Ming the Mechanic:
Limits of Perception

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Limits of Perception2004-10-19 23:59
13 comments
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An old piece from Deepak Chopra on What is the True Nature of Reality?
One of the interesting things that science has found, this should have been obvious all along, is that what we call perception, what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell, is really the least reliable test of what reality really is. We cannot trust our senses at all!

After all, the senses tell us that the earth is flat and we don't believe that anymore. The senses tell us that the ground that we stand on is stationary and we know it's spinning at dizzying speeds and hurtling through outer space at thousands of miles an hour. The senses tell us things have a certain taste, smell, size, texture. Maybe that's not the way they really are.

There was an experiment done at Harvard Medical School about 20 years ago. A group of scientists took some kittens and brought them up in a room that had only horizontal stripes. All the visual stimuli in the room were horizontal. Another group of kittens was brought up in a room that had only vertical stripes. And when these kittens grew up to be wise old cats, it turns out that one group of cats could see only a horizontal world. The other group of cats could see only a vertical world. And this had nothing to do with the belief system of these cats.

It's a phenomenon that psychologists call Premature Cognitive Commitment. Premature, because we make it at a very early stage of our development. Cognitive, because that's how they cognize or see the world. And commitment, because it fixes us to a particular reality, it imprisons us in a fixed mode of perception.

There are many variations of these experiments. In India, when they train elephants, they take the baby elephant and tie it with an iron chain to a huge tree. Then they start cutting the size of the chain and the tree. Ultimately you can tie the elephant which a big animal now, with a flimsy rope to a green plant but the elephant is unable to escape. It's made a commitment in its body-mind that it's in a prison!

Or you can do another simple experiment. Take some flies and put them in a jar. After a while remove the lid from the jar and you'll find that most of the flies, except for a couple of pioneers, will not be able to escape. They make a commitment in their body-mind that they're in a prison.

People will tell you who work in aquariums that you can separate fish from each other. They're in big glass tanks and the separations are transparent glass partitions. You can remove the glass partition after a while. The fish will swim to the edge of where the partition was and return . They made a commitment that that's as far as they can go.

All these experiments, and there are many variations of these, are pointing to a very crucial fact as far as the mechanics of perception is concerned. And that is that our initial sensory experiences and how we interpret them or how they are interpreted for us actually structure the very anatomy and physiology of our nervous system in such a way that ultimately the nervous system serves only one function: to keep reinforcing the initial interpretation. Anything that doesn't reinforce the initial interpretation doesn't even get into the nervous system. So if you don't have a concept or a notion or an idea that something exists, then your nervous system won't even take it in.

That's a very peculiar fact because it tells us that with bits of sensory experience, we'll never be able to comprehend the whole. We never will be! After all the human eye can see only between 380 and 500 billionths of a meter. There's nothing sacred between 360 and 370. It doesn't exist for us.

And so too for the other senses. This is true not only of the human species but of all species. A honeybee, for example, doesn't have the apparatus to see the usual wavelengths that you and I perceive. It senses ultra-violet. When a honeybee looks at a flower at a distance it doesn't see a flower. It sees honey from a distance but it misses the flower altogether. A snake would experience the same thing as infrared radiation which means nothing to you and me. A bat would experience that as the echo of ultra-sound which also means nothing to you and me. And a chameleon's eyeballs swivel on two different axis. You can't even remotely imagine what this would look like to a chameleon.

So what's the real nature of the world? What's it really like? We can't trust the senses. They give us a very distorted view. They break up that wholeness into a small fragment and we call it reality. We happen to agree about it. We even call it "objective reality" and we have a whole methodology that we call "science" to explore that . If you really understand what science is, then science at least until now has not been a method for exploring the truth. Science has been a method for exploring our current map of what we think the truth is. And the map is not the territory. The territory that we explore is really an extension of the map we have. If we don't have the complete map then we will not explore the territory that is not within the framework of that map.
Maddening, eh? Not really. Limited maps are what drives us crazy, when we forget they're maps and they maybe no longer apply. The same as far as perceptions go. They all just access a little slice of a spectrum, and from then can even get stuck in a groove, leading us to adopt an even more limiting interpretation of what that is. The real real stuff is beyond the maps, obviously. Not that perceptions and maps aren't useful, of course. But its not the real thing.


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13 comments

26 Apr 2009 @ 19:20 by Anthony @68.190.118.13 : Thanks
I have to give a persuasdive speech in college and I'm choosing to persuade my fellow peers to not limit themselves to what they percieve as reality and this site will definatley help my research.  


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