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Friday, July 09, 2010

Language for Perception

How do you perceive? Well, you just do it. That's an inadequate answer, so I decided to do some thinking about this.

Perhaps the way I teach people to observe themselves would be relevant to making up a language for perception. It's my business to be teaching people to perceive what they take for granted by teaching Alexander Technique. I use the often ignored kinesthetic sense as a medium, rather than the visual or auditory...but maybe we can cross-pollinate with it. Maybe we can use the same process and apply it to perception in general - say, the visual sense.

In Alexander Technique classes, students walk across the room and try to describe how they are walking. They can't, usually. So I introduce them to categories to form some questions for themselves. These categories function like thinking tools to organize and focus their point of view.

The categories are:
  • timing
  • sequence
  • quality
  • direction
  • relationship

Once they have these categories, their ability to describe what they're experiencing for themselves gets unleashed. Their new ability to observe and describe what is happening works so well they can later design, on the fly, inventive ways for getting past some pretty serious self-imposed limitations.

So perhaps we could do this with perception in general. We could make general categories to help people ask themselves specific questions. Answering these questions would give us new perceptual information out of what we usually take for granted.

We're talking about the raw perception, not the content. So - how we direct attention to say, the visual sense with these categories? If I were to apply the same categories I just mentioned, I'd get something like:

  • Quality: attention can be focused, like a searchlight, or diffuse like an overhead light.
  • Timing: depending on when you pay attention, different things will be happening. A frozen image will show you stuff that you would miss in a movie, for instance. Bits and pieces do not have the same effect as the whole. Timing will influence the figure-ground relationship of what you can see. If you're moving fast while traveling, you'll have a whole different experience compared to moving slowly.
  • Sequence: chains of paying attention to one thing after another bring different results; and mixing up sequences actually has an associative emotional effect. It's easy to mistake sequence for cause and effect.
  • Direction: Where we are oriented contributes to Point Of View. POV and motive about what you want others to do, react and agree with you will color how you describe what you see.

Anyone else want to try one or more of these four categories about perception that I made up and apply them to help generate a new language for perception?

This is using your Thinking Skill bag of tricks!

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