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October 17, 2013

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http://www.perrymarshall.com/articles/religion/godels-incompleteness-theorem/#postcomment

Not really related to Blogger Brian's specific reference to neuroscience, the above link will either amuse you for a while (it goes on and on and on) or bore you to tears. But it is emblematic of the intellectual stalemate that our brains have cooked up for us.

What is outside the circle of the known is the unknown, not "God", as Perry Marshall would have it. He makes his case, then blows it by announcing his theism.

Ah well...one thing seems pretty certain to me: disagreement about our origins and destiny is a permanent feature of human life.

I have to include this from a 'one-liner' comedian I saw on TV recently:-

'I was wondering, why does the frisbie appear bigger the closer it gets? Then it hit me!

Or.

I was wondering, why does the frisbie appear bigger the closer it gets? (Conceptual thinking)

Then it hit me! (Pure Perception).

The frisbee hitting you is sensation. Knowing the frisbee hit you is perception.

Perception always involves conceptuality and so-called pure perception doesn't, but how this is possible can neither be explained nor demonstrated. Not only is "pure perception" a misnomer, it's a non-phenomenon.

"Knowing the frisbee hit you is perception."

----Is this an example of impure perception?


My concepts are always pure. So, I proclaim today, "I have pure perceptions."

My impure concepts are never discovered. My code: what happens in vegas, stays in vegas.

By now it should be clear what Turan is getting at with his use of the words 'pure perception' - especially when contrasted with conceptual thinking.

Just to clear things up a little further let me suggest three categories:

1. Supernatural perception.

2. Raw perception.

3. Conceptual thinking.

1. There is, of course, no such thing as supernatural perception. But that's what perception which did not involve some degree of mentation would be. Some new age types seem to suggest this sort of thing is possible but I can't see anyone here agreeing with this.

2. Raw perception is the name I am using for perception without conceptual elaboration. It obviously involves mentation but not the construction of narrative. If you're not sure what this can mean, think of a month old baby. She's sitting in her cot and a motorbike roars by outside. She jumps - she clearly perceives the sound - but there is no conceptual elaboration associated with the event - no naming, accounting, describing or theorising arises.

3. We all recognise conceptual thinking as being absorbed in thought - often oblivious to the immediate surroundings. It's quite an involved process that occurs when trying to solve problems, plan for the future, ruminate over past events etc.

Even if you don't completely agree with the terms of my categories here, it must be plain to see that there is a marked difference between 2 and 3.

The term "raw perception" doesn't make sense to me because to perceive is to make sense of sensation. If perception isn't the processing of raw sense data, what is it?

A baby hasn't the experience with which to process the roar of a motorbike, so the sensation, alarming as it may be, has no meaning, nothing she can ascribe it to. Literally, to perceive means "to take through", and if I'm not mistaken, that means sensation is taken through - processed by - the brain's experience, for the purpose of identification and recognition, the attribution of meaning.

New agers and guru followers think this process is too flawed, too fallible, corrupt, even; that the brain must bypass experience altogether to perceive clearly. The problem with this notion is that it is based on the religious precept of Absolute Truth, that which can only be accessed by a brain purged of self, ego.

This is a religion wherein God is supplanted by impersonal, objective, "pure" reality. The dogma is that the brain undergoes a kind of conversion wherein it loses its ego and is able it to "see things as they are". It's the secularization of theism by means of pseudo-science. Believers in so-called pure perception can call themselves atheists and deny being religious. They get to have it both ways.


I anticipated that there may be some disagreement with the terms used but as I point out this does not detract from the clear difference between categories 2 and 3.

You write:

"The term "raw perception" doesn't make sense to me because to perceive is to make sense of sensation. If perception isn't the processing of raw sense data, what is it?"

The word 'perceive' has (at least) two meanings.

1. To become aware of directly through any of the senses, especially sight or hearing.
2. To achieve understanding of; apprehend.

I am using it in the first sense. In this sense, perception is almost synonymous with awareness but is associated with a particular sense organ. Clearly a baby has sense perceptions - a baby can perceive something without ascribing meaning to it - as I'm sure most animals can.

We cannot write off ‘brain conversion’ yet, in fact many studies in neural plasticity show that areas of the brain can become underactive if not used, and the converse. For example, I understand that learning a language (or two) in the first few years of life comes naturally and easy. In later life (as I can attest to) it is much harder. Just as a matter of interest my wife, who has learned two languages (and understands music) recently learned another language in five years whereas my interests and work revolved around practical applications including first hand nature observations and work, after six years of learning the language I can speak some but cannot understand it when spoken to me. The science is that if underused, connections in the brain ‘drift apart’ with the loss of that particular ability.
As I wrote in a previous comment, Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin has looked at the effects of meditation on the brain. His results show different levels of activity in the brain areas to do with attention. He says these functional changes may cause changes in the physical structure of the brain. As far as I understand, the brain is responsible for everything we experience and is always active and processing. But, I cannot rule out that the initial perception through the senses does not immediately have to be proceeded by thought.
And, I would not be too happy to feel confident about brain studies in these early days of neuroscience. Have just read in the New Scientist (21/9/13) an article on thought where the contributor Tim Bayne says that “One way is to argue that thoughts involve the deployment of concepts, whereas sensory states do not. It is possible to see a bonfire without possessing the concept of a bonfire . .”
There are many conflicting views and I am aware (if not careful) of choosing ones that fit my preferences.

Jon,

Nice comment,

"Raw perception is the name I am using for perception without conceptual elaboration."

----Is this the "pure" perception? Is this raw perception absent of "become aware" and the "achieve" understanding of? How are you using conceptual elaboration?

Turan,

Nice comment too,

" As far as I understand, the brain is responsible for everything we experience and is always active and processing. But, I cannot rule out that the initial perception through the senses does not immediately have to be proceeded by thought."

---I can relate to the brain being responsible for what we experience. How is the "experience" being defined?

---Is "initial" perception the same as pure perception? In addition, how does "thought" become blocked from proceeding? True, I can see and feel the bonfire, but how does my brain not conceptualize it as a non-conceptualized non-thing? There could be a post conceptualization, we just don't understand.

Perception begins with awareness of something, but memory triggered by the awareness is reflexive and involuntary, so the awareness can't be separated from the response. Those who speak of "pure perception", however, claim that awareness of something need not be followed by conditioned response; that the brain purged of the self, ego, "bypasses" the response of memory and goes directly to the impersonal, objective Truth. They claim that all cognitive biases can be eliminated by a transformation of the brain which, when they're asked to provide proof of, talk about plasticity.

Perhaps the brain can perform this miracle. I don't know. I'm just not aware of any evidence of it other than testimonial and anecdotal.

Roger, thanks for your comments, all I can say is that the experience is defined by me. Re initial/pure perception and 'how does my brain not conceptualise' - I've no idea how. You'll just have to keep abreast of the latest findings.

cc. If I answered from my own experience it would just be testimonial, so it just does not count. The 'brain purged of the self' and 'transformation of the brain' example is not my understanding of the science and practice of mindfulness. Although through these disciplines I am pretty well convinced that consciousness, mind and the self are all the result of brain processes and nothing to do with the supernatural. (I would be surprised though for instance if it was found that matter arises from consciousness - as some have suggested.)

At the moment - as is the proper way with science -there are so many competing theories and reports that may well be on the road to laying down a uniform understanding of brain processes, but at the moment its an open field. As brain science progresses perhaps one day some of these questions will be answered.

I would be surprised though for instance if it was found that matter arises from consciousness - as some have suggested.'

I'm surprised that anyone could consider this a possibility.

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