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Mind-bending Concepts—Perception

The Mind-bender Concepts Series
The word "perception" is never clearly defined, at least by dictionaries, but even by dictionary definitions there are two distinct meanings:

1. The first pertains to direct awareness of the physical world, and though dictionary definitions usually confuse sensory perception with other conscious functions, like cognition, it is the physiological/neurological function the first meaning of perception refers to.

2. The second definition of perception refers to the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted, as ones perception of a societies values or some state, like old age.

The Unambiguous Meaning Of Perception

Neither of these definitions is explicit or totally unambiguous, but the first can be made unambiguous, the second cannot, and it is always the second meaning of perception which the mind-benders mean.

Perception, in the first sense, is the immediate direct consciousness of the physical by means of the external senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, as well as the internal awareness of the states of the body. Perception is both involuntary and continuous, though aspects of what is perceived can be controlled voluntarily by changing the direction one is looking, or closing one's eyes or covering one's ears, for example. One cannot change how one will perceive what is available to be perceived—one can only see what is before the eyes to see, and must see it, or hear whatever sounds there are to hear, and must hear them.

Perception, in this sense, pertains only to the immediate experience of consciousness, and no amount of knowledge, or lack of it, changes what one perceives in that sense. An individual may look at something moving on the ground and have no idea what it is, while an entomologist might immediately recognize the kind of insect it is, but that recognition has nothing to do with perception, it is a conceptual (cognitive) function of the mind—both the entomologist and the ignorant observer's perception (what they see) are identical.

The Vague Undefinable Meaning Of Perception

When Edward De Bono says something like, "understanding of the importance of perception and the nature of perception as a pattern-making and pattern-using system," it is clear he is not referring to our faculty of perception (first definition) but to something else altogether. Actual perception can only perceive what is, if there are patterns it will perceive them, if there are no patterns, it will not perceive any, and perception does not "make" anything. If perception could make things, we could never know if what we were perceiving were really there, or only something perception "made."

When the "Myers-Briggs Type Indicator" claims, "The essence of the theory is that much seemingly random variation in the behavior is ... due to basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception .... Perception involves all the ways of becoming aware of things, people, happenings, or ideas. ... people differ systematically in what they perceive ..." it is obvious it is not our faculty of perception that is meant. We cannot "perceive" ideas, and all people perceive in the same way, and they have no choice about it, no matter what they prefer.

What, then, do these people mean by "perception?"

They mean the second meaning, the one that refers to how people regard things, understand things, or interpret things. According to Meyers & Briggs, those things are anything we can be "aware of, things, people, happenings, or ideas," but it is not just the awareness that is perception, but how one regards those things, understands them or interprets them. How one "regards" something means how one evaluates it and whatever feelings they relate to it, how one understands and interprets something will depend on what they know and think about it. These are all functions of reason and judgment, not perception.

Meyers & Briggs does try to separate perception and judgment, but if perception is only awareness, even of ideas, if one is aware of a thing, they are aware of it, but Meyers & Briggs says, "people differ systematically in what they perceive," which is impossible if perception only means "awareness of." If my "awareness of something," and your "awareness of something," are not the same awareness then we are not aware of the same thing. If you and I are both aware of the same thing, but that awareness is different, then it cannot be mere awareness that is meant, but some process [thought, judgment] that has made those awarenesses different.

The meaning of perception by De Bono, Meyer & Briggs, and all the other mind-benders, is not perception at all, but differences in people's values, principles, knowledge, and clarity of thought that makes them have different opinions about things. By using the word perception it is implied such differences are automatic, built-in, or part of one's nature. The use of perception in this way is an obfuscation of the fact that all such differences in people's views, values, and beliefs are chosen, and not caused by anything.

De Bono's use of the word perception is even worse than Meyers & Briggs. For example are these two recommended "thinking habits:"

"An overall view of the importance of emotions, feelings and values in thinking, but an effort to do some perceptual thinking before finally applying the emotions."

No matter which definition of perception, even the totally meaningless second definition, there is no way to make the phrase, "perceptual thinking," have meaning.

"An understanding of lateral thinking and the willingness to change perceptions ...."

Well you can change what you are seeing by turning your head or turning on the TV, but I'm sure that is not what De Bono means by "change perceptions." No doubt he means change what you think or believe or feel, but it is easier to use the slippery word, "perception," than an explicit term that actually has a clear meaning. Why would he do that? It is certainly not for the sake of clear thinking.

All these mind-benders base a great deal of their programs on the assertion that people perceive things in different ways. Whenever someone asserts something as true, then uses that assertion as the premise for a complex conceptual structure like De Bono's thinking strategies or Myers-Briggs Type Indicators, if they cannot demonstrate how they know that assertion is true, their whole thesis must be rejected. Since perception is a subjective conscious experience, and no one can know what is in another individual's consciousness, to claim to know perception is different for different people is impossible to know, even if it is the second fuzzy definition of perception that is meant.

When anyone makes the argument, "the reason Bill thinks differently about eating meat than Fred is because Bill perceives eating meat differently than Fred," you know it is a lie, because no one can know what either Bill or Fred perceives.

Covey's Deceptive Perception Illusion

According to Covey, he encountered the following experiment at Harvard Business School. The instructor of his class passed out cards with image A to half the class and cards with image B to the other half of the class.

                 
The instructor asked the entire class to study their cards for about 10 seconds. He then projected the following on a screen, and asked the class what they saw?

According to Covey, most of those who had received image A saw a young girl in the projected image, and most of those who had received image B saw an old woman in the projected image. The students even argued about what was in the projected image, according to Covey.

Covey said about this experiment:

"I frequently use this perception demonstration.... It shows, first of all, how powerfully conditioning affects our perceptions, our paradigms. If 10 seconds can have that kind of impact on the way we see things, what about the conditioning of a lifetime?"

Covey completely confuses the true meaning of perception with the mind-benders vague undefinable meaning of perception.

Everyone in that class perceived identically the same thing. There was no difference in what they perceived, that is, what they saw, (the image in their field of vision), and what they saw were some blobs and lines of black on a white background and everyone saw those blobs and lines in identically the same way.

The difference in what they said about what they saw was a difference in interpretation, not perception. This is, of course, what Covey means by perception, but this example is intentionally confusing as to which meaning he has in mind.

In fact there is neither a young girl or an old woman in the projected image. There are only the blobs and lines of black, and the supposed "seeing" of either a young girl or old woman is a learned interpretation, the same kind of learning that makes it possible to read.

If a literate adult and young child both look at a printed page, they both see exactly the same thing. To the child it is just a page with lots of funny marks on it. To the adult, those funny marks are recognized as letters formed into words which he recognizes as representing concepts which form the meaning of whatever is printed on the page.

No one would suggest that being able to read a printed page is some kind of conditioning that determined one's perceptions and "paradigms." Yet that is exactly what the mind-benders try to imply.

The students in the class who "saw" the young girl after studying image A had simply learned the whole image could be interpreted that way. The students who "saw" and old woman after study image B had simply learned the whole image could be interpreted the other way. The experiment was skewed by not allowing all the students to see both images (thus learning both ways the image could be interpreted), which would surely have demonstrated they could interpret the image in either way they chose.

The mind-benders are not interest in clarifying the true nature of perception which would not serve their purpose.

[NOTE: The article, "Perception—The Validity of Perceptual Evidence," explains the true nature of perception.]

—(01/19/11)