Thursday 21 February 2008

How we see - Social Programming

In the movie "What The Bleep" it was claimed that the Maya of Central America simply did not see Cortez's ships as they sailed into view. Sailing ships were simpy unknown to them and their brains could not process what they were seeing. I am not so sure about this claim but it does highlight some interesting issues with regard to knowledge and perception. When I was at university I studed a phenomenon known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. This suggests that language itself structures the way in which we perceive the world. Again quite interesting when discussed in the light of ITLAD. An example of how knowledge controls perception can be seen above. Most adults see a mildly erotic scene on the vase. This is because they have prior memory of such a scene. Children, apparently, see nine dolphins.

How many other strikingly obvious things are out there that we cannot 'see' because we simply are not educated to do so.

Is this again evidence for the Bohmian IMAX theory?


SM Kovalinsky said...

Indeed Nietzsche speaks in terms of language actually creating our perception, which in turn gives rise to the concept of a "reality". I would say that Nietzsche himself may have been attempting to refer to the concept which comprises your idea of the Bohmian IMAX, but needed someone of a later century and an era of high-technology to coin a term for it. Perhaps you are his second voice.(I am half in jest, I hope)

Jaysi said...

I had to laugh! When I read that children apparently see nine dolphins, I called Cael over, my five year old son.

"Cael, tell me what you see in this picture".
"A bottle".
"And what do you see in the bottle?"
"Two people".

End of conversation!!

Anthony Peake said...


As I do not have children of my own I would have had to have asked the child of a friend as to what they saw in this picture. Clearly in doing so I could have been on somewhat dodgy ground (Imagine the comment "what did you ask little Johnny to look at? - he says it was two naked people cuddling"). As such this has not been empirically tested out by me. Clearly Cael has shown us that sometimes things are not 'what they say (or depict) on the bottle (*groan*).

Jaysi, thanks for pointing this out.

Hurlyburly said...

I posted both of these on my View askew message board. One guy said his son saw two ladies dancing.

He'll clearly only grow up to become 50% perv!

Anthony Peake said...

Maybe kids are growing up quicker these days!

By the way, I must be far too mature (no, wrong word, 'old' is far more accurate a description in my case) but I simply cannot see in any way how the picture can look like nine dolphins!

Hurlyburly said...

I can see 8 but the 9th isn't obvious to be honest.

Anthony Peake said...

Oh, I just looked at again and saw the dolphins. Evidence of my long suspected personal immaturity.

Anthony Peake said...

With regard to the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis Benjamin Whorf described the theory thus:

"We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native language. The categories and types that we isolate from the world of phenomena we do not find there because they stare every observer in the face; on the contrary, the world is presented in a kaleidoscope flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds — and this means largely by the linguistic systems of our minds. We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way — an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language […] all observers are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe, unless their linguistic backgrounds are similar, or can in some way be calibrated."

His description of the external world as a "a kaleidoscope flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds" sounds very similar to our Bohmian IMAX.

johar said...

Hi Guys, I love this post and the previous one as I was about to post something along very similar lines. I was watching QI and learned that pigeons have vision that is about 10 times better than ours. This means that if you put them in front of the TV they would perceive it as a slide show and not a continuous picture as we do. This just confirms all we have already discussed, that our perception is constructed neurologically and therefore so is our reality. A more simplistic analogy but makes the point I guess! By the way - soooo looking forward to the new book Tony!! *rubs hands impatiently*

ken said...

I keep asking my 23 month old what she sees in the picture and she keeps saying "tea" or "bottle" because I drink kombucha out of those Grolsch-like bottles. But she won't say anything else -- and she's very good with words and recognizing things and she loves this book on dolphins and whales.

Anyway, today she said something that sounded like "Mommy" but when I asker her again all she said was "E" and then "Done" so that was that.

Karl Le Marcs said...

I see nothing but depravity.
*dofs trilby and hails taxi to Soho*
I didn't see any Dolphins at first, although I did see something fishy!
*'ere no, stop messin' about*

johar said...

Karl...................................................YOU'RE WEIRD......................IT'S GREAT!!!

I ponder as much on your *comments* as I do on the words of wisdom within these blog walls!

Karl Le Marcs said...

Johar please, eccentric not weird.
Well ok, just a tad, but all in a nice way.
Imagine being stuck in my head, I have no escape from pondering my thoughts.

johar said...

My Mummy always said people who talk to themselves have the right idea - They are listening to someone interesting and talking to someone intelligent - so you're safe Karl, carry on chatting!!

Karl Le Marcs said...

Your Mummy can certainly be described as wise in my eyes then.

Hephzibah Yohannan said...

This is a very interesting topic, of which I have some experience. Seeing things other than are apparently there..... Once I was driving along a road in Warwickshire and I saw a scotsman in a kilt playing bagpipes, walking along the side of the road. Very odd thing to see in Warwickshire. Then, as I got nearer and passed this person, I saw a woman carrying a baby. I had projected the image of a scotsman onto the distant, unclear image of the woman. (Being a bit short-sighted can lead to plenty of these amusing visual interpretations/projections, though I hasten to say I wasn't short sighted at the time I saw the "scotsman".)

I used to have a record of Debussy's L'apres midi d'un faun, and it had a green and brown squiggly design on the cover. I had it for years. Then one day, I saw that it was a (squiggly) picture of a faun playing a pipe. I tried, but couldn't again see the abstract design I used to see (which I preferred to the bad drawing).

I think there is something in the idea that one's knowledge, or cultural structure and experiences, or one's own personal experiences - in other words, the content of one's memory, one's consciousness, which play a part in determining what we see. I have noticed that when I close my eyes to go to sleep, I see lots of swirling colours, abstract patterns energetically moving around, changing colour etc. Gradually, as I get more sleepy, they start to turn into dreams and I see people, things etc where before I saw abstract patterns. I feel that I am seeing a flux of energy, as it were, and that I then interpret it in terms of what I "know" from my life experience. So in that sense, I am projecting my interpretation onto formless images and so seeing things/dreams.

The converse of that could be the way magicians such as Derren Brown can carry out actions which we do not see, by directing our attention elsewhere, in other words they determine what we see by the game they play, which is probably a mixture of verbal and body language, playing upon our expectations.

Anthony Peake said...


You may have noticed that the great Mr Brown as a vague link to this site via the enigmatic and somewhat eccentric Karl L Le Marcs. Derren and Karl are friends and Karl has given Derren a copy of ITLAD. He reports that the great illusionist enjoyed it but found the science bits 'hard going'.

Like the story of the Scotsman and the album cover (by the way I adore the music of Debussy)- clear evidence of how external signals are modulated by experience before presentation to consciousness.

Anthony Peake said...


This kombucha stuff sounds interesting. I have never heard of it before now. (Grolsch, however, is a different matter!

ken said...

Kombucha is a fermented tea and has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries. It is sold in health food stores (Wild Oates, Whole Foods, etc.) but I make my own since I drink so much of it. It's pretty easy to make. It uses a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) to do the fermenting and you just add tea with sugar every day and take out what you want to drink. The only problem is that the SCOBY looks pretty much like a liver sitting in formaldehyde in an ancient museum. A popular store brand here in the US is G.T.'s.

Karl Le Marcs said...

Erm, ahem................
"the enigmatic and somewhat eccentric Karl L Le Marcs"
*allows monocle to fall from eye in comedicly startled way before mincing off back into the shadows to finish drawing my ceremonial pentagram*
Ha Ha!
And Ken, I will have to seek out this Tea of which you speak.