Monthly Archives: June 2011

Babbling on in The Absolute Sense

Who, what, where, when and why were the most important questions when writting a theme on any given topic, even a short story, Sister Louise informed all of us in the first session of our freshman english class. Sister Marilyn’s speil stressed the same five words in sophmore english as a way to approach and gain an understanding of classical literature. Yes indeed I attended a private school, catholic, and in both cases these statements lulled me into a state of total unpreparedness from just exactly how demanding those classes, as it turned out, would actually be. If it hasn’t occurred to you yet, english is something of a second language. My native tongue is a combination of grunts, growls and barks with a liberal mix of maculine gastric sounds.
The five W’s are great but I always like to include How along with them. I suppose with proper application, when, where and what one might incidentally or entirely cover the domain of How but for the moment I will insist How stay in the mix. When it comes to our preceptions or senses, Where, When, Who and What, it could be said are the results of the exact interpetation of incoming data by our physical sensory apparatus. Why and less often, how often require some reasoning or logic as well to complete the process. But that isn’t really what the topic I’m writting to you is about, instead what I’m examining is how and why we preceive whatever we may be preceiving.  To rephrase, how do we sense or preceive the world and its objects and why do we preceive them in the manner we do. At first this may appear redundant so I ask your patience as I continue.

In Physics, for example, a complex problem or concept is broken down into parts through a method that isolates a single variable.  It is from there the real examination begins.  So with my topic, first, I think, the how of preception is important and a good place to start.  In simple terms, as I am a simple person. Light strikes the eye (sounds violent) the iris constricting or dialating depending on conditions needed to keep the volume of light with in an optimal range.  The lens behind the pupil refocuses the light so that it makes contact with the retina in an ordered and focused manner.  The photons (light) produce a chemical reaction within the cones and rods that compose the retina which produces an electric signal or blip, each of which is only a tiny bit of data.  The blip, or many blips as it were, travel along the optical nerve and are eventually deposited in the occipital lobe (at the rear of the cortex) where they are reassembled and used to create the picture we see.  That’s how I was orignally instructed in eighth grade biology and later in Sophmore biology.  It is simple and direct and an excellent example of scientific materialism.  My mother, a registered nurse, often described doctors as electricians, plumbers or automotive mechanics.  In her mind the human body was identical to any ordinary machine, thus the term, Scientific Materialism.

I accepted this for a long time, until somewhere around the age of twenty a peculair observation occurred to me.  I was sitting in my bedroom letting my thoughts drift as I often still do to this day when I was suddenly struck by both the above definition of the mechanics of sight and the sheer volume of my room.  That probably sounds odd, but if you stop for a few minutes on any day and simply look about at your enviornment, how much depth, height and width you can observe contigiously, any furniture, the flooring, things hanging on a wall or even, heaven forbid a cobweb in the corner.  Its immense, if your in the outside world it becomes huge and I haven’t quite figured out how it all fits inside my head.  The space between my ears is vastly inferior in volume then the space it is preceiving and conceiving.  Thomas Aquinas, early reniesance philosopher and Saint explained this by useing the term Phantasm.  This phantasm or phantom was a construct in minuture of the world outside and by some trick of the divine we could transpose it so that our view oif reality was flawless in its accuracy.  Imagine that there stood a huge hole in the floor but your phantom was not of high enough quality so that you would be aware of it, a treacherous situation indeed.  Of course Thomas Aquinas, My wife Meta informs me, borrowed the idea from the ancient greeks.  I guess all great ideas occur in people thoughts far more than once,

As strange as it maybe a version of this is still favored by some neural scientists and philosophers of late.  Useing terminology that startlingly resembles computer babble the brain translates the data to code that is being transcribed into the visual imagry that we understand as sight.  The act of seeing is itself something of an illusion allowing a seemlessness to our world.  Illusion is an interesting word for me, or anyone else, to chose.  There has been a position held by some that conciousness as we understanding is do to two competeing and more times than not opposed chains of extremely complex algorithms (Say that ten times fast) and in reality it is a phantom or an illusion.  If you substitue the word imagination for illusion in the above statements quickly become patently ludicrous.  Imagination is a term given to something concious, for instance, does a chair or a table have an imagination?

