1999 William J. Beaty


On Tue, 2 Feb 1999, Terry B. wrote:
> I have heard a couple of anecdotal stories regarding human
> perception but am finding it difficult to verify either.
> 1) It is said that African Bushmen, upon first being confronted with
> a video camera (or other similar technology), could not perceive
> it.  They saw nothing.
Fascinating! I never heard that one. I too have come to the conclusion that perception is far, far, FAR more important than most people think. The real world is out there, but we cannot ever see it. Instead we "create" it, just like all the new agers have been saying all these years: something obviously is out there, but all we ever experience are our simplified sensory interpretations, and the total amount of distortion in them is staggering. Think: suppose we could see an apple from all sides at once, including IR, UV, and microwave spectra? And taste all independent parts of its interior simultaneously? This would reduce the perceptual distortion by a tiny bit. But we'd also have to experience its horrifically complicated biology, and its neutrons, etc. , all at the same time. LSD experience would be like nothing if compared to really seeing a simple apple.

I imagine the world to be a type of incredibly complicated Greyness, and I see that it "exists" for us only because we actively assemble it from the incoming nerve impulses. What we see is our dynamically-maintained mental models, but we don't see the real world. Yes, something is still out there when we don't look at it, but that "Something" is nothing at all like we think it is.

With the African Bushmen above, I would have predicted that they would see a dark stone with flat shiny facets, or maybe a Bible (a mistaken perception of a known object,) rather than seeing nothing. I have heard that when people who've never seen a TV screen first encounter it, they cannot interpret the 2D pictures. Perhaps the story was really about the LCD viewfinder display on the camera, not the camera itself?

> Their world view was such that they had no
> way of dealing with the geometry of the device; so, their minds
> simply blanked it out.  Only after having their hands placed on the
> camera did they begin to perceive a shape.
On the other hand, if their "subconscious" decided that the camera was too weird to interpret, then their minds would decide that it was an optical illusion, a perceptual mistake, and edit it out. We are constantly ignoring optical distortions in the environment (major example: the retina's blind spot.) (Bigger example: we see the visual world as "out there" rather than perceiving it as a pattern on the retina; for example, seeing is not at all like perceiving touch- patterns on our skin.) Did you ever stay up all night studying for an exam, then after the exam the shadows on the ground jump at you? I noticed this constantly at the U. of R. (cramming for engineering courses.) My sleep-deprived brain was altered and partially cut loose from the mundane world, and I started perceiving Something Else!

> 2) The same has been told about explorers' ships when first
> confronting a native people.  The natives could not perceive the
> ships anchored off shore of their land.
I think this was a story about Magellan, when he landed on various Pacific islands. The sailors kept pointing to the ship and using sign language, but the islanders couldn't see it. They couldn't see it even when the Spaniards' landing boats took natives out to it. (This appears in Disney's Pocahontas movie, where the main character sees the ship as "strange clouds.")

In the UFO abduction arena, there are claims that aliens can walk right down the street, and not only do people not notice them, but people can't see them (although the people will mysteriously walk around them, rather then crashing into them.) Huge UFOs supposedly land in broad daylight in towns, and drag people off, but nobody sees it occur (Gulf Breeze, FL incidents.) Knowing a bit about vision psychophysics, I would not immediately dismiss such claims as inherently bogus.

Look at all the weirdo crap on my website. Most if it came from my constant attempts to SEE. Seeing the "hand drawn hologram" is a classic example. Our minds seem designed to "robotize" the world, "automating" things so only the familiar supposedly important stuff is offered up to the conscious mind to deal with. It's a constant huge battle to stop this "mundane-ification" process if you want to notice physics anomalies. It's described by artist Jim Woodring as "the growth of Manbark."

In an important sense, fighting to regain the ability to "see" is the same as striving for the worldview of a 2-yr old kid. Or a baby.

Hey, did everybody see this one below?
Look in the mirror, use both hands to pull your lips wide, then snap your teeth open and closed as shown in the photos below. This makes you "AWARE OF YOUR SKULL" Why, your face is just a layer of meat! What if you woke up one morning and it was gone! (Once the full-blown skull awareness wears off, find another mirror and restore it to full strength.) [PHOTOS EVENTUALLY!]

"A common man marvels at uncommon things; a wise man marvels at the commonplace." -Confucius


On Tue, 2 Feb 1999, Rick M. wrote:

> Well, there's the experience I had at an ocean lookout where a woman was
> sure that the crowd of bodyboarders and swimmers in the clear water below
> were all seals. The nearest swimmer (in a bright yellow-green bikini) was
> at around 150' or so from her location. She thought others in her group
> were kidding her, and it took a while for her to cognite on the colors and
> forms in the water below as being that of humans and not pinnipeds.

This sort of thing is the bane of the anomaly hunter. All the really interesting stuff is invisible. After years of trying to get past the "normal world", I finally had a non-trivial success: scratch-holograms were the result.

Pathological Science: seeing phenomena which aren't there. Pathological Skepticism: blindness to phenomena which ARE there.
Anyone who can steer between the above two effects, cut through the automated subconscious editing process, and perceive, can embrace all the mysteries of the world. And then risk being abandoned by their fellows, because people who can see things which nobody else can see are commonly imprisoned as insane, or worshipped/killed as founders of religions.

I'm convinced that drug trips are to a major extent perceptual reprogrammings. "Flashbacks" then don't involve lingering traces of the drug itself. Instead, a flashback occurs when the new "perception subroutine" gets triggered by your brain/computer.

Seriously, we all should beware of incautious messing with weird science. It can put us on a "drug trip" from which we never escape. Lots of crackpots have discovered this the hard way. They strive to breach the filters of perception and memory, and when they do, their portion of the inherent Narccissim in western mankind is released. (Call it the "inventor's disease", paranoia and delusions of grandeur: the Monsters of the ID get released.) I think the solution to this problem is the same as the one used in Shamanism and Alchemy training: pursue a selfless state, and cultivate vast discipline and impeccable personal integrity before lowering your perceptual filters. (Defeat Monsters of the Id before you take down the barriers and let them get to you.) Also, I've learned that defeating monsters can automatically lower the filters and let you "see." The filters were erected only to keep the monsters at bay. Eliminate the monsters, and the filters weaken and vanish.

Obviously Weird Science is a religion! We certainly have enough Damaged Partial Messiahs raving from their soapboxes.

Heh. I number myself among them. :)

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