Analyze what role perception and/or memory play in our understanding of reality. How is this understanding accounted for or depicted in representations or theories about reality and what larger conclusions can we draw from this?
Narrative as Reality
The interpretation of reality is a fascinating topic for exploration for a variety of reasons. Despite inhabiting our own realities and living a unique human experience as ourselves, we generally have no way to access what it would be like to have someone else’s experience. Humans tend to be born with a wide range of abilities and facilities, and inhibitions. Also, there are different contexts and events that unfold around a person at any given time. This creates quite the dilemma when we come to think about what reality is truly like. It is possible for two people to walk down the same sidewalk and selectively witness entirely different transpiring’s of outside events, communication, and feelings in responses to psychological properties, all arising due to a variety of internal and external phenomena. It becomes even more fascinating to consider that underlying the 10 percent or so of experience of our brains that humans are said to have access to; there may be a vast underpinning of minute exchanges guiding behavior. Consider that humans are always in the process of oxygen exchange, metabolic breakdown, hormone regulation, not to mention millions of other microscopic happenings, but also maintaining an awareness of whatever thoughts or phenomena are being observed by the mind’s eye or consciousness. It will be worth pointing out that conscious and subconscious or unconscious processes both play a factor in perception.
I will attempt to contain the concepts in this essay in limited fashion, but obviously terms such as subconscious are not fully comprehended and thus are subject to interpretation and understanding. However, I take subconscious to deal with complex phenomena such as self-preservation, identity, motivations, desires, fears and so forth. On the other hand the ‘mind’s eye’ if you will is whatever thoughts are being held up and examined or being explored by your active willing. The long and short is, various things are happening in the deep layers of consciousness but what is in your minds eye is that which has caught your attention. The inner dialogue or endless succession of the time lapsing thought train that maintains the individual in the present. This present state however is always affected and influenced by the previous roll of dialogue and events, as well as one’s future direction. Earlier I had mentioned the word selected earlier in the introduction and I believe experience of reality is largely based around a selected perception. I would even go so far as to say there is a way to access more of reality. Perhaps not that there is an objective outside reality to be accessed, but that the life part of the human experience can be enhanced to draw out more, as if life were a nectar to brought forth. Often this sort of view is to align with that of mysticism or a theory on Aesthetic value. The aesthetic experience is to be understood on a sensual level rather than an intellectual one; it is an intuitive experience best thought of as going through the heart rather than the brain. For now I will focus on the process of perception and later tie it back to how the an aesthetic experience is something to be strived for and worked at in order to create deeper meaning in reality. I believe that memory is constructed based off of a narrative that has been selected by or even perhaps chosen for the person having the human experience. Rarely do people have full control over their experience and the story typically evolves without following any particular path. In this way there may be something to the trained person in surfing the wave of life whether by fortune or initiative.
For the person who takes the stance towards life that things are divine and their existence is a blessing such that life appears more vibrant; this person’s experience will be colored in much differently than that of another who sees their existence as a tragedy and life as dark and cold. In this way, reality, or what it means, is something given to and placed within its structure by the subject experiencing it. I say the structure of reality by which I mean how everything in the world affects and is experienced by everything else, resulting in the infinite regression of cause and effect. For humans this is experienced on a very subtle energetic and hormonal level, in which many things occur physiologically and psychologically simultaneously. In the context of social interaction, which honestly most human experience is, involves a sharing of emotions. If one person feels an emotion and directs that attention towards a person, that person is likely to feel a corresponding reaction even if only subconsciously. Regardless of whether there is a connection, one’s feeling emotion in the direction of someone else involves a web of associations with what that persons sees themselves in relation to the other. However, with the proper tuning, the brain may act as an antenna and receive stronger or more varied signals if it is tuned properly for the more nuanced episodes of experience. For example, still frames of hummingbirds reveals fury, as well as a microscopic time lapse of mushrooms releasing spores shows a living creature. So perhaps by looking through the right frame or sensing according to the sphere oriented to one’s desires and reward system, a person may pick up on and perceive different information contained within the environment. In order to support the idea that how someone chooses to perceive their environment forms and shapes memory and reality, I will examine examples from Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust , Concepts We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, The Distinction of Fiction by Dorrit Cohn, and Consciousness, art, and the brain: Lessons from Marcel Proust by Russell Epstein.
Fictional narratives provide us with an opportunity to explore the depths of the mind and thought that structure reality for us as humans. This is because language is our basic means of expressing these experiences and relating them to someone else. According to Lakoff and Johnson;
The concepts that govern our thought are not just matters of the intellect. They also govern our everyday functioning, down to the most mundane details. Our concepts structure what we perceive, how we get around in the world, and how we relate to other people. Our conceptual system thus plays a role in defining our everyday realities.
They go on to explain that our conceptual system is largely metaphorical (Lakoff and Johnson, 3). What seems to be suggested by this is the way we represent the world in our thoughts and interpret information is in a sort of relational method. We take pieces from former experience and associations to form a module of information that associates with concepts in our mind. They go on to state, “ In most of the little things we do every day, we simply think and act more or less automatically along certain lines. Just what these lines are is by no means obvious” (Lakoff and Johnson, 3). The fictional narrative provides the author with access to those strings and with the ability to construct them and figure into them associations. Essentially, the artist is choosing which subconscious phenomena to reveal. They tie into the story the pieces of information, which may influence why someone says or does the thing they do. Like a psychologist, they are able to reveal the basis of someone’s character or dispositions they perform based off of roles people lead out in their lives. These roles are not only self defined but defined by the outside world and this is the same way for everything within nature. The artists intent is to bring forth an aesthetic experience in the audience, and to do so would be to pull on strings which may underlie the vary fabric or core of what a person conceives of themselves. Words have the tendency to have immediate impact on the heart; they can give rise to energy pulses which can be felt in the body, heart, or head depending on the corresponding associations.
