Ch1 L2: Perception

  1. So far, we’ve talked about life and Death as the fundamental duality; consequently, survival which we need the energy to fight for [1]. I admit that what I am narrating might sound like one of the action movies in which the hero must be deadly careful to detect all traps, kill or at least run away from enemies which we might not easily relate to our relatively mundane life, because not only we don’t see actions like breathing or eating as an example of fighting Death [2], but also, we loathe thinking or talking about it. Discussing Death sounds so negative that I’m concerned whether or not you’re still following the story.
  2. However, it’s very important to create a reliable framework or ideology for what we experience; besides, we should know the fact that the absence of Death from daily discourses can cause meaninglessness which we’ll thoroughly discuss later. Right now, we should build a strong foundation upon which we become able to think about more complicated ideas. We should study the brain, its strengths, and weaknesses, what most times we automatically use.
  3. Since our brain is a complex and nonlinear system which has already stored innumerable pieces of information, linked to each other, the best way to study it would be to imagine that our brain was totally empty [3] and we’d just started to experience the world around us [4]. To begin this journey, I’d recommend you to imagine that you’re either Adam or Eve who’d just descended to Earth [5]. The more detailed your imagination is, the more you’ll be engaged and enjoy playing it.
  4. Now, take some time and describe your environment. Imagine that you saw the following thing. What would it be?
  1. If you said a flower or rose, it would imply that you couldn’t put yourself in Adam or Eve’s shoes, because how could you possibly conceive it as a rose if you had absolutely no earthly knowledge about it? Now, I repeat the question: What is the thing? The only possible answer would be “I don’t know”.
  2. As an avid participant, you might object the whole storytelling that as either Adam or Eve, we haven’t reached the level of language so I couldn’t have asked you what the thing was. You’re certainly right and that’s why I said that it’s impossible to absolutely imagine ourselves in the situation, but we inevitably need the language to communicate. Since we still don’t know how to name things, we call it “Thing” [6].
  3. We discussed that we needed to know Death or its causes which were called danger. The first step to know dangers is to be aware of their existence which happens through senses and it’s called sensation or sense perception [7].
  4. Here comes a fascinating fact: our brain receives 11 million bits per second from the senses [8]; however, it can’t process all of them. So, the evolutionary solution to this problem is to prioritize them according to importance. Based on the earlier discussion, it shouldn’t be difficult to answer this question: What makes something more important? its dangerousness [9,10].
  5. Example 4: Internally, our organs send numerous signals per second to the brain which are ignored until we feel pain. Then, our brain focuses on pain such that it might totally ignore other signals [11].
  6. It’s very important to know that as Adam or Eve, you couldn’t experience things clearly because perception is rendered by thinking which requires previous experiences.
  7. Example 5: If you didn’t have any idea about perspective and the height of the Eiffel Tower, you might think that it could be picked up by a hand.
  1. Example 6: After watching a ghost movie, a hung towel might scare you to death, because to perceive it, your brain uses the most recent images and you might see it as a ghost, especially if it happens so quickly that you wouldn’t have time to think about it.
  2. Example 7: Imagine that you woke up in the middle of a night starving, then you’d go to the kitchen and see a red spherical thing on the dining table. Your brain might perceive it as a red apple [12, 13].
  3. Then how sure could we be if we perceived something correctly? Anil Seth has demonstrated it in a TED talk [14] that our brain gives the best guess to the thing that it perceives, so if we’re more aware of the situation or the thing, our guess will be more correct. [15]
  1. Example 8: It’s very important to know that if the brain doesn’t function well, our guesses will be wrong. one of its examples is called species dysphoria [16] which simply refers to one who perceives themselves as an animal.
  2. Finally, we can categorize our senses into the physical or chemical receptors. We perceive light, sound, pressure, temperature, and friction which are directly related to energy or energy transfer, and with the olfactory and gustatory system, we perceive molecules which our brains evaluate their compatibility with the body. [17]

Exercise 2:

  1. Think about other dualities such as good and bad, right and wrong, light and darkness, friend and enemy, beauty and ugliness, or God and devil, then try to relate them to the duality of life and Death.
  2. In the AI (Artificial Intelligence), the basic step to train a robot which is nothing but algorithms is to perceive things. For example, when you use speech-to-text or handwriting-to-text extension, the AI needs to translate the input to words. So look at the following image and ponder how the extension could do that, considering different types of handwriting and levels of legibility [18].


[1] Link to the previous post

[2] As you know, finding edible things is still a problem in some corners of the world [Link], what we might take for granted.

[3] This thought experiment is ideally impossible because to be aware of an empty mind requires some tools to process it; therefore, we can’t reach the level of absolute emptiness.

[4] I hope this experience could help you organize your thoughts as well and you’d consider it as a mental spring cleaning. Isn’t it amazing to become more aware of your thoughts, how they’re created and linked to each other?

[5] We won’t use any religious aspect of their characters and background or the rest of their saga. They could be the epitome of someone who just came down to Earth of which they absolutely had no knowledge. So, they would have their brain but their memory is empty. I thought of an alien who just landed on Earth, but they must have the advanced brain and they must be aware of where they’re landing on which can’t fit into our story. The character of Adam or Eve helps us experience the development of the brain from the very early cognitive stages as well.

[6] If you’re interested in philosophy, I recommend you to read “Philosophical investigations” [link] by Ludwig Wittgenstein [link] in which the relationship between thing and an associated word or phrase to describe it has been eloquently discussed.

[7] Sense perception just tells us about the existence of something not what it is which is also the lowest level of perception. In the higher level, we use technology to perceive things that our senses can’t detect like microbes or infrared light; and we use logic to even probe more deeply the mystery of the universe and deduce the existence of things in the past, present or future, such as the big bang, black holes and so on.

[8] Link

[9] Even if we try to achieve things, our brain normally considers their lack as a danger, that’s why it allows us to spend more energy [Ref. to paragraph 10]. Though the idea of reward can be considered motivating, it will mostly work if failing to get it is defined as a danger. That’s why we hardly start our personal projects (we define projects as taxing and normally long-term procedures with some objectives and a goal), such as to quit smoking or stick to plans. We’ll discuss it later.

[10] In a single event, the only parameter to prioritize things is the dangerousness or intensity; however, if we happen to experience an event frequently, the frequency will be the other parameter to prioritize which will be discussed in the posts about meaning. Link to the post about frequency.

[11] Body-scan meditation is an eye-opening practice to be aware of the internal signals. You sit relaxed, in a quiet place and close your eyes; so, you’ve already reduced the number of external signals (visual and auditory). Then you think about parts of your body and you feel them which means your brain is processing the faint signals coming from each area.

[12] for more information, you can refer to “Atkinson & Hilgard, Introduction to psychology” [link].

[13] In “The gold rush“, there’s a famous scene when Chaplin‘s partner perceives him as a chicken due to starvation, so he tries to kill Chaplin. You can watch the scene here.

[14] Link

[15] You can see how ingrained the concept of probability is to our existence. Even in the level of perception, we can’t trust our senses with certainty, let alone our judgments.

[16] Link

[17] We can correlate the intensity of things to their level of energy. We can also relate the high energy level of the sweet or fatty food to good feelings.

[18] This idea has been demonstrated more detailed and interestingly in the following video about neural networks.


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