Reflection 203: Book Synopsis Part 1/5

February 22, 2011

Copyright © 2011

This post summarizes the first three chapters in my soon-to-be-published book, KNOW THYSELF: Adventures in Getting to Know My Own Mind.

Chapter 1, A MIND AT WORK. I give eighteen examples of everyday incidents in which I either do not notice, or misinterpret, a variety of sensory phenomena, with the result that I form an inaccurate impression of my situation, and am on the verge of making an inappropriate response. The incidents include mistaking a wind-driven trash bag on the edge of the road for a dying crow, a cedar tree on an icy day as a man scraping house paint, a buried turtle shell for a human skull, and not seeing a bouquet of sunflowers or a mustard jar directly in front of my eyes. The rest of the book flows from my trying to understand how I could make such mistakes, leading to a gradual understanding of the dynamic process by which I engage my surroundings. Leading to a clearer grasp of the stages by which I reach out to my world through personal actions or gestures, and ambient energy in those surroundings impinges on my senses, where it is converted (transduced) into neural language, to subsequently pose the sensory aspects of my mental awareness.

Chapter 2, Sensory Phenomena. Paying attention is how I reach toward the mysterious world in order to form a clear sensory image from the flow of raw energy around me. Attention is something I give, the price I pay to bring a phenomenon into focal awareness. It is my way of editing the ambient energy flow, often doing violence to my surroundings by distorting or even suppressing a large portion of what is there to be seen in order to entertain (see, hear, touch, etc.) some small detail clearly and distinctly. Too, sensory phenomena are summoned by expectancy, so when they arrive, they are shaped by concepts derived from similar encounters in the past. When I go to a place I am unfamiliar with—into nature, say, or a foreign culture—I can easily be overwhelmed by perceptual patterns that are new to me, so I may feel out of place, anxious, or unsure of myself. Conversely, by savoring the internal sensory qualities and relationships in such patterns, I become intimately acquainted with the structure of phenomena in themselves, so raise my eyes (ears, palate, etc.) to appreciation of sensory phenomena, opening myself to enjoyment of clouds, birds, butterflies, as well as art, music, dance, architecture, poetry, clothing, in addition to patterns I can ascribe to the everyday world.

Chapter 3, Interpretation. Phenomena don’t generally come to us bearing self-identifying labels, so categorization is how we supply identity to phenomena in awareness in order to know what they are and how we might deal with them. Perceptual categorization—the recognition or identification of perceptual patterns as something we know about or have encountered before—is the fundamental process by which consciousness meaningfully interprets sensory phenomena in our understanding. I usually categorize so automatically that I’m not even aware I am doing anything remarkable. Categorization not only ties present sensory phenomena to similar patterns in the past, but also brings two aspects of consciousness—concrete sensory perception and abstract conceptual recall—together as one, bestowing meaning on the pattern as if it inhered in the pattern itself and were not overlaid upon it according to personal preferences. We do this in only a few milliseconds as a matter of course. With the result that we have an immediate sense of what (or who) a person, place, or thing is, and what its relevance to our current situation might be. It seldom occurs to me that my first interpretation might be wrong or inappropriate because my mind makes it seem that the categories I propose capture the essence of things as they are, no mean feat under the best of conditions. The issue in this chapter is how concepts in memory and sensory phenomena reciprocally reach out and attach to one another.

Next three chapters coming up: Understanding, Being and Meaning, Feeling and Emotion.

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