In Swan’s Way Proust’s narrator seeks experience’s that are more real, I will dissect what real is and how it can be accessed. The narrator is on the search for meaning and a truth or reality that is beyond normal perception. The meaning is something, which the narrator must create for himself, weaving in a meaning and interpreting his experience through a frame or lens. It is as if he were the movie director for his own movie and the angle of the shots or what the director wants you to see is what meaning you get from it. The idea of what is ‘real’ or ‘more real’ is how the narrator’s focus, or point of view is shaping reality perhaps more essential to himself than the things that happen. In this way it is not what happens that’s important but why and how they happen. The why and how is subjected to the mind’s eye, and the importance or information contained within experiences is something of an intuitive revelation. I interpret Proust as wishing to transcend his self in a way and intimately feel his connection with the world outside himself. In this quote Proust thoroughly expands on what the real experience is for him:
For even if we have the sensation of being always surrounded by our own soul, it is not as though by a motionless prison: rather, we are in some sense borne along with it in a perpetual leap to go beyond it, to reach the outside, with a sort of discouragement as we ahead around us always that same resonance, which is not an echo from the outside but the resounding of an internal vibration. We try to discover in things, now precious because of it, the glimmer that our soul projected on them; we are disappointed to find that they seem to lack in nature the charm they derived in our thoughts from the proximity of certain ideas: at times we convert all forces of that soul into cunning, into magnificence, in order to have an effect on the people who are outside us, as we are well aware, an whom we will never reach. (Proust 88)
What is meant by this passage is how the real can be accessed and what exactly it is. In Proust’s view ‘more real’ experience is what occurs in the mind our on the mental plane rather than the physical. It is as if there is a mind-to-mind interaction in the world and the separated self is an illusion. The more real experience lies in the connection between the narrator and his environment. The narrator feels deeply involved and linked to the place, time, and people in whatever point he exists. The meaning is to be found within the interrelation of the whole and not to be taken separately in parts. Each piece is an essential piece to the overall puzzle. I would go so far as to say Proust believed they’re to be a mental plane and this is where the connection exists. It is the connection, or the mind-to-mind transmissions where the more real is to be found. Ordinary perception takes the world to consist of physical beings and elements interacting. Perhaps however there exists a mental or transient mind-like reality that extends beyond ordinary perception. The narrator can only ever touch this reality or merely glimpse it, it is elusive in a way that it cannot be grasped or held only be sensed. Our minds seem bound by the way in which we relate to the world, and the author feels constricted in his relations with other people. Through the physical medium of language and movement, the narrator can only partially reveal his mind-states to those around him. In this there is a transmission of vibration or waves that travel across the mental plane. The mental plane remains unbounded, so the finite mind can only attempt to expand its capacity to experience in a way that extends beyond the realm of ordinarily perceived matter. To experience the world is to perceive the world through the mind’s eye and obtain access to the psychic medium. This perception has its foundation in the belief system of the perceiver and the very story they weave into the explanation of their own existence as well as their concept of creation, their relationship with death, family ties, passions, fears, etc.
Within the very conceptual system someone has constructed through which they filter and perceive their world, is embedded a fictional narrative tying together one’s reality within a conceptual framework. In exploring fictional narrative type stories, the reader is allowed access into another world’s, allowing a birds eye view into the persona and identity others have gained from reputation and their image of themselves. “The principle process by which fiction alters the actual world, even when it strictly adheres to the latter’s geographical and historical data, is by augmenting its population: by implanting within it the imaginary beings we customarily call characters” (Cohn, 16). What I take Cohn to be saying is the fictional world seems larger than our own because there are more psychic phenomena we are aware of. The concept of character is something that can’t be pinned down but is often a tethering of many contexts and roles someone finds themselves in on the day-to-day basis. Fiction puts the reader in the position to observe and find how the persons character both shapes and is shaped by the scenarios presented in the novel. Cohn later mentions a certain type of fiction put forth by Madame de Stael’s Essai that she “favors above all others: ‘fictions naturelles’- the kind of narrative informed by ‘la connaissance intime detous les movements du Coeur humain’ [‘the intimate knowledge of all the movements of the human heart’]” (Cohn, 11). This perfectly describes the sort of experience Proust is exploring, the idea that the heart is like a radar system constantly picking up, receiving, and sending out transmissions. The intimate knowledge implies it is something that has been uncovered, and even perhaps worked for. It is a capacity to feel and intuit these subtle fluctuations of the emotional and hormonal biosphere that constitutes a person.
It isn’t entirely unreasonable to endorse the idea that perhaps an understanding of the self as a multifaceted complex psychological and physiological being opens up portals through which a person can add more depth to their experience. Epstein makes an interesting observation in his paper suggesting Proust is pointing at accessing something along the lines of Platonic forms, these “’essences’ can only be approached through experience” (Epstein, 225). What Proust seems to uncover in the process of his writing experience, is an approach or stance in relation to the world that enabled him to feel out the connections between the multi-dimensional world we inhabit. Not only was he able to convey subtle pulses into his recollection of memories, but also he himself is actually experiencing more and existing in time with keen presence that allows the world to sort of embrace him and flood him with sensuality. I suggest he had a higher degree of perception, merely by the fact that he had access to these details. In his desire are search for the truth, Proust has the key to higher frequency disturbances within his field of awareness.
What make’s Proust’s art beautiful is in his ability to present this subtle awareness to the reader and attempt to recreate an experience of that magnitude for the reader.