Interesting article on how what we perceive isn’t always the reality. We make up stories that shape our perceptions.
“‘It’s really important to understand we’re not seeing reality,’ says neuroscientist Patrick Cavanagh, a research professor at Dartmouth College and a senior fellow at Glendon College in Canada. ‘We’re seeing a story that’s being created for us.’ Most of the time, the story our brains generate matches the real, physical world — but not always. Our brains also unconsciously bend our perception of reality to meet our desires or expectations. And they fill in gaps using our past experiences.”
“Why are we seeing a story about the world — a story — and not the real deal? It’s not because evolution made our minds flawed. It’s actually an adaptation.”
“‘The dirty little secret about sensory systems is that they’re slow, they’re lagged, they’re not about what’s happening right now but what’s happening 50 milliseconds ago, or, in the case for vision, hundreds of milliseconds ago.’ If we relied solely on this outdated information, though, we wouldn’t be able to hit baseballs with bats, or swat annoying flies away from our faces. We’d be less coordinated, and possibly get hurt more often.So the brain predicts the path of motion before it happens. It tells us a story about where the object is heading, and this story becomes our reality.
“What we experience as consciousness is primarily the prediction, not the real-time feed. The actual sensory information, he explains, just serves as error correction. ‘If you were always using sensory information, errors would accumulate in ways that would lead to quite catastrophic effects on your motor control,’ Hantman says. Our brains like to predict as much as possible, then use our senses to course-correct when the predictions go wrong. This is true not only for our perception of motion but also for so much of our conscious experience.”
“The big principles that underlie how our brains process what we see also underlie most of our thinking. Illusions are ‘the basis of superstition, the basis of magical thinking,’ Martinez-Conde says. ‘It’s the basis for a lot of erroneous beliefs. We’re very uncomfortable with uncertainty. The ambiguity is going to be resolved one way or another, and sometimes in a way that does not match reality.’ Just as we can look at an image and see things that aren’t really there, we can look out into the world with skewed perceptions of reality. Political scientists and psychologists have long documented how political partisans perceive the facts of current events differently depending on their political beliefs. The illusions and political thinking don’t involve the same brain processes, but they follow the similar overarching way the brain works.”
Here are some of the topic references Scott, Paul, Edward, and Mark discussed during today’s check-in. If these provoke any thoughts, please feel free to reply by comment below this article or by reply to all from the associated email message from Cogniphile.
Socio-economic and political:
- Alternate social and economic system – https://centerforpartnership.org/the-partnership-system/
- Dark Horse podcast (Weinstein) ep. 19 on co-presidency idea
- How could a shift to voting on issues rather than representatives work? What are the potential challenges? How could it be better? (There’s not a lot of easily discoverable analysis on this.)
- Perspective: Despite our challenges and structural societal issues, most people in the U.S. enjoy more security—i.e., most Americans don’t need to worry about being violently attacked or starving to death. I think we agreed on this general point. It in no way lessens the obvious needs for systemic improvements.
I add an after note, however, that a succession of unfortunate events, especially if medical issues and their crippling expenses are involved, can quickly deplete the average American’s finances and put them on the streets. A homeless person’s capacity to be resourceful literally includes their ability to carry and protect resources which become much more difficult to retain due to space in a car (or backpack) and increased exposure to crime. Social stigma becomes self-reinforcing to the homeless person and we who encounter them. Nearly all doors close. ‘Structural invisibility’ results—’society’ just stops seeing them (or can only see them as choosing or deserving their situations) and predators take society’s disregard as open season on the homeless.
So, while it is true the threshold of personal disaster is farther from the average American than from the average, say, Zimbabwean or Eritrean, once an American crosses that threshold it can certainly be a devastating and nearly intractable circumstance. There are many trap doors leading down and few ladders leading back up. Thoughts?
Entertainment we’ve enjoyed recently:
- Edward: Killing Eve – Bored British intelligence agent, Eve, is overly interested in female assassins, their psychologies and their methods of killing. She is recruited by a secret division within MI6 chasing an international assassin who calls herself Villanelle. Eve crosses paths with Villanelle and discovers that members within both of their secret circles may be more interconnected than she is comfortable with. Both women begin to focus less on their initial missions in order to desperately learn more about the other.
- Mark: Devs (FX network sci-fi thriller series) – Atmospherically dark and brooding exploration of the implications of a quantum computing system capable of peering into past and future. Also a meditation on two competing physics theories, deterministic and indeterministic (Copenhagen interpretation – aka, ‘many worlds,’ ‘multiple universes’). From a genre perspective, it is a thriller.
- Scott: After Life (Ricky Gervais) – follows Tony, whose life is turned upside down after his wife dies from breast cancer. He contemplates suicide, but instead decides to live long enough to punish the world for his wife’s death by saying and doing whatever he wants.
