Reflection 292: Outlook

July 13, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

My last two posts have dealt with sensory impressions and their formation in our minds, together with photos illustrating specific visual impressions that have moved me in recent weeks—largely scenes from the natural world.

Today I move on to the impact such impressions have in centering my outlook on particular situations so that I find them meaningful in one way or another. Beyond forming an impression of what I’m facing in the world, that’s the second step I take in engaging my world—developing a sense of its significance to me at the moment so that I can take the third step of acting appropriately in light of my personal situation.

Sensory patterns don’t just come to us through our senses, we shape them to fit our fears, needs, and desires so we see what is important to us. That is, we are motivated to notice certain sensory details available to us and not others because we have found such details affecting in the past. That is what I mean by having an outlook—a certain take on the world because we are who we are by living out our past histories of experience.

After forging a sensory impression, we face the next challenge to our ongoing mental activity in determining what that hard-won pattern might signify or mean in terms of the situation we are engaged in at the moment. So what? we ask ourselves, what difference does it make?

Our sense of being in a situation is based on the positive and negative feelings the pattern stirs up in us, together with the biological values we put into play, and the contribution of memory in recognizing (reaching out to and finding familiar) the pattern before us—all adding to a felt understanding of the situation we are facing as based on our sensory impressions at the time.

Sensory patterns demand to be interpreted as examples of this or that type of experience. We don’t experience the shape or nature of a duck, say, so much as the concrete duckness of a duck. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, surely it is a duck and nothing that merely resembles a duck (unless it is a decoy, model, or representation, in which case it is something other than what it might seem at first glance).

Outlooks and situations resolve all such considerations by combining them into an understanding of what-is-ness and how-ness and why-ness that includes both the pattern and the perceiver so that their relationship is patently clear and understood as meaningful and significant to the one particular person who is moved to pay attention for reasons of her own because she is who she is.

The pattern emerges within a situation as not just a collection of individual details so much as the inherent relationship between those details (including the beholder’s personal history) so that the situation is grasped and understood as a dynamic engagement pointing the way to appropriate action. If it’s a duck, shoot it; throw it a crust of bread; make sympathetic quacking sounds; point your finger and say, “Oh, look, there’s a duck.”

In my last post (Reflection 291: In the Beginning) I included a photo of a squid. Upon seeing it I instantly realized that, dead or alive, it had been stranded atop a ledge at the last high tide, and would soon be eaten by the first shoreline scavenger who came by—eagle, crow, fox—and if I wanted a photo to add to my collection of life in the bay, I had to make it there and then while the pattern of its pigmentation was still intact. Which I did.

Situations as we perceive them are at the core of our looping engagements with the world. Given our individual outlooks, they are the best we can do in figuring out what sort of world we are facing right now. We receive energy from that world, true, but not the world itself. Based on our habits, expectations, and experience, we piece together one version of all possible worlds, and for the moment, that is the operative reality within which we are to do our stuff.

Situations are what we are able to make of sensory impressions as fleshed-out with our feelings, values, memories, and understandings of what sort of a scene we are likely to be facing. Always, always, always, situations reflect our understanding of what we have gotten ourselves into because they are centered on our personal experience and the outlook we have earned through enduring a lifetime of hard knocks.

Regarding the loops of personal engagement we experience in living our lives, our first task is to form a sensory impression of the world based on our expectations, arousal, interests, attention, and need for clarity at a level of sensory detail. Then a second task is to combine our feelings, values, and understandings into a situation that would make the sensory pattern we come up with meaningful in light of the lives we have lived up to now. Setting up a third stage of our looping engagement in which to act appropriately within the situation we have constructed for ourselves out of bits and pieces of the lives that have gotten us this far.

Round and round we go, engaging first one situation then another, always striving, always learning, always trusting memory and imagination to show us the way. Forming clear sensory patterns, putting them in the context of plausible situations, then acting as we are moved and have the opportunity to do, so advancing on to the next round of our engagement, and hopefully the round after that, making ourselves happen in the world in response to the flow of energies impinging upon us from the world.

So does life, as I see it, flow on. That’s it for now. As ever, y’r friend, –Steve


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