|The real voyage of discovery consists
not in seeking new landscape
but in having new eyes.
|-- Marcel Proust
|I wish, above all to make you see.
|-- Josef Conrad
- Perception and Visual "Common Sense"
|The map is not the territory.
|-- Alfred Korzybski
Our eyes are truly wondrous windows on the world. The last of our senses to evolve and the most sophisticated, they are our main source of information about the world, sending more data more quickly to the nervous system than any other sense.
Yet what our eyes register is not a picture of reality as it is. Rather our brains combine information from our eyes with data from our other senses, synthesize it, and draw on our past experience to give us a workable image of our world. This image orients us, allows us to comprehend our situation, and help us to recognize significant factors within it. To clarify how we see, perceptual psychologist J. J. Gibson has made a distinction between the image that appears on the retina, which he called the "visual field," and the mental creation that composes our "visual world." The visual field is created by light falling on our eyes; the visual world, however, interprets these patterns of light as reality. The visual world, then, is an interpretation of reality but not reality itself. It is an image created in the brain, formed by an integration of immediate multi-sensory information, prior experience, and cultural learning. In short, it is a mental map, but it is not the territory.
This is why although Alfred Korzybski's first principle of general semantics -- "the map is not the territory" -- may seem at first to state the obvious (who would confuse a road map for the real landscape?), the statement implies much more. It suggests a separation between perception and reality that is fundamental -- it is, in fact, a gulf that is never closed. What we refer to as "reality" is really a maplike mental image, the end product of a process that begins with light refraction in the environment and ends in the intricate and complex dynamics of the mind.
What we perceive, then, is no more "real" than a painting of a still life is edible: perception always intercedes between reality and ourselves. The surrealist painter Rene Magritte continually commented on this gap in such paintings as "The Key of Dreams," where word captions seem to contradict the meaning of the images above them: the head of a horse is captioned "the door," a clock "the wind," a pitcher "the bird," a valise, "the valise." Because we see things consistently, we have also come to believe that we see truly. Ultimately, however, we see more what we expect to see than what really "is."
Even when we watch television, we misunderstand approximately 30 percent of what is shown to us. Our emotional state, our mindset at the time, and our prior experience all seem to conspire against our seeing things as they really are. We go about our lives, however, mostly assuming that what we see is what really "is," as if there were no intermediary process -- in other words, as if the map were indeed the territory.
On the other hand, much of this assumption is for the most part justified and continually reinforced through experience: when we see a chair in front of us and then sit in it, we know our senses weren't fooling us. Because our evolutionary survival as a species has depended on our ability to recognize and derive meaning from our surroundings, the very fact that we are here tells us that the mechanism of perception is working. If our perceptual maps didn't work, we wouldn't survive to pass along the genes that preprogram the process.
But the trust we have in our senses and our own sense of objectivity is rarely if ever completely justified. Not only are we biologically tuned to overestimate certain aspects of perception, such as height compared to width, but we are also rarely even conscious of the variety of factors impinging on our perspective, especially those derived from subconscious and even primitive forces or from the vagaries of personal experience. Our image of the world is governed by evolutionary principles; it is to a great extent shared by others with the same cultural background; yet it is also uniquely nuanced in each individual.
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- A Prelude -- w: contrast effect
The uniformly gray strip bedded
inside the color-gradient wall shows the inverse color gradient more vivid.
The uniformly gray strip added
above the color-gradient wall shows the inverse color gradient less vivid.
Both rectangular wall images are exactly the same
but looks different since both surroundings are different.
WYSWYG or "What You See is What You Get" is a popular jargon in computing. The seer sees the seen indeed in practice. Or, the seen is up to (the capacity of) the seer. The seer and the seen are the two sides of the coin called seeing, view or worldview, which are practically the same. Simply, it is absolutely true that the observer observes the observed (sign of the world), and the reader reads the read (design of the book), as far as his or her capacity goes. Then, meanings just ain't in the wordy design nor in the worldly sign but after all in the seer's (mind's) eye seeing the seen, whether design or sign.