- Paul: Exhalation (book of short sci-fi stories) Ted Chiang
Mark would like to base a few future discussions on the following stories:
- The Lifecycle of Software Objects “follows Ana Alvarado over a twenty-year period, during which she “raises” an artificial intelligence from being essentially a digital pet to a human-equivalent mind.”
- The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling – A study in memory and meaning told from interwoven future and past stories. “a journalist observes how the world, his daughter, and he himself are affected by ‘Remem’, a form of lifelogging whose advanced search algorithms effectively grant its users eidetic memory of everything that ever happened to them, and the ability to perfectly and objectively share those memories. In a parallel narrative strand, a Tiv [African tribal] man is one of the first of his people to learn to read and write, and discovers that this may not be compatible with oral tradition.” (Wikipedia)
- The Great Silence – Mutimedia collaboration version here. An earthbound alien wonders about humanity’s fascination with missing space aliens and lack of interest of intelligences among us.
- Omphalos – On an Earth on which science has long-since proven the planet is precisely as old as the bible states, an anthropologist following the trail of a fake artifact stumbles onto a shattering discovery.
- Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom (title is a Kirkegaard quote) – “the ability to glimpse into alternate universes necessitates a radically new examination of the concepts of choice and free will.” (SFWA)
Scott: Who are some of your favorite fiction authors?
- Kim Stanley Robinson – historically, scientifically, and technologically well-informed speculative fiction. See his collection of short stories, The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson
- Ursula Le Guin’s sci-fi, such as The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness (sociopolitical themes with imaginative explorations of non-binary forms of sexuality)
- Octavia Butler, such as Lillith’s Brood – The Xenogenes Trilogy (the best at truly alien aliens – themes of gender and the fixedness or fluidness of human nature through an alien lens)
- Arthur C. Clarke, such as Childhood’s End and Islands in the Sky (about a space elevator) scientifically informed imaginative stories.
- Edward: William Gibson
This excerpt from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Kuhn about paradigms supports my claim that worldviews are transcended and replaced, not included. Kuhn, by the way, got his Ph.D. in physics from Harvard before going into the philosophy of science.
“The functions of a paradigm are to supply puzzles for scientists to solve and to provide the tools for their solution. A crisis in science arises when confidence is lost in the ability of the paradigm to solve particularly worrying puzzles called ‘anomalies’. Crisis is followed by a scientific revolution if the existing paradigm is superseded by a rival. Kuhn claimed that science guided by one paradigm would be ‘incommensurable’ with science developed under a different paradigm, by which is meant that there is no common measure for assessing the different scientific theories. This thesis of incommensurability, developed at the same time by Feyerabend, rules out certain kinds of comparison of the two theories and consequently rejects some traditional views of scientific development, such as the view that later science builds on the knowledge contained within earlier theories, or the view that later theories are closer approximations to the truth than earlier theories.”
A public town hall with Riane Eisler. You can register here.
A few of you have wondered what is metamodernism? One of my FB friends wrote this piece giving a broad overview of the history of the movement and some of it’s implications. The opening paragraph:
“What is metamodernism and how can it help us collectively navigate these troubled, transitional times? The meaning of such a word must be disambiguated and its complexity foregrounded. At this point, there is no shortcut. As my colleague Hanzi Freinacht says, there’s no elevator pitch, you have to take the stairs. In this article, I will try to carry you, dear reader, up a few flights.”
We’ve briefly discussed metamodernism before. Hanzi has written two books on the subject. In this interview he discusses his latest book Nordic Ideology. There’s also a transcript available if you prefer reading. The blurb:
“Hanzi Freinacht, political philosopher, historian, sociologist, & author talks with Jim about effective value memes, cultural code, what it means to have high depth, dynamics of cognitive complexity, the changeability of culture & systems, social engineering, compulsion vs seduction, prioritizing subjective states, cultural attractor points & bad attractors, game acceptance vs denial & how they impact game change, relative utopias, a brief overview of Hanzi’s six types of politics, and more.”
Is the title of a new book (2019) by Zak Stein, subtitled: Essays on the Future of Schools, Technology and Society. You can see the table of contents here. I provide this book to satisfy Mark’s latest email on branching out to topics that provide positive visions and/or means for healthy societal change. It would be a good book for us to read and discuss.
It’s not available in the Abq. public library, so perhaps someone with university inter-library loan capability could obtain a copy and share it? It is of course for sale at Amazon in the link but outside my budget. Here’s the Amazon blurb:
“Our world is currently undergoing major transformations, from climate change and politics to agriculture and economics. The world we have known is disappearing and a new world is being born. The subjects taught in schools and universities today are becoming irrelevant at faster and faster rates. Not only are we facing complex challenges of unprecedented size and scope, we’re also facing a learning and capacity deficit that threatens the future of civilization.
