Archives for posts with tag: Perception

As I mentioned before, life is about individual organisms being able to interact with their environment and species being able to evolve as a reaction to what happens in the same environment.

Interaction between environment and individual organisms is based on sensations.
The organism ‘feels’ itself and its environment and (re)acts  based on the gathered information.

The (re)action ca be very basic – as in voluntarily abstaining from breathing when submerged in water, to utterly sublime. Writing a love poem or saving a toddler from a burning house.

Please note that only writing a love poem ‘demands’ a human being. Abstaining from breathing while under water comes naturally for all animals which don’t have gills while saving a toddler from a burning house can be very well ‘performed’ by a dog.

I mentioned earlier that (re)actions can be grouped in three large categories. ‘Mechanical’, ‘learned’ and ‘self-supervised’, a.k.a intentional.

The ‘mechanical’ ones being those also known as ‘instinctive’. They are practically inscribed in our DNA and constitute our default mode. None of us – plant, animal or human, needs any training whatsoever in order to ‘perform’ them.

The ‘learned’ – or ‘trained’, (re)actions are those which depend heavily on past experience. They start from the same kind of sensations as the instinctive ones but the organism takes the time to transform the sensation into a perception before (re)acting.
A very good example would be riding a bike. A child can learn to do it well before becoming able to entertain such complicated notions as ‘destination’ or ‘goal’. They are simply happy to do it. Same thing being valid for trained circus dogs or monkeys.

The really tricky (re)actions are the ‘intentional’ ones. Those which are performed under self supervision. Of which we are, at least perfunctorily, aware.

‘OK, very nice recap. You’ve already covered this ground. Get to the point!’

I’ve already reached it.
According to this ‘scheme’, given the fact that we pretend to be rational and that we all live in the same world, all of us should behave more or less in the same manner. Right?

‘Like bees? Or ants? Like a school of fish?’

Yeah, something along that line…

‘Or like Pol Pot/B.F. Skinner tried to teach their respective followers?’

You’re stretching it a little bit but yes, you could say that …

‘But this ain’t happening! Not even the most bigoted followers of any cult nor even the most disciplined soldiers will ever behave in such a manner…’

I told you we’d already reached ‘the point’! You made it yourself…

And here’s why:

Yes, we all live in the same world.
More or less…

But we shouldn’t forget the differences!

Biological ones come first.
Those which make each of us feel differently, even when all of us experience the very same conditions. Temperature, time past from the last meal, elevation from the sea level, etc., etc.

On top of those come the ‘social’ differences.
In this instance ‘social’ has a far wider meaning than in everyday life. Yes, there is a huge difference between individuals belonging to different social strata but that’s only a small part of what I have in mind.
‘Social’ differences means all differences consecutive to the ‘mere’ existence of human society.
Let’s make a thought experiment and evaluate the ‘social’ differences between a guy born in what we now call France some 20 000 years ago and another guy born in the same place 2 000 years later. What do you reckon?
OK. Now let’s consider a Frenchman born in 1920 – two years after the end of the WWI, and his son, born in 1947. Would it make any sense to compare the two sets of differences? Those between the conditions encountered by the two prehistoric guys separated by two almost inconsequential millennia and those encountered by the father and son born 27 years apart in the XX-th century?
Or we could compare a native of the Amazonian forest to a New Yorker. Both born in, say, 1999. Statistics have it that the Amazonian native might already be dead…

Small wonder then that perceptions are so different from one individual to another… given that individual perceptions depend on both our senses and our individual experiences – which, in their turn, depend heavily on where and when each of us have been born.

Right now I feel the need to insist on the difference between sensation and perception.
Sensation being, simply put, what we feel while perception is what reaches our conscious mind.

‘What?!?’

Yeah…  strange, isn’t it?
Let’s return to ‘riding a bike’ for a moment.
It was a big moment when your dad removed the ‘helper’ wheels and you soloed for the first time, right? Just as big as when you walked for the first time… only you can’t remember that, do you?…
You were paying very close attention to everything you were doing… while your father kept telling you ‘relax, you’ll be fine’…
And now – if you’re still riding, of course, you do it instinctively. You pay attention only to where you’re going, without bothering about maintaining the balance or other ‘mundane’ things like that. The whole process takes place ‘behind the scene’. It was you who had learned what to do. Consciously, of course. Only once learned, the whole ‘thinking process’ was moved ‘to the attic’. Out of the way, that is.
There are a lot of things which are done in this manner. Subconsciously and not unconsciously. Riding bikes, driving cars, operating machinery… perceiving the world…
We learn how to do it – according to some rules which depend on our culture, and then we continue to do it subconsciously. For all our lives or until something happens. For instance, until we move to a country where they drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. And we have to learn some new rules…

Otherwise put, ‘perceiving’ means subconsciously making sense of what we feel by using some previously acquired ‘rules of thumb’. Those who specialize in this field use ‘heuristics’ to describe them.
The problem with the rules of thumb being that they can very easily become ‘cognitive biases’. A.k.a. ‘fences’ which divert us from the ‘straight and narrow’. As in the situation when some of us feel uneasy in the presence of an unknown person with a different skin color.

