Post No.: 0471
When you know what the lyrics to a muffled phrase in a song are, or the words of a messily handwritten letter are, then those words will seem more crystal clear to you. Likewise, if you think you heard a hidden word in a song then you’ll not be able to help but hear that word every subsequent time. Once we find a pattern in ambiguous information, such as a supposed face in the clouds or a supposed word in a crackly recording, then we’ll find it subsequently very difficult to un-see or un-hear that pattern again. Within random noise, we might perceive figures, ghosts or extraterrestrial flying objects, shifty behaviours in someone we have already prejudged as untrustworthy, trends, cause-and-effect relationships, and histories that predict the future. We are particularly prone to finding faces in fuzzy noise.
The things that are consistent with what we’re expecting (specifically or generally) now sharpen into focus and float to the top of our minds, whilst the things that are surplus to or inconsistent to that fade or flatten into the background. This relates to confirmation bias. When we interpret noisy or ambiguous information, we are using a lot of stored prior knowledge, memories, experiences and assumptions to help fill in the gaps or apply the glue to the structure of what we sense – hence our observations and judgements are heavily influenced by our prior or present beliefs, hypotheses and expectations (the ‘expectancy effect’). We don’t even notice the literally physical blind spots in our eyes because our brains automatically and constantly fill in these gaps in our vision with assumptions.
Expectations, prejudices and assumptions bias what we end up seeing, hearing or experiencing so that we can end up seeing what we want to see and hearing what we want to hear. And it all happens so intuitively that we’re not even aware that we’ve made an interpretation or how it was made, and our minds become potentially forever tainted once we’ve found an interpretation we like, thus it becomes more difficult to consider the possibly millions of other ways that the information could’ve been interpreted instead (the ‘fundamental cognitive error’). It’s therefore impossible to ever be totally impartial and it can be difficult to see or hear things from the perspectives of others if we disagree with them. Also – even though our interpretations are somewhat based on our memories – our memories aren’t always reliable to begin with, thus compounding our potentially erroneous beliefs!
Although difficult, we should nevertheless try to see things from other people’s perspectives. They may not know what you know (e.g. when you tap a tune out, you know what that tune is and you’ll be playing it mentally in your own mind as you tap to it, but the other person doesn’t have that information thus the song will be much harder to decipher. Try this with someone!) What’s obvious to you, because of extra information you know and/or because your mind is directly attending to the subject, may not be obvious to others, and vice-versa (e.g. seeing the other image in a bi-stable optical illusion, how to operate your own TV or where stuff is in your kitchen just because you’re familiar with them, or indeed potentially any other point of view or piece of information about anything).
Some cryptic clues in puzzles are easy to backwards-engineer once you know the answer but hard to solve forwards – this is like the products of large prime numbers used in data encryption, where it’s easy to check that a product fits and is therefore correct once you know what those numbers are but it’s hard to factorise and figure out what those numbers are if you don’t already know them or weren’t given them. Also, once something has been revealed to you, it can be impossible to un-know it again, thus making it seem like it was ‘obvious all along’ when it wasn’t.
Everyone can therefore potentially perceive the world in highly individual and subjective ways filtered and based on different histories, needs, goals, experiences and perspectives. For instance, we can unwittingly convince ourselves of things to maintain our own positive personal images (e.g. that potatoes are vegetables and therefore we’re being healthy for eating lots of chips, or they’re ‘love handles’ rather than excess flab!) We’re not just passively and objectively taking the world in and recording and relaying it faithfully.
‘Naïve realism’ is the naïve belief that we personally see reality as it really is, 1:1 objectively and without bias, that the facts are plain for all to see, and people will agree with us if only they were rational too, thus those who don’t see the world the same way as us must be uninformed, lazy, irrational and/or biased.
…But we don’t see things as they really are but via the lens of our own primes, perspectives and interpretations. Even things like colour are determined by our own personal perspectives, experiences, education, histories, desires, goals and/or biases (e.g. we may think, with our Earthbound bias, that the Sun is yellow but it’s (currently) white).
Written words are just symbols to which we attach meanings to, and so are the sounds we produce when we talk, hence our languages don’t have objective meaning; just agreed conventions. ‘Agreement’ doesn’t mean ‘objective’. We also read between the lines in individual ways – common instances of miscommunication are when you say one thing but another person interprets it in a totally different way than you intended, thus revealing each of your own personal subjective perspectives of the world.
