Tag Archives: Consciousness

What we see…Part Two, Perspective

21 Nov

 

 

Kids tend to enjoy optical illusions. And many gifted kids are struggling these days, like us, with images of the state of the world we are offered most often in our so constantly connected digital world. We may use illusions to help them (and ourselves) see things in a different way.

The image above on first look seems to be a two dimensional (flat) image of many pink roses. But for most people that is not the only way to see it because it is a stereogram, a computer-generated image made popular in the ‘90’s by Magic Eye books. For those with good binocular vision it’s possible to shift one’s focus to create a three dimensional image of a heart, that stands well “in front of” a background of roses. Both technology and my own eyes can change what I perceive.

Caveat:  Those with astigmatism, or some other vision problem that affects the way their eyes work together won’t be able to see the heart at all—the image remains stubbornly one of roses. So if you can’t manage it don’t keep trying till your eyes are tired. Below are other optical illusions that work other ways.

On the left you may see either a white goblet or two profiles in black of human faces–or even both at once. On the right you can “choose to see” an old woman with dark bangs, a large nose and a sharp chin, wearing a babushka and a fur coat, or an elegant young woman with up-swept hair, a fur coat and a choker necklace, looking away. Some find it easier to see one, some the other.

All three of these images are reminders that one “picture” can offer at least two interpretations, equally real, but quite different.

And then there’s the famous story of the blind men and the elephant, where touching only one part of the elephant gives each man a totally different “vision” of what he is touching. Is it a snake or a rug or a spear, a tree or a wall or a rope?Okay, so the point here is that the idea that what you see is what you get, while very often experientially and psychologically true, is far more complex than it seems.

Consider a photographer who wishes to capture a landscape scene that includes a vast plain and a jagged mountain. Where she chooses to stand creates the perspective of the photograph. Is she out on the plain, looking across and up at the peak? Is she on the peak, looking down its rocky sides to the plain below? The camera captures the image before it, regardless of the location she has chosen. The other tool the photographer has is the lens. If she changes lenses, the image the camera captures changes.

But our eyes are not the same as a camera. They’re connected to our minds. And our minds are at work all the time. It isn’t just that looking at something from one physical location gives you that location’s perspective and another location gives you another. Our minds are actually always creating both the “location” itself– the mental place we’re standing–and also the focus.

I have a Face Book page called StoryHealer, where on most days I post a quotation with an image I’ve chosen to go with the words. I am always looking for positive, uplifting quotations, because the world we live in right now is full of horror stories, fear stories, hostility, anger, threat or despair. Those stories that saturate our consciousness are busy, whether we realize it or not, whether we want them to or not, creating mental/emotional locations from which it’s difficult to see anything else. From those locations and with that focus, it can become genuinely difficult to find and capture images of joy, of love, of gratitude or even of hope.

What I try to offer to those folks who find or have “liked” the page, is a different location, a different focus, from which to see the world, even for a moment. Or possibly to remind them that there is a different perspective available always.

We can do this with our kids and help them see that perspective also comes from inside us, and that we are able to do the choosing. If we are looking through a lens of our own hostility, how will we notice kindness? If we are standing on the rock of our own sense of victim-hood, how likely are we to see compassion? Or from a platform of absolute rightness, a totally different and valid-to-the-perceiver point of view?

It can be challenging to change perspective, or even to notice how where we’re standing affects what we see. And to realize that where someone else is standing inevitably gives a different view. If we can find a way of looking that connects us to the vast landscape of human caring, helping, loving, compassion and kindness that is part of our species’ nature the world may not seem quite so dark, nor other humans quite so threatening. We don’t have to “look away” or “become blind to” the dark side of human experience. Nor do we have to accept the other person’s perspective. We can, however, choose to acknowledge the difficulties all others face, and attempt to look with kindness, with compassion, with forgiveness at the larger picture. And then, to do our best to be, in our actual closeup daily experiences, as kind and compassionate as possible so we won’t find ourselves adding to the darkness the larger landscape always includes.

Knowledge, Belief and Experience

16 Jul
creativity

An “image” for consciousness?

On April 13th 2018 I wrote a post here titled “Deep and Deeper,” after speaking at the annual Seminar for IEA’s Caroline D. Bradley Scholarship students. The theme of that year’s seminar was Intersections. In that post I wrote: “…the new depths that interest me may not appeal to everyone. The title of my CDB workshop [ “From Indra’s Net to the Internet: Intersections, Reality and Consciousness.”] refers to both the mystical image of Indra’s net and the material world reality of the internet, two very different ways of perceiving intersections, the connectedness of all things. What I will be doing here in future is exploring both kinds of “deep.”

That’s what I’m doing again today. During the first week of July I had the honor and privilege of giving several presentations at PGR, the multi-day Colorado retreat for families of profoundly gifted kids. It was held at Glen Eyrie Castle, a conference center adjacent to Garden of the Gods, National Natural Landmark in Colorado Springs.

My two main presentations at PGR this month were focused on “both kinds of deep.” The first, Intelligence: Intellect and Intuition dealt with intellect as the fairly standard definition of intelligence and went deeper into the mostly (or at least often) overlooked but vastly important intuitive aspect. The other, Science and Consciousness, focused on two subjects that have long both interested and frustrated me. The frustration comes from the difficulty many scientists have finding a way to account for the relationship between these two. Science (materialist science) as a discipline is a creation of the human mind, yet consciousness—or mind itself—remains one of its greatest puzzles—the “hard problem” as it is often called. It is a hard problem because mind is manifestly immaterial. And that leaves materialist scientists with the curiously unsatisfying explanation that mind is a more or less “accidental” byproduct of the chemical and electrical functions of the brain. (But mind—of course—is what got me into the whole realm of the highly gifted in the first place!)