‘But what happens when consciousness kicks in?’

I thought you’d never ask…

It depends.
On many things. Both ‘social’ and individual.
On the education experienced by each particular individual, on their ‘brain power’ and, last but not least, on something vaguely called ‘individual character’. Something which some people are convinced it can be educated, one way or another, while others are convinced it is ‘hard wired’ into each of us.
If you ask me, both are right. In various, individual, degrees. Character has as much to do with how each of us have internalized their particular experiences as it has with how much ‘spiritual stamina’ exists into each of our souls.

On the practical side of the matter, after each perception reaches the frontier of our consciousness, each of us starts digesting it in earnest. As in attributing ‘value’ to it. Determining whether what has just happened was a consequence of an intention or a happenstance.  Then whether that intention was good or bad. And, finally, the ‘judging’ consciousness establishes a plan of action.  Which can vary from ‘do nothing’ to ‘no holds barred’.

Which explains why no two people will ever react in exactly the same manner when confronted with the very same set of circumstances. There are no two individuals who feel exactly the same, have been exposed to the very same cultural influences AND internalized them in exactly the similar manner. Nor have exactly similar characters and amounts of brain-power.

But what was Mathew trying to tell us?
I’m afraid we are dealing  here with a badly translated metaphor.
‘Poor in spirit’ doesn’t make much sense… unless we consider it an attempt to dull our senses… which may make some sense in certain circumstances…
Only I’m more interested here to determine what Mathew tried to say rather than to interpret the intentions of those who had done the translation. And of those who had, manually, copied the many successive generations of Bibles which had been produced until Gutenberg had, for the first time, printed it in many identical copies.
So, the way I see it, Mathew was speaking of those who are able to stop their conscious mind from building far-flung ‘scenarios’ out of everything that happens to them. Or in their vicinity.

Very similar to the Buddhist concept of ‘non-attachment’?

Well… we do live in the same world, after-all… and we have been ‘made’, more or less, ‘the same’.
We might not be identical, nor having had the very same experiences during our lives… but we do have a lot in common. Despite our differences.

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Being alive means being able to interact with the environment.

In various manners.
From the prosaic – ingesting food and… you know what I mean, to the sublime – what ever that means for each of us.

Including the ‘prosaic’,  our reactions to whatever ‘inputs’ challenge us from our exterior, a.k.a. environment, are based on what we feel. And this is valid for all living things, no matter how simple or how complex. All of us have different manners in which we get information about what’s ‘outside’ and react to what we find out.

‘Not all reactions have been born equal’…
Plants react differently from animals, insects react differently from fish, reptiles from mammals, humans differently from all others, men differently from women…

Yet there is some order in all this complexity.
Reactions can be classified into three large categories. Mechanical, learned and intentional, a.k.a. ‘self supervised’.

All of us pull our hands when we touch a red hot iron. Or at least tend to…
All of us, grown-ups, have learned to swallow the sip of too hot coffee we have carelessly took. If in public, of course…
And, sometimes, the brave among us go, ‘barehandedly’, into a burning house in order to save those inside. Knowing that they might get hurt. Knowing that fame is short lived but a scar is forever. Knowing that any attempt to save someone’s children might end up leaving some other children without at least one of their parents.

You see, the mechanical reactions are the same all over the living world. They are inbred into our own nature/DNA and are meant to help each individual to survive and thus preserve the species to which it belongs. Furthermore, the mechanical reactions are based solely on sensations, hence their ‘mechanical’ nature. A certain input elicits one, and only one, response. A hot iron elicits a drawn hand… or, at least, a huge amount of attention.

For a reaction to become ‘learned’, ‘somebody’ has to transform a sensation into a perception. To remember a past experience, to compare it with the present and to react more or less in the same manner.
Without necessarily/actually ‘thinking’ about the matter.
In fact, no brain is even needed for this.

