Perception vs Interpretation

I’m learning to draw, and the hardest part of drawing has little to do with the mechanics. Other than learning to use the shoulder more than the wrist or elbow. Nope, to unlock skills in drawing the key is seeing what’s there. Which I naively assumed I was already doing. I was wrong.

This has deeper implications than art but art is proving a visceral way of understanding it.

Perception and interpretation are deeply intertwined. This can be easily demonstrated by any number of optical illusions. Rather than seeing what’s there our brains reform perception to expectations based on habitual cues. It takes shortcuts, in other words.

When trying to draw something the brain seems to identify, categorize and abstract in ways such that we’re no longer looking at outlines, contours, shading and color. Even simple things, like a chair. Or our hands. In fact, it takes sustained effort to unhook our interpretation circuity and see the raw elements of what we’re perceiving. And, like optical illusions, we have to actively fight the tendency to snap back to what we think we are seeing instead of what we actually are.

There are reasons (and experiments) that demonstrate, as tenacious as this is at the sensory level, the habit can be even more insidious on the level of concepts, stereotypes and ideologies. In fact, we seldom realize that we’re usually looking at a map rather than the territory for just about everything. Maps are always condensations of what they represent. By necessity they leave out more than they portray. (Although one of Lewis Carroll’s characters in Sylvie and Bruno proposed a map where 1 mile would be 1 mile but it would be impractical to unfold!)

“The map is not the territory,” is a famous quote from the founder of General Semantics, Alfred Korzybski. He developed a system of mental checks and balances that work much the same way drawing does to keep our attention calibrated to what we are actually seeing. He warns against getting lost in our interpretations and mistaking them for perceptions (intensionality), and proscribes ways to maintain awareness through various tools for calibrating and correcting our maps.

A. Vogt, a famous science fiction writer, wrote about a time when Korzybski’s approach is taught in society at large, like grammar in grade school, resulting in a more sane population. Less susceptible to living in descriptions of the world rather than the world itself.

Game Changing

Not a review but this book is riveting. The title really does not do it justice, nor indicate its scope. It goes far beyond “smart note taking” and provides a fascinating way to approach learning and leveraging what we already know. The system explored in the book below comes from a public administrator named Niklas Luhmann who was interested in sociology as a hobby. His family ran a brewery. He created a system he called Zettlekasten, German for “card box” which refined a non-linear way of taking notes and thinking about stuff. In the evenings, after his 8-5 at the office, he read up on his interests, made notes (in a specific way) and navigated this system for exploring and connecting ideas.

He ended up writing a paper on sociology that was noticed by a prof at a prestigious University who immediately offered him a job as a professor. For which he had no qualifications. He then took a semester of Sociology and, using his system, Luhmann spun out a couple more papers: a doctoral thesis and a second publication required to formally fill the job requirements in less than a year and was officially appointed as a professor. During his next 30 odd years, as almost a byproduct of engagement with his system, he published more than 70 books and several hundred of papers. His works rocked the field of sociology and brought in new ideas from widely disparate fields. But he never considered the system “work.” For him, it was a creative extension of the mind: discovering, connecting and understanding ideas that fascinated him at the time. Today he is considered one of the most important social theorists of the 20th century

So far I’ve been struck by the approach he uses for learning and thinking which are quite different from anything taught about learning in school. His system is simple, can be implemented with pen and note card like he did, or any electronic system (I’m using Evernote.) Amazing stuff. And practical for anyone who likes to think, who has a variety of interests and wants to explore new ways of understanding. And perhaps publish a book or post or two someday.

Housekeeping

Hypnotic talk from ze amazing founder of Gaia Sagrada in Ecuador. Christine manifested one of her visions: creating a spiritual retreat with incredibly skilled native shamans in an enchanted space with frick’in elf helpers.

This topic I’ve been working with lately. Cool synchronicity, I’m using this app. And creating checklists that remind me to trigger a pattern of checks and psychotechniques. Definitely topic for future post.

George Kelly – Pioneer

“This theory of personality actually started with the combination of two simple notions: first, that man might be better understood if he were viewed in the perspective of the centuries rather than in the flicker of passing moments; and second, that each man contemplates in his own personal way the stream of events upon which he finds himself so swiftly borne. Perhaps within this interplay of the durable and the ephemeral we may discover ever more hopeful ways in which the individual man can restructure his life. The idea seems worth pursuing.”

Kelly, George. The Psychology of Personal Constructs: Volume One: Theory and Personality: 1 . Taylor and Francis.

hu->man. Kelly proposes we look at the interface between our expectations moment to moment in what is coming our way, based on our personal constructs of beliefs, and our existence in the larger time and possibility span than our little individual flicker of existence illuminates. Hacking this interface is our key to the kingdom.

his notion, called “personal construct theory” was developed back in 1955, and is one of the most interesting ever proposed in the field of psychology of personality. In my opinion. and especially today when we are understanding more about the incredible symbioses and membranes that are part of life at every level. from our guts to the psychedelics in our brains. and that the same patterns pop-up cross domain, whether physical, mental or mathematical.

so what algorithms does Kelly propose for instrumenting this interface to expand our worlds? topic of future explorations

What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?

An old friend harassed me about the last post being a bit too naive. That there are cultural and social forces that can skew the psychology of entire populations of people. And I agree. The way a culture influences our very perception of reality is a long standing fascination of mine. And, of course, the way we perceive fundamentally influences our behavior. Our socialization and media are also powerful determinants of how we see the world.  And most of these mechanisms pivot around whether we are inside or outside a particular group; an important evolutionary construct for our species survival in the wild, to gang up to escape predators and find food.

And I was actually commenting, probably poorly, on that very thing working against us. I’ve recognized a certain pattern in people who are unsuccessful in their adjustment to another culture, especially when I lived in Japan, where individual behavior was ascribed to the group and negative judgments were quickly projected to the Japanese as a whole. From that point on, all of their social interactions became less about the individual and more about the nationality. and these discontents usually left with some firm opinions about how all people in Japan acted and why it was such a disagreeable culture. Easy to do. The tendency to group and polarize is built into our very language, our sports, our politics, etc. And once we start seeing things a certain way, we will naturally accumulate more and more evidence for our point of view (and discard more and more data that contradicts it.

And these stereotypes may even be true, some of the time, for some of the people. But there are other stations on the dial, some with more nuanced and interesting music that are just as true, if not more so. Like the one where we realize all the characters back in our homey group are also in this new group, and even more. So the task becomes less automatically judging a behavior as this or that quality of the country and observing what’s at play in this particular individual. And yes, sometimes individuals can just be cut-outs of their party line, be that national, regional, or billy-bob podunk arkansas  and they can be living pretty much on autopilot within this cut-out. But usually everyone has a spark of their own under these veneers and this is the frequency I was advocating one attend to when entering new currents of humanity. It’s more enriching for both parties.

Later, I do hope to delve more into some of the fascinating cultural perceptions in a way that broadens my own experience of reality. What I learned most about my stay in Japan wasn’t anything really about the Japanese culture, but about my own assumptions about reality.