In our normal daily experiences, it’s the perception that matters. We are mere naïve ‘perceivers’ for we don’t sense and interpret things objectively. Reality may not be the way one perceives it to be – there may not be a 1:1 relationship between the way we perceive things and the way things really are. The world in our heads is, due to various biases, not a precise replica of reality. (Reality, from a quantum theory perspective, has even been argued to be fundamentally unknowable and indeterminate.) Seeing, hearing and remembering all involve considerable prior knowledge of the world. A piece of art can be deemed confused and worthless one day then masterful and valuable the next. Hypnotism or hallucination can affect our perceptions of reality too and even our own long-held memories. Naïve realism is a reason why so much of human law is unavoidably interpretative and not objective, despite being a field that tries its best to be clear and unambiguous.
So much about nature is also about relativity, with (relatively!) few constants or absolutes. Perception is not objective but is about perceived relative comparisons. For example, if one hangs around with extremely avaricious people then one may consider oneself not very greedy even though one might be in comparison to most other people in the world. Whenever we say that we’re ‘clever’, ‘strong’, ‘not a fussy eater’ or the like, we’re inevitably comparing to some arbitrary benchmark, and if we choose a low benchmark (those who are worse rather than better than us across time and place) then we’re going to think we’re great, and vice-versa. Some people see a glass half full whilst others see that very same glass as half empty (e.g. a report that highlights the successful crackdowns of criminal gangs in a community may make some people think that this area is now safe and other people think that this very same area is unsafe to have needed so many crackdowns).
People who therefore believe they only have objective perceptions, or in things having only one true or correct way at looking at them – particularly the way they look at them, as if they have the correct view and if others disagree then these other people must be ‘defective’ – suffer from naïve realism. Now this doesn’t mean that there aren’t any objective truths in the universe and everything is down to subjectivity, but there is no objective intuitive human perception of reality. There are absolute truths and science is our best way to find them. Still, regarding many questions like what’s ‘right or wrong’, no one will be able to know whether they absolutely know the best answer or not because logically no one knows what they do not know they do not know, either individually or collectively.
Seeing a dog may be seeing a dog (woof woof!) but what it means could vary wildly between different people. People have different desires too (e.g. not everyone cares to be rich). People don’t all think the same way and not everyone desires the same things, or at least to the same extents if they do – thus to assume that everybody should strive or yearn for the same things as you want (e.g. some people like to party, others legitimately prefer a quiet night in) would be to make a naïve assumption that everyone is looking at the world from the perspective of you being at the centre of the universe; when only you consistently see the universe from this point of view. Everyone can have their own desires, fears, motivations, associations and potentially different experiences of the exact same events, and your own interpretation is only one possible interpretation that is neither, in itself, outright right nor wrong amongst this sea of possible interpretations (e.g. what does a bed primarily signify to you – a place for peaceful rest or a place where nightmares come?)
Existence is about perceptions. It’s all or almost all in the mind – about subjective construals and experiences – including things as deep as joy or pain. And because there are potentially as many different interpretations or perspectives as there are people (or organisms) – if we’re very self-focused then we’ll see less truth and understanding than someone who is not.
…So naïve realism relates to how one thinks that the way one sees the world is the way the world really or objectively is – and this belief is naïve because it’s not the case. We perceive things relatively, not absolutely; and subjectively, not objectively. And if only everyone understood this then we’d (arguably) be more empathic with others, we’d listen more to other people’s points of views, and we’d be less arrogant in thinking that what we personally see or believe is the absolutely or objectively right way to see or believe because it may not be. We’d probably be less angry if other people disagree with us, and be less naïve in thinking that anything is ‘obviously’ this or that even though we cannot see what other people may be seeing. Rather than relying on our intuitions, we’d also rely on scientific methods of obtaining objective truths concerning questions where the objective truths can be obtained too.
All perception is essentially about trying to determine patterns, otherwise everything would appear random and thus meaningless. It’s about trying to make sense of and keep a consistent and predictive view of the world to allow us to be able to function and survive in it. But many patterns we perceive with our own raw senses and naïve minds are illusory, thus this extends on what was written about the senses in Post No.: 0419.
On the positive side, art could be said to be about translating and communicating our own individual ways of perceiving the world. Different people observing the same subject matter or vista can see things quite differently. We all draw, paint, sculpt or whatever not just according to what we see or what’s ‘out there’ in the environment but what’s based on our own memories, expectations, desires, fears or what’s ‘in here’ in our own minds – and this is sometimes actively encouraged in art because it’s not always about faithful, photorealistic life drawing. An artist’s perceptions, in exaggerated yet recognisable and relatable form, are what we’re seeing when we witness their work.
Woof. So let’s get metaphysical!