and modern suggestions
This innate ability is probably due to the need our prehistoric ancestors had to recognize a potential predator camouflaged among nature: being able to connect a few visible elements to identify a ferocious animal was necessary for the survival of the species.
In the long evolutionary process, the world around us, full of all kinds of stimuli, has induced the human mind to unconsciously create and implement a data archive such as to provide an answer for each question in the shortest possible time. This processing “from bottom to top” (bottom-up processing) with which we collect information on reality, if influenced by personal and socio-cultural expectations, is reversed by going “from top to bottom” (top-down processing). And it is thanks to such phenomenon that we manage to cope with the apparent lack of sense of lines and shapes, the basic ingredients of droodles. By assigning them pre-filled labels, everything will turn out to be more familiar and the puzzle will be solved.
This is how a simple whim of the imagination can boast infinite keys to the interpretation, amusing young and old. The droodle is something more than an infographic: it is an abstract graphic enigma capable of satisfying curiosity and opening the mind.
Although it is a congenital ability in human beings, the type of objects identified depends a great deal on previous experiences and personal visual culture as well. It is no coincidence that faces of divinities or charismatic characters appear on walls, trees, soleplates of flat irons and even slices of toast only to particularly religious people.
In practice, we often see what we want to see...
Based on what we recognize in a stain we may therefore also understand something about our personality. It is on the basis of such principle that the Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach defined a test - bearing his name - where the observer must describe which images she/he recognizes in ten symmetrical inkblots.
It is not just a hat
Back to The Little Prince and to the illustrations drawn by Antoine de Saint-Exupery himself, his droodle of “a hat,” which is in effect “a snake that ate an elephant,” is famous.
This droodle is for the little protagonist of the story a test to recognize the affinity with the people he meets and thus have the opportunity to deeply connect with them: “[..] I have been in touch, throughout my life, with all kinds of serious people. I have spent a lot of time with grown-ups. I have seen them at very close quarters which I’m afraid has not greatly enhanced my opinion of them.
Whenever I met one who seemed reasonably clear-sighted to me, I showed them my drawing No 1, which I had kept, as an experiment. I wanted to find out whether he or she was truly understanding. But the answer was always: ‘It’s a hat.’ So I gave up mentioning boa constrictors or primeval forests or stars. I would bring myself down to his or her level and talk about bridge, golf, politics and neckties. And the grown-up would be very pleased to have met such a sensible person.”
From appearance to substance
The reflections of The Little Prince are an invitation to train our gaze so to grasp the invisible by way of defusing our reason which mechanically draws its own conclusions and issues its own rigorous judgments based exclusively on the evidence of an appearance. And it is on the latter that we then quickly build opinions, attitudes, relationships and the same consideration we have of ourselves and others.
Too often, everyday life takes us away from our deepest dimension.
A “new game” could then be to let the imagination run wild by observing a droodle, perhaps smelling a special fragrance.
To know oneself through the senses in order to know the world.
Our states of mind, our moods, our thoughts will shape the world and the events and the people we will meet on the outside, by learning to know ourselves we will then learn to predict what may happen to us and to modify future events.
A difficult goal? Maybe. All the same, beyond the psychological implications, it is decidedly fun to try to recognize as many images as possible in the objects and fragrances surrounding us: it is a simple and effective exercise in creativity, no doubt inexpensive and suitable for any age.
Let’s give it a try!
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