If you look at all the data being processed and all the traveling it has to do from here to there in the nervous system and around the brain it really makes one wonder why there doesn’t seem to be some sort of a drag in our preceptions, like a flutter or a stutter.  All that processing doesn’t happen instanteanously does it?  Maybe the individual lag in processing and understanding sensory imput is constant for all human’s.  Since each of us processes and responds at the same rate whatever lag there might be seemes nonexistant, after all we wouldn’t want to have a drag.  Wait a minute, we don’t all have the same drag or lag, just uses reflexes for an example.  Some people have faster than average and other people have slower than average reflex time, in this case physical reaction time, as it has the most processing distance to accomplish.  So some people lag drag more and others less yet some how everything is fluid and constant.  I think I’m confusing myself.

If a tall man’s reflexes are faster than a short man’s, in the extremeties, something mundane like catching an ice cube as it falls from the freezer then in a sense the tranmission of data, at least in some cases must be nearly instantaneous which violates the natural laws as described by physics.  At the same time, without regard to individual variances in reaction, a group interacts with a fluid seemlessness inplying that at some level each is processing at this near instantaneous rate which is even a more profond violation of natural scientific logic.  Maybe I’ve reached a dead end with How.  What about Why?

Why do we see or hear the world the way we do.  Is it possible that anticpation on how an event will sound or the way something will look affect what we actually see or hear.  While in therapy, once many years ago during a dark time, my therapist suggested an affirmation I should do every day.  I told him I would try at which point he asked me a most strange question, “Does the word try imply failure?”  I automatically said “No.”  But the notion that a phrase or even an honest statement of obvious fact could imply anything other then the denotative meaning of the words fascinated me.  It would be years before I would hear a phrase and spend enough hours observing a person before I would find a great example.  Meta’s son Red would often respond to questions about getting a job with the phrase, “Takes money to Make money.”  This seemes to be a truism, yet the reality is Red doesn’t really want to do anything towards his own support, even clean up after himself.  Thus the phrase is really a coded answer and when the code is properly translated it means, “I want you to take care of me,” or “No I don’t want to do any work,” or, maybe, “I can’t/won’t engage in mrenial labor,” or in the extreme, “I can’t get ahead so why bother.”  Most curiously the phrase is self reinforcing, meaning everytime it is said or thought it reinforces the view that working never helped anyone but the person you’re working for.  The reality becomes as certain as concrete, proven again and again, a fact that can not be challenged.  With a little thought any of us can think of examples within ourselves or others that reinforces a contrary position to a point that we or they no longer feel the use of trying.  If this pattern goes on long enough we forget the reason we first began useing the verbal device and it has become as real as a bullet.  Getting back to the word illusion.  In this context it describes foolishness but the word it self deals with the act of not only creating a illusion or delusion but also the ability to become illuded or delluded.  Do you thing a couch might be able to trick itself into believing its concious?  Its a riducolous question, you see it seems the only things that can be tricked into believing their concious are things that are concious.  You can negate this and it still holds, a conciuous being can also trick itself into unconciousness.

