Wednesday, April 24, 2013
In the panorama of life going on around us we notice what helps us see ourselves, search out what’s relevant to where we’re going and affirm our sense of the beautiful and ugly. The choices we make regarding where we look are a window on deeper motives and can expand self-awareness. We may or may not get the point. On a psychological level, the thing the eye is scanning for is something that will clarify things about the self that need to be seen. Marcel Proust and Willa Cather are just two of the many writers long before modern psychology to have pointed out the human tendency to criticize our own faults in others. It’s not just on a personal level. It’s easily seen at every level of human interaction. This came to mind today listening to a man on the radio demonizing North Korea for its extensive prison system. Since the US is known world wide for the growing private prison system housing a higher percentage of the population than any other country, his statement was an excellent example of projection regarding our own national pathology. There are lots of things he might have criticized North Korea for but the one he chose was the one he recognized from the inside. And since he didn’t get the point, what could be changed doesn’t. He talks about extensive prisons as a problem to be solved, not thinking to turn that energy to the problem in his own sphere. Our society is too punitive. Rather than celebrate positive qualities we limit behavior with the threat of punishment. We’ve become more focused on obedience than justice. Anthropologist Jean Liedhoff observed that the Yequana people of Venezuela had no word for “disobedience”. They looked at children as children and didn’t get into a power struggle making them into little adults. The children don’t hurt others because adults don’t.
If kids are bullying others there’s a good chance they are being bullied at home, whether or not the parents realize it. They’re just imitating the behavior of the adults they see like their parents did before them. Teasing shades into ridicule then into humiliation, which is institutionalized by the prison system where brutality is common, a national symbol of the mandate to obey enough laws to make everyone a lawbreaker. And everyone is immersed in a culture where ridicule is entertainment. Too much damage has been done by dominant cultures forcing their worldview on people with entirely different life experience. It happens at every level of society. It’s time for us to transcend our national ego and learn from all that’s good in the world. The hyperconcern for safety only cultivates fear and distrust of others, a population of isolated individuals cowering in their houses with only their screens for safety. We should start to notice and question the coercive systems that disrespect the variety of individuals by labeling and diagnosing from childhood, when a world of talents could flourish in each one.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
“Reality is a construction with which we actively participate.”
Ilya Prigogine, Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1977
Much of what we see as we move through the world is already in our heads. The degree to which what we see when we look around is built up and constructed over time is amazing. Hold up an index finger and keep your focus on it, then slowly bring the other index finger in toward it until it’s equally clear. It’s shocking to realize that so little of the visual field is in focus at any one time. The clear picture we think we see is an illusion, is not the same clear picture another person sees. It is the result of the eyes scanning and accumulating details that supply the background for what hits the retina at any given moment. This is one example of the efficiency of the brain, which only needs the general feel of the surroundings to know where to focus. It also makes our picture of reality very personal, a creation of our own mind based on the information our needs select. The central illusion in all human perception is that personal reality is the Reality.
Everything we see is represented in the brain and informs what we look for and what we expect. Though there is correspondence between our image and reality, it is never complete or without inaccuracies. Yet we trust and rely on it. From the beginning of life we construct this picture of the world based on our own experience and use that inner image as the basis for comparison to new stimulus as it arrives. A representation of the territory is necessary to remember where we’ve been and what happened there, an inner map that enables us to find our way to what we need and be alert to signs of trouble. This internal image supports our image of the scene in the present with what we’ve already seen. The sense of recognition comes from the new matching similar situations in the past. It’s like the pattern resonates with a similar chord in the patterns of our own experience. When a pattern unfolds over time we can anticipate what’s coming and be better prepared for it.
The demands of movement require an understanding of where we are in relation to what we need. Imagery of locations is part of most memories. Brains evolved and grew larger as more experience needed to be represented. The folds seen in pictures of the brain are always different because every life is different. The varied personal experience of each of us creates the brain, develops some parts more than others depending on what we use the most. Awareness of these differences liberates us all from absolutes seeing how the variety of contexts changes the equation. Guided by what best fits a given situation, harmony is achieved without coercion.. The better we understand our inner model the more we can learn from the rich variety of other worldviews and break down barriers to our own expansion.
Looking at art is one tool for self-awareness. When we respond to art the chord that runs beneath the surface signals deep concordance with individual emotional themes. It offers a glimpse of the personal substructure so crucial to how we understand the world. Then we may recognize them when they turn up in our relations with others.