It is clear that mind and brain are intimately connected. Obviously, when the brain is damaged or malfunctions, or hasn’t fully formed during development, or is altered by drugs or chemicals, the individual’s mind does not function normally. But to assume that because of the need for a working brain to allow an individual to exhibit normal mental processing means that the brain is somehow manufacturing that mind is a bit like assuming that a working physical computer manufactures the messages in your email account or on your social networking sites. True that the brain is a living system while a computer is a mechanical/electronic one, but one still needs a way to account for the origins of the information that living system processes.

Actually, if one looks for scientific evidence that the brain does not create consciousness (awareness, thoughts, ideas, dreams, fantasies) it isn’t impossible to find. One does, of course, have to actually go looking for it. As Eben Alexander, the neurosurgeon whose brain was devastated by a raging infection that put him in a deep coma (from which no medical experts expected him to awake at all, let alone without severe neurological impairment), writes, he had dismissed the idea that mind could exist without a functioning brain because—without investigating—he had, as a medical doctor, “known” that it couldn’t be true. The idea that his own consciousness could experience and then later remember those experiences he had while the machines in his hospital room were showing his neocortex essentially nonfunctional–“offline”–went against all his medical training, training that he would have called “truth” rather than “belief.” His experience, however, annihilated his previous belief system. Once he began to research new science he had never known existed, he discovered that his previous certainties about the relationship between mind and brain were part of a scientific belief system so pervasive that relatively few doctors question it.

Perhaps because I’m a writer highly dependent on imagination (an aspect of mind that’s also difficult to define scientifically), I know that it’s possible to create with words entire worlds and characters that a reader can “feel” as she reads to be somehow real, though made entirely of thought that can be shared by many other minds. So I have an overwhelming respect for human consciousness that includes both thought and imagination. And in a way, the fact that a person’s belief system can be so strong that it can dismiss any amount of external or written evidence that contradicts it, gives us a clue to the power of mind not just to gain new information, but also to reject it utterly. We writers have to pay attention to the need for our readers to sometimes “suspend disbelief” in order to stay with our story. And that can be tricky sometimes. “Seeing is believing” is a common saying. “Believing is seeing” is probably more accurate.

One doesn’t have to look far to find advocates of materialist science’s worldview who reject Dr. Alexander’s new view created by his own experience. But that experience has changed not only his way of life, but his whole definition of reality. Since his book was published many people have shared with him the way their own life experiences have shattered their old beliefs but have opened their own conscious awareness to more possibilities than they could ever have imagined, let alone believed. The world turns out to be full of people whose experiences, though unique to them, offer corroboration of his own.

Several PG teens who attended my talk about consciousness were, let’s say, “highly resistant” to its content. For a time I entertained their questions and objections to what I was presenting, but I had considerable information about the growing “science of consciousness,” that I had come to share with the people who had come to my session at least willing to consider it. I pointed out that I didn’t expect everyone to believe everything I was saying—my own ideas about these complex and challenging issues are based not only on my considerable readings in the field of consciousness, but also on my own lived experience.

After a while I had to give the kids the choice to stay in the session and listen, or to leave. Some left, some stayed. I don’t write about it here to criticize their behavior. They were super bright teens with their own strong belief in the mainstream, materialist science they had explored and learned about. And I was, after all, challenging some of the basic tenets of that science. It’s possible that one day one of them could bring new ideas, information or “interpretations” into science as it moves ever forward.

It has been said that science progresses “one death at a time.” People whose lives, careers and reputations have been built on ideas, explanations, “beliefs” that are being challenged by new information, may be utterly unable to relinquish their cherished assumptions. I talked a bit about Hugh Everett, whose “Many Worlds” interpretation (MWI) of quantum physics was originally almost universally rejected, and whose career in physics was basically halted by the scientists who couldn’t let go of their own beliefs. I pointed out that recently an astrophysicist on my local NPR station was discussing the difference between the “Copenhagen Interpretation” of quantum physics championed by Einstein, and Everett’s idea that every time one of two opposite outcomes might occur that both do and the worlds split. The shocked interviewer, clearly sure this was a totally crazy idea, asked how many “actual physicists” accept it. The answer given was that, in spite of overwhelming early dismissal, probably about fifty percent of physicists today agree with it. “And in some circles it would be 100%,” he added.

And here’s a synchronicity. A friend shared this quote with me today, just as I was about to write this post: “The day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.”  — Peter Diamondis

Why do I want to write about this here on The Deep End? Because this blog is all about extreme intelligence in an ever-changing world. No matter how brilliant any individual is, even Einstein, who refused to believe in “spooky action at a distance” explained that it is curiosity and mystery that drive scientists to do their work. They wonder. They hypothesize. And sometimes they discover something that challenges even beliefs that have previously been accepted as truths. Whether we consider ourselves scientists or not, as we live our lives, our experiences may well take us into “other worlds” that we may have thought impossible based on what we were taught or learned to believe. And no, I can’t buy the idea that mind, consciousness, is nothing more than  a byproduct of our physical brains. It is essentially mystery and is likely to remain intriguingly worth exploring.

My own imaginings and wonderings about what’s possible, and the answers I encounter as my life experiences change, have left more than sixty years of beliefs behind. I hope that none of the new ones I’ve developed (most immediately the concept that consciousness is the foundation of the universe itself) ever become so rock solid that they can’t change when my own life changes around them, or new and unexplored worlds open up. I hope for any readers here the same thing.

Meantime, yes–I have experienced what neurobotany suggests, that trees can communicate not only with other trees, but with humans. For indigenous peoples this is not a “new” idea, but a very old one.