In the Absolute Sense

I remember some many years ago while reading an expansive collection of rather thin volumes on the subject of psychology, stumbling across a quote that has stuck with me ever since. I realize that I was somewhere between the ages of eleven and thirteen and the subject matter was mostly of a popular nature but for reasons that were beyond me at that time, my mind fastened onto those few words and have stayed me with to this day. I may not be repeating this quote exactly as it has been over thirty years since I laid mine eyes apon it and I have not seen it elsewhere nor have I been able to find it anywhere that I have looked. You are free to make of this fact what you will. “Physics and Psychology are Facets of the same Concept,” C.G. Jung.
I, like many other people whom have ever come to age in the world without ever feeling the need much less the interest to question what I was preceiving. If my eyes saw it, ears heard it, I tasted it, felt it or smelt it then it was beyond question real in the most absolute sense. The people around me, friends, family or other all seemed to agree with this conclusion, superfically in the very least, that if you preceived it then it was so, without a doubt. Much went on those years as I grew and discovered college, I learned much and faced many acedemic challenges but the greatest challenge of all came after college was done with me. It was the discovery that I happened to be a paranoid schizophrenic. It was as if some strange ancient spell had been cast and, practically overnight, my ever reliable eyes ears and such had been changed into tricksters full of deception. Now how could that be?
Chemical imbalance they would say. I had neither the interest nor the energy to fight the diagnosis.  Instead, over time, I found it increasingly curious how the difference between absolute, accurate senses and senses that lied to you all came down to a handful of neural transmitters and buffers (generally salts in solution).  Trying to grasp such a thing was overwhelming so instead I began to pay careful asttention to the little world in which I lived and the people that on occasion would pass through.  When we as people begin to ponder the notion that our ability to preceive the world with absolute accuracy is dependent on biochemistry then it becomes easier to understand the effects of things like narcotics, alcohol, industrial chemicals, tobacco and even mundane things like coffee, sugar, chocolate and certain foods or spices that, as the Suffi might say, “get your blood up.”  I even found myself wondering about the effects of Financial, Family, Health or other stressors on the shade through which we preceive the world.  Simply by watching I have found that even the simplest preceptions vary from individual to individual.  My wife, Meta, has a difficulty differentiating between  green and blue but whatever color I say I see, she, and it never fails, will correct me by instructing me in what color it actually is,  I see blue she sees turquoise, I say yellow she says tangerine and so on.  Eyewitnesses to a crime in common often see very different things.  It took time, but I finally reached the conclusion that my preceptual weirdnesses just interfered with my life more and fell further outside the range of culturally acceptable preceptual perculiarities.  In time all I became certain of was just how uncertain our flawless, absolute and perfect physical senses really were.

Remember the quote, “Physics and Psychology are facets of the same concept” C.G. Jung.  Facets encourages my mind to visualize a stone, a diamond for reasons I can’t immediately fathom.  Maybe its because of the way a large, finely cut diamond sparkles as if it has a light all of its own.  This has a great deal to do with the optical qualities of diamond.  Such a stone with high quality clarity, size and cut has an effect on light, two effects I believe, but I could be wrong and if so will happily admit it, which are called diffraction and rarefraction.  The light from the outside strikes the stone, if it comes in contact with any given facet at the right angle, perpendicular to the face or plane of the facet, then it will pass into the interior.  Once inside, the light will diffract slightly lending hints of color to the stone.  But only so much of the light that has reached the interior will easily pass back through into the greater world outside.  Whatever facet it comes in contact with it must be at the correct angle in order to pass through, otherwise it will bounce around the interior until the proper condition is met.  Thus the spectacle of a large clear diamond, sparklers as my mother was known to call them.  The process is easy to imagine and if you remove the stone from the light it will quickly dim as it has no light of its own.  Can you imagine such a thing, a diamond before you either set or loose.

If you can picture it in your own mind clearly, then try to imagine a light within the diamond.  Call it what you will, soul, mind, spirit, current, god energy, vibration or conciousness.  Also imagine that light comes from the greater world outside the stone as well.  The simple principles we illustrated above still apply.  So put directly, what the being inside the stone preceives is in part some of its own light reflected back at it and some of the light from the greater outside.  It can not tell which is which giving its reality a seemless fluidity.  Nor is the entity within aware of all the light that fills its tiny world, in reality only a tiny portion of said light fills its thoughts and awareness.  Finally, adding to the complexity of the situation, each facet of the stone respresents a school of thought, academic discipline, cultural or spiritual prespective.  It seems our little friend lives in a surprizingly complicated world that he or she is only slightly aware of, maybe in the future we could consider giving the little critter a break because after all, he or she is we.