“Education in a Time Between Worlds seeks to reframe this historical moment as an opportunity to create a global society of educational abundance. Educational systems must be transformed beyond recognition if humanity is to survive the planetary crises currently underway. Human development and learning must be understood as the Earth’s most valuable resources, with human potential serving as the open frontier into which energy and hope can begin to flow.
“The expansive essays within this book cover a diverse array of topics, including social justice, the neuroscience of learning, deschooling, educational technology, standardized testing, the future of spirituality, basic income guarantees, and integral meta-theory. As an invitation to re-vision the future of schools, technology, and society, Education in a Time Between Worlds replaces apathy and despair with agency, transformation, and hope.”
Subtitle: An integrative review and process-based framework, by Hobson et al. (2018), Personality and Social Psychology Review 22(3). The abstract:
“Traditionally, ritual has been studied from broad sociocultural perspectives, with little consideration of the psychological processes at play. Recently, however, psychologists have begun turning their attention to the study of ritual, uncovering the causal mechanisms driving this universal aspect of human behavior. With growing interest in the psychology of ritual, this article provides an organizing framework to understand recent empirical work from social psychology, cognitive science, anthropology, behavioral economics, and neuroscience. Our framework focuses on three primary regulatory functions of rituals: regulation of (a) emotions, (b) performance goal states, and (c) social connection. We examine the possible mechanisms underlying each function by considering the bottom-up processes that emerge from the physical features of rituals and top-down processes that emerge from the psychological meaning of rituals. Our framework, by appreciating the value of psychological theory, generates novel predictions and enriches our understanding of ritual and human behavior more broadly.”
In his memoir, China in Ten Words, writer Yu Hua recalled an event following the end of the cultural revolution. Literature had been banned for many years but the memory of its joys had lingered in much of the population. Hua’s formative years had been during the intellectually desiccated period. Emerging from a time when being seen with any book other than officially sanctioned volumes of or about Chairman Mao could have grave consequences, he and many others craved stories featuring relatable human characters and situations.
Eventually China loosened its intellectual restrictions and the word that bookstores would be opening spread like a prairie fire. Hua tells of a local bookstore that announced it would distribute coupons for two books each to the first few customers to come to the shop’s opening. Hua rose before dawn and was dismayed to find several hundred people already in line, many of whom had been in line all night.
To occupy themselves those waiting speculated on how many coupons the shop owner would hand out. The speculations fell into three general groups. Those who’d gotten in line the day prior were sure their proaction would be rewarded with coupons. Those who arrived later and comprised the middle of the line agreed among themselves there would be more coupons for such obviously high-quality people who’d been wise enough to arrive before the deadbeats behind them. Those like Hua, farther back in the line, reached a consensus there would be enough coupons for them. After all, all of them were clearly quality people for having the foresight and diligence to arrive so early. Hilariously, each person’s assessment derived not from any objective assessment, such as estimating the number of books visible through the shop window, but rather on an emotional assessment of how deserving they were for making the effort to be in the line and, tellingly, how undeserving those farther back in the line were, considering they were comparative slackers. When the shop door opened and the actual number of coupons—50—was announced, persons one through 50 smugly congratulated themselves while the remainders moaned and cursed. Person 51 felt auspiciously unlucky and the number ’51’ became shorthand for unlucky throughout the town.
It’s entertaining to poke fun at the sort of irrational innumeracy the Chinese villagers displayed but it’s a universal flaw in human thinking. Our estimates and judgments of others’ estimates and judgments skew sharply in keeping with our sense of identity. Logically, our sense of who we are, which involves ongoing comparisons of ourselves with others, is a psychological matter that has no bearing on quantifiable facts about the world.
Take the results of a recent Ipsos/Axios survey in which American’s belief in whether the reported number of COVID-19 deaths was accurate, under-reported, or excessive. Beliefs closely aligned with political perspectives (which are primarily sociological and psychological, not fact oriented). This does not mean objective facts cannot align with a group’s position on a matter. It means such alignment often has less to do with a group’s objectivity or rationality than with how convenient the facts are to a group’s claims about what is real or important.
As for a more facts-based approach to assessing COVID-19 related death counts, the article linked in the preceding paragraph provides objective reasons for why an undercounting scenario is likely:
- Insufficient testing obscures many COVID-19 deaths.
- Several states’ death rates are significantly higher than statistics for other causes would suggest, and are still increasing.
What’s important to most people, however, is not recognizing accurate facts or more valid reasoning but feeling they are true to their in-groups’ values and self-definition.