Category:Perception

From Key Point Dialog

Jump to: navigation, search

Since we cannot perceive the changes (in ourselves, in our environment) which happen very slowly, both extinction-threatening hazards and spectacular self-improvement possibilities may remain invisible to us if they are governed by slow rate of change phenomena.

This means that we have more than blind spots in our vision - we have whole blind ranges.

This also means that we should be ready to be surprised: The true picture of what is good for us and what is not may turn out to be entirely different than what we now believe, as soon as we also take into consideration the long-term factors.

If we are indeed 'growing downwards', as Norwegian poet Rolf Jacobsen said it, would we notice that?

Here is how I see a possible future scenario: When we properly understand this peculiarity of our vision, we become aware that we need 'correcting eye glasses', i.e. suitable information which can show us what we don't see and correct our perspective (idea of the whole, and in particular of proportions). Information design is developed as an informing which can respond to this need. The perspective of wellbeing is of central concern in information design.

Here is how I described this issue of perception in "A Polyscopic Study of a Basic Cultural Pattern", where convenience paradox has been introduced:

Perception and Change

It is easy to see that perception is related to change: We perceive only that which changes in time or in space. Perception is best when the rate of change is within a certain interval which is determined by the sensitivity of our senses. When the rate of change is outside of that interval, either much faster of much slower, perception becomes impossible: slower changes are eliminated by habit, while the faster ones are filtered out by the coarseness and the inertia of our sensory organs.

The existence of the rate-of-change interval of perception is essential for the functioning of our senses for the following reason: while on a very small scale (both in time and in space) physical phenomena exhibit highly irregular behavior (called 'random', 'Brownian' or 'thermic'), in the scale where our perception is best the irregularities cancel out to reveal far more regular 'average' aspects of physical reality.

In his essay "What is Life?" Erwin Schroedinger explains this phenomenon on the example of the movement of a fog in a glass jar. While each individual fog particle bounces up and down randomly, together (as fog) the particles are seen as sinking gradually downward. Schroedinger concludes:

This example shows what funny and disorderly experience we should have if our senses were susceptible to the impact of a few molecules only. There are bacteria and other organisms so small that they are strongly affected by this phenomenon. Their movements are determined by the termic whims of the surrounding medium; they have no choice.

Because of the coarseness and slowness of our eyes we are able to perceive regularity in the midst of irregularity:

If it were not so, if we were organisms so sensitive that a single atom, or even a few atoms, could make a perceptible impression on our senses--Heavens, what would life be like! To stress one point: an organism of that kind would most certainly not be capable of developing the kind of orderly thought which, after passing through a long sequence of earlier stages, ultimately results in forming, among many other ideas, the idea of an atom.

A physicist has indeed good reasons to appreciate how finely our senses are tuned to perceiving the regularity in physical nature. The rate-of-change interval of perception there works for our benefit. But that may not always be the case. It is easy to see that there are phenomena which affect us profoundly but whose rates of change lie outside this interval.

We don't see a tree grow. All living beings including ourselves grow at a similarly slow rate. Our bodies, our abilities, our health, our wellbeing, our characters and our happiness all grow or decay slowly. We can neither see them grow or decay, nor can we see directly what causes them to grow or decay and orient our actions accordingly.

It is therefore conceivable that we too, like bacteria, may be adversely affected by the existing rate-of-change interval of our senses. We may be tossed up and down by random daily events, unable to perceive slow regular trends concealed behind them. By Reacting to the comfort and discomfort caused by the senses we may fail to become aware of a greater freedom of choice which may be inherent in the human situation.

Perhaps if we could ignore the momentary ups and downs and orient our actions towards slow and stable change, inconceivable possibilities would open up for us. What has been called wisdom nay indeed be not much more than such a prediscposition of the mind. Perhaps the so-called supernatural abilities of martial artists and yogis and countless others are saccessible to all humans who are able to make a simple attitude change and cultivate their vitality.

Possibilities may be hidden from us by the limited rate-of-change interval of our perception, but so may dangers. Those dangers did not matter much during the long history of humankind because nature had so much more power than the humans. Nature was able to correct our mistakes. But now our mistakes may matter. All sorts of degenerative trends might be allowed to develop which one would perhaps immediately notice if one would fall asleep and wak up a century later. But given the limitations of our perception, the quality of our natural and socio-cultural environment as well as our own wellbeing may deteriorate at a slow rate without us taking notice.

A social scientist with enough wisdom to see those trends would have much less reason to be pleased by our senses than a physicist. As Gregory Bateson put it,

it's like a frog in a saucepan of cold water. If its temperture is raised so slowly that at no moment is there a sufficient doc/dt [temperature change per second] to activate his neurons, he does not jump. There is no marker to tell him when to jump. He gets boiled. He just wasn't that much alife. I hate to tell you what this reflects upon our society.

Pages in category "Perception"

This category contains only the following page.

C

Personal tools