“It isn’t an animal, a plant, or a fungus. The slime mold (Physarum polycephalum) is a strange, creeping, bloblike organism made up of one giant cell. Though it has no brain, it can learn from experience, as biologists at the Research Centre on Animal Cognition (CNRS, Université Toulouse III — Paul Sabatier) previously demonstrated. Now the same team of scientists has gone a step further, proving that a slime mold can transmit what it has learned to a fellow slime mold when the two combine.”

Credit: Audrey Dussutour (CNRS)blob learning

But, now that we’ve discovered that even some of the most simple life forms can learn – and ‘teach’, can we pretend that any of them are driven by intentions?

Or these are reserved for us, the most ‘evolved’ of the animals? The only ones not only able to ‘observe ourselves in the act of observing‘ but also able to share the observations  with their peers.

The only ones able to devise both goals and ways to attain them. The only ones – or so we like to pretend, able to imagine and compare various scenarios about the future…

Then why are we still killing each-other? Hating each-other’s guts? Take advantage of our ‘peers’, whenever we see the opportunity?

What good does any of us see in this?
Don’t we ‘see’ the harm we cause in others?
Haven’t we ‘learned’ anything from our history?

 

Farfetched?

Somebody was asking the other day on Facebook “how can you prove that a table doesn’t exist?”
The answer, ‘walk through the place where that table is supposed to stand’ is so obvious that it hurts.

So, was that table real or not?

You see, a table may exist in two kind of places. In a store/room/backyard and in the imagination/memory of the guys who designed/made/owned it. It can remain ‘in storage’ long after it was forgotten by everybody and/or can be remembered long after it was destroyed.
A tree, on the other hand, can exist – and die, without anybody ever noticing it. Or could have been lovingly planted and taken care of by somebody. Who might die even before the tree ever reaching maturity…

But how can any of us determine whether a table, or a tree, is real or not?

By attempting to walk through it, and hurting ourselves, we only determine that there’s something there. Not at all that we’d hurt ourselves by hitting a tree or a table…

OK, there’s yet another possibility.

reality figment

Dr. Pierce – who, by the way, was produced by the imagination of a screen-writer, reminds us that neurologically there’s no way of telling apart a dream/nightmare/vision from a ‘legitimate’ perception.

So.
Then it would be possible for whatever each of us perceives on a daily bases to be nothing but some-kind of an elaborate multidimensional movie. Or prank. Played on each of us by some extremely bored ‘arcade operator’. Or by a lab-technician performing some kind of an experiment… In this scenario all other people each of us has ever met would be nothing but characters imagined by the guy who had written the script/devised the experiment…
A slightly different scenario would be that our planet (the whole world?) is a theater, we are the spectators and most of what we perceive is the movie which is played on (for?) us. In this variation we are free to speak amongst us (discuss the movie?) and this would be the explanation for why our perceptions are coordinated so well. After all, all English speakers use the same word for table/tree and most of us are able to differentiate between a table and a chair. Or between a tree and a weed…

Or we could take a completely different road!
There’s a guy, Humberto Maturana, who has reached the conclusion that most humans are not simply aware but also aware of their own awareness. And that this is what really makes us human.
In fact, his ideas make a lot of sense. A dog is aware. If house trained, it will not pee inside and most of them are able to differentiate between their owners and some strangers. But it takes a fully functional human being to step outside of themselves and examine their actions/status.

Without this very self awareness, none of us would be considering ‘reality’. We’d simply walk around the table/tree or directly through the clear space and never waste a second considering whether the table/tree is real.

Or what reality really is.

In this scenario, reality is more like a table than like a tree.
It resembles a tree in the sense that it existed long before any of us ever thought about it and it is like a table in the sense that in order to consider it we need to imagine it first.

Reality exists.
In both scenarios and along both roads. It doesn’t matter whether in the first one we are fed fake sensations and led to believe whatever the screen writer wants us to believe. In order to do that, the screen writer has to exist in the first place. We also have to exist, otherwise there wouldn’t be anyone to watch the movie!
OK, maybe what we perceive has nothing to do (very little?) to the real reality. But that doesn’t mean that a certain reality doesn’t exist at all. Even in the first scenario.

Coming back to the second road, we cannot pretend that OUR reality exists outside us.
Yes, there is a reality – THE reality, which lurks somewhere outside our reach.
What we’re able learn from it, and all we’ll ever be able to learn, is what we’ll be able to imagine first.

Think of it. What do we do when we come across something new?
First we try to classify it among our memories. In fact we try to remember whether we already have a word for it. One imagined by one of our ancestors.
If not, we imagine one ourselves.
And only then we can proclaim that the new thing has been discovered. That it has become ‘real’.

 

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