Posted by: Edward | June 15, 2006

Observation/Interpretation

Originally posted: Mon, Mar. 27th, 2006 19:20

Excerpts from a philosophy essay.

Assumptions

At a certain level we reach beliefs or assumptions that can’t be justified without assuming the very beliefs that we are attempting to justify. Generally these assumptions are the strongest intuitively held beliefs. Some of these base assumptions are the inductive principle, that something is either true of false, or that the external world exists somehow external. Beliefs in the past and movement of time, the existence of a self and causation are some of the other fundamental assumptions. We can only access past sensing as memory in the now yet we can’t help but believe that our memories happened in the past. The assumption of the body and the external world is so fundamental that while it may be possible to theorize with them assumed false, it is probably impossible to act consistently as if they are false.

Science, a human activity that began with each of those assumptions has thrown each of them into question and has shown many of them to be a product of how we process reality, our observation/interpretation. Of course by throwing those assumptions into doubt science throws into doubt the very process it uses to throw the assumptions in doubt.

Observation/Interpretation

As human conception is now, there is no pure act of perception. Perception is always entangled with a linguistic framework. Human perception is an act of observation/interpretation. I can not see a tree without seeing a “tree”. We have direct experiences of our senses and our mental activity we apprehend what is before our mind but what is before our mind has already been formed or formatted by our mind.
The table, if there is one, is the cause of the sensory signals that we correlate to infer the table. It is the interaction between the signals and our perception capabilities that give rise to the gross properties that we think we perceive. The properties are created by observation/interpretation. “Properties of the situation” means emerging from interaction. Rather than objects and particles all we really see are patterns and behaviours.

Neuroscience is very clear that before perception ever reaches conscious attention it has undergone a process of interpretation and inference. Our ability to recognize faces is an example of this. It is these preconscious interpretations that lead to such phenomena as optical illusions. A famous example was an experiment where a person ran into a crowded room and made stabbing motions at another person, who falls over, and then the assailant runs out again. Almost all participants report seeing a knife when in fact the assailant was carrying a banana.

Thought Experiment

Consider the human being as a space ship our mental existence is inside a sealed hull only able to perceive the outside through sensors that give different partial descriptions with are correlated. The pilot never knows if what is outside his ship is as his sensors apprehend or even if there is anything out there. Maybe the signals he is being sent are all malfunctions. Our pilot has an advantage over us in that he was once outside this ship. We were born in ours.

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