When I was a child, there was a period where I got very interested in magic tricks – making a quarter disappear and reappear and so on.1 The climax of this period was when I staged a show for the neighbors.
And that was the end of my interest in magic. Not that the show was a failure, mind you. Rather, it was too successful – I found I could distract the audience and get them to make assumptions which allowed me do all sorts of things right in front of them without them “seeing” what I was doing. Which was cool but also unsettling.
In any case, how DOES perception work? And why does it matter?
Vision may not work all the time, but we should marvel that it works at all.
When organisms apprehend the world by sight, they have to use the splash of light reflected off its objects, projected as a two-dimensional kaleidoscope of throbbing, heaving streaks on each retina. The brain somehow analyzes the moving collages and arrives at an impressively accurate sense of the objects out there that gave rise to them.
The accuracy is impressive because the problems the brain is solving are literally unsolvable… Vision has evolved to convert these ill-posed problems into solvable ones by adding premises: assumptions about how the world is, on average, put together.
When the current world (matches our assumptions), we see the world as it is. When we land in an exotic world where the assumptions are violated… we fall prey to an illusion.
The grandest vision of vision has come from the late artificial intelligence researcher David Marr. Vision, he said, “is a process that produces from images of the external world a description that is useful to the viewer and not cluttered with irrelevant information.” 2
Now let’s see an example of how this works in practice (2 minute clip):
“Just relax and enjoy yourself… relax and enjoy yourself.” lol. By the way, Derren considers himself a mind-control demonstrator.
- In the video, the polite young man – under pressure and overwhelmed by stimuli coming at him from multiple directions – assumes the other man is trustworthy. How does this affect his ability to perceive?
- Would Derren have gotten your tie?
- What is meant by “irrelevant information” in the quote above?
- If all perception is based on assumption, then would you say you yourself harbor all sorts of assumptions that help you get through the day?
- Neuro-linguistic programming is a science that’s widely practiced, some say, by politicians, advertisers, pundits, corporate CEOs, and so on, which incorporates certain devices – calculated pauses, vocal inflections, subliminal suggestions, staging, shills, etc. – in order to put the audience into a suggestible brain state. What do you think of that?
- The last time I saw my teacher he said, “There is a sucker born far more often than once a minute.” 3 Then he remarked how the ego’s addiction to hope and fear makes it easy for human beings to be manipulated. Why say such things, what does this have to do with spirituality or enlightenment?
How “perception” could be shaped:
“All kinds of shrewd people”
The usual man or woman, who works in a factory or an office and listens to the “news” faithfully, is constantly (and inevitably) exploited by all kinds of shrewd people who are materially in charge of his or her political, social, cultural, and intimate life.
– Not-Two IS Peace, p.120 (underline added)
There are no accidents in politics. 7
– Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.
- What kinds of hopes and fears are you motivated by that would allow someone to manipulate you? (I’m writing this from a Mummery Book enactment weekend, and I’m definitely getting in touch with my own hopes and fears here, and my subconscious desire to have “authority figures” take care of me, comfort me, listen to me, and amuse me.)
- If pickpockets and street magicians use certain techniques to great effect, why would the most powerful people in the world not want to try the same techniques? I think we often assume that the most powerful people in the world are people just like us – maybe not even not as smart as us. What if this turned out to be a faulty assumption?
- If we understand how the mind works, can this help us to better participate in politics, choose which influences to expose ourselves to (also known as choosing “good company”), motivate us to create genuine community, or inspire us to overcome identification with the mind altogether?
P.S. There are some extremely detailed analyses of politicians’ use of NLP on the net, which you might find interesting.
- I’m talking here about simple slight-of-hand, just to make sure that’s clear, lol. ↩
- Excerpted from How the Mind Works, by Steven Pinker. (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1997.) As included in The Basket of Tolerance, section on “Mind and the Brain”, by Adi Da Samraj. Bold added by this blogger. ↩
- This was in early November, 2005, I believe. ↩
- According to wikipedia and this Reuters article. ↩
- According to wikipeda. ↩
- According to wikipedia. ↩
- This quote is attributed to a January 8, 1961 article in The New York Times. The context was that his son had just been elected president and therefore he no longer had to keep a low profile. In other words, it was “no accident” that he was now appearing with JFK in photographs, and was not previously. The implication being that public perception is hugely important in politics, down to small details. ↩