That we “perceive” an external world
is becoming a dangerous belief,
although quite useful until recently.
Look around you, attending to different things. Try to find a thing without a name. You may find a thing that you can name “a thing that doesn’t yet have a name”, and you can invent a name. Then everything you can attend to does or can have a name. What does that imply?
Our so-called perceptual experiences are “interpretations” in terms of our concepts and the languages we use to express these conceptualizations.
Most of the time we don’t think words as we experience what psychology calls percepts. Yet, the concepts and their associated words are the subconscious context of our experiences. There are probably no settings on Earth where you wouldn’t perceive in terms of language. An exception might be some rapidly changing, abstract, psychedelic digital video. Yet, we probably would automatically try to find “things” to name, as we project animals or faces on clouds.
Imagine how a mammal, without language, would experience the same setting. Imagine what a 3 month old child would experience. We can’t imagine how to experience without language. Yet, we believe we are literally observing known things, that are “out there”, and we could move so as to touch some of them.
How big and how far away is the moon? Imagine it would come towards you at a constant speed. How long would it take and how big might it get? My knowing its size, I can imagine it getting bigger and bigger and bigger, until filling the sky. Others, not knowing its size might expect it to land like a large balloon. Imagine this with a star.
You observe an object on the horizon as you look out to sea. How big is it? What is it? Is it a rowboat or an enormous Cruise Ship?
I read that Native Australians not well acquainted with “civilization” say, to themselves, the names of things they see as the move through their environment. They remember and later repeat these names as stories of their travels, and these names, remembered and repeated, serve as a map for others to follow the same trail. This really frustrated one Native Australian who, when riding in a car, was forced to say names too fast.
The many names aboriginal peoples have for the many plants, animals, and other features of their natural environment, probably give them a quite different experience than what urban humans would experience in the same natural setting. And the many things with names in my cluttered office would be a confusing visual pattern for an aboriginal person not familiar with modern settings.
In the early 1950s, new to television, I was fascinated by a program where a team of experts were given an object and tried to identify it and tell things about it. Today I comprehend their experiences as illustrating the power of human conceptions and language in providing a very rich context within which to place that observed object.
OK, our human perception is always associated with words, although not always explicitly. How is that dangerous?
Social vs Societal
To comprehend the danger of believing perception to be “real”
we need first to comprehend a distinction between two concepts labeled:
social and societal.
is all that human persons literally perceive of real other persons,
in their presence, on the phone, or even in video;
including their own behavior.
Literature can report the social.
We can describe social patterns,
and invent theories about those patterns.
is all that is imagined by humans as patterns
of human-human interactions
configured over extended space and time,
but never directly perceived by humans.
We have a large variety of names for these
unobservable, phantom societal systems:
organizations, cities, nations, governments,
businesses, agencies, economies, universities,
etc etc. etc.
We observe social, in physical settings
(buildings, rooms, furniture, shops, cars, stores, etc.),
that we infer are part of societal systems,
within which humans behave, move, and interact ;
but, we are not directly observing them.
We also study reports of other social events
(including reports of detailed observations: data),
and construct conceptual schemes (models),
and hypotheses & theories.
The societal is as observable as the sub-atomic.
Both are conceptualized from data
observed in our immediate perception.
Humans evolved in tribes, were there was social, but no significant societal. Early humans did imagine things they couldn’t normally perceive, such as strange monsters and gods – which probably were related to their dream experiences and mental imagery.
Today, we use this same basic neural-molecular architecture as we attempt to understand and comprehend our global civilization of more than seven billion persons. We model, in our imaginations, the complex systems of orgs within orgs within orgs – and networked – as if they are all directly observable. Video from sites global, now taken with cell phones, on cable or online, reinforces this illusion.
When you see persons working in a building, you are not literally seeing the organization they work for, or even the whole building.
Whatever a person has learned about their world (from whatever were their information sources during their life) forms the context of how they perceive/interpret their moment by moment lives – including encountering “the news”.
Scholars might attempt to assemble all the basic reports about all societal systems, and come to some scientific approximation of the structure/dynamics of local to global human activity. This, however, is not what serves as the conceptual context of the societal for the vast majority of humans.
Each persons “world” is limited by the information they input, and how it is processed, remembered, and used. In our delusion of “naive realism” we interpret our percepts as direct from light and sound, from things in our environment. We know it is processed, filtered and distorted, but what we see we believe is basically what is “really” in front of us. Fortunately, for successful navigation and selecting things, our inner world does sufficiently match the “real world out there”. But, what is “out there” don’t have the names we give them in our inner world.
I will later explicate on how we can differ greatly in interpretation/perception of the same “out there”, specifically our homes or workplaces. This will strengthen further, the issue I attend to next: how our confusion of the societal with the social contributes to our Crisis-of-Crises and our efforts to create a Solutionateque for our Problemateque.
— to be continued and linked 6/27/2016