Tag Archives: Seeing is Believing

LMNO’s Introduction

So, my little section o’ blag will be called SEEING IS BELIEVING. It basically revolves around how we perceive things, and how we don’t; cognitive biases, altered perceptions, theories on how the mind and thought works, and more mental models and maps than I know what to do with.

As an introduction, I offer a piece I wrote for “The Black Iron Prison” project over at http://www.blackironprison.com. It might give some impression of where I’m coming from, and the kind of stuff you’ll find, when I’m not just posting interesting links and commentary on other things I’ve found around the Webosphere.

We’re mostly blind. But this isn’t really your fault; it’s because of the shell of meat we happening to live in right now. Think, for just a moment, at the nearly infinite amount of things happening right now all around us. I’m sure you can think of quite a few things. Now, let’s talk about them. You can’t see any of the infrared or ultraviolet light spectrum. Unfortunately, this cuts out quite a lot of things your eyes were built to see. Sorry about that.


You can’t hear anything below 20 Hz, or above 20 KHz . You can definitely feel about 12 Hz, if you play it really loudly. Go on, give it a try. With just those two examples, if you hadn’t before, now you can really start to understand all the stuff you simply can’t perceive. I’m sure you can think of five more examples of an immense class of Things that you can’t notice are right in front of you. But it gets worse. Stop for a moment, and try to notice as many possible things in your environment that you can, simultaneously. Notice that, as you start to identify more and more objects, sounds, smells, and tactile sensations, you can’t keep them in your head all at once. When you notice, for example, the pressure of your shoe against the ball of your foot, that distant bird chirping seems to fade from your attention.


And let’s not forget about how much stuff you weren’t paying attention to when you started reading this. Let’s face it: We all live our lives with blinders on. We only allow ourselves to pay attention to 1% of what we physically can perceive, which is an infinitesimally small percentage of all the stuff in the Universe.


And that fraction of a fraction of a percent is what we usually call “Reality”. We call it “Real”, as if it’s an unshaking firmament of solid Truth, that what we see is all that’s really “out there”. But you’re not even paying attention to the 99% of stuff that you can even sense.


And this “Reality” is what we base our judgments on how the Universe “works” and what “should” be Out There. We construct our actions and reaction to this 1% of available information, and reject everything else in the Universe. And then some Authority comes along, and tells you that they know what’s really real, and that you should do as they do. Talk about the blind being led by the blind… or in this case, the blind being led by the incredibly stupid.


So, what’s the answer? Would it be best to try our best to see everything, all at once? Is the solution to try and tear down all the filters, to let your brain accept, acknowledge, and perceive every bit of information that comes your way? Would that help?


Are you kidding? It would completely shut down your brain. Trying to identify, recognize, and notice every single thing happening, all at once, all the time, would completely incapacitate you. And let’s not forget that, due to physiology, it’s still impossible to perceive a great deal of the Universe, anyway. And because it’s totally impractical to try and simultaneously perceive what little bits of the Universe our senses can pick up, in order for us to function in our lives, we are forced to shut out certain things. But who, or what, is choosing the things we do perceive at any given moment? That, my friends, is the question.


Was it your parents? Was it the years you spent in school? Was it the TV? Was it a band? Was it a book you read? Was it a preacher you heard? Was it the kid who pushed you down when you were five? All of the above. The way you see the world, my friend, is a patchwork quilt of individual experiences, shaping the way your mind works. ‘Round these parts, we call these things the “bars and walls of your Black Iron Prison”.


Now, before you go on with the idea that all this is somehow Negative and Depressing, let’s break down the phrase. We’re not saying it’s an Iron Prison that is Black (Bleak) that you’re in because you’re being punished for some sort of Karmic wrongdoing.


Rather, what’s being said is that in order to function in your day-to-day life, there are necessary limitations your body and mind impose on your perceptions. That’s the Prison. The phrase “Black Iron” refers to cold wrought iron, which is strong, usually shaped by hand, and often beautiful.*


But back to the main question, then, and the issue of who chooses your perceptions. Of course, the Large Answer is, “your entire life up to this point,”the patchwork quilt referred to above, stitched panels of the things you have learned, whether they were imprinted, conditioned, or learned, either consciously or subconsciously. But that’s a bit too large. What it comes down to, is that you are the one in charge of your Prison. It’s you that has shaped the Black Iron bars that let you see the small parts of the Universe that you base your decisions upon. Sure, you can say that it’s not your fault that your parents raised you as a racist redneck (for example). But it is your fault if you take that as a given, as if that bar in your cell is a permanent thing, something that’s been there since before you were born.


But wait. There’s more. The guy sitting next to you, they’re focusing on completely different things than you are. Their entire upbringing has pretty much determined what they’re going to pay attention to, just as your entire life up to this point has shaped what you’re looking at right now. You know what this means, right? This means that everyone is living in a different Idea of the Universe than everyone else. It’s a miracle that we can agree on anything. Just imagine, billions of people, all looking out at a different Universe from between the bars of their own personal Prison. “Okay, big guy,” you say, “So what’s really out there, if you’re so smart?” I have to tell you…


I don’t know. I have the same blinders that you do. I live in the same kind of box. But I will say one thing. My saying “I don’t know” doesn’t mean, “I don’t know, and I don’t care, because there’s no way to escape the biology of my sense.” I say, “I don’t know, but I want to find out. I want to try and see and feel as much as I can, I don’t want to take somebody’s word for it, I want to keep exploring, and figuring shit out. I want to walk out of my Prison Cell, even if I just end up in another one. I’m not content only seeing a fraction of what’s out there.


Because hey, who knows what kind of fun I’m missing?