Saturday, August 11, 2007

Limits on Perception and Scope

As early modern human evolved from the African savannah, certain aspects of the environment were engrained in our functional abilities. Thanks to the wonders of natural selection, traits that aided in the survival of our species perpetuated, and those that lead to a dead end (genetically speaking) were discarded. Certain aspects of our current psyche, dates back to our early progenitors, and no amount of civilized life, whether in an Urban Environment, or even in the middle of a 100 million dollar yacht located somewhere in the Indian Ocean, can fully extract us from our evolutionary past.

Certainly, from the evolution of our modern brain, particular traits were perpetuated, which counter the immense world that we are bombarded with on a daily basis. In essence, our brains are limited in both Perception and Scope from the knowledge which we obtain on a daily basis. We have a difficult time discerning things that are too far from our perceptional and reasoning abilities. Quantum Mechanics for example, in many ways is counterintuitive to our daily experience, because we are creatures of a larger level. If we exponentially increase the scale of our experiences, at a greater macro level, then even those levels which we can comprehend become counterintuitive. In general, if we look at the physical world at the smallest subatomic scales, then most of what we know as solid, is empty space. An atom is, for the most part, nearly empty. At the same time, if we increase the scale of our experience to that which involves galactic clusters, then most of space as we know it is itself empty as well. In fact, only 4% of the universe is made of luminous matter -- that which we can see and interact with.

Having discussed the ramifications of our limited biological brains in processing the physical universe (especially in scales that we don't encounter on a daily life), even our processing abilities on our own humanistic level is suspect. We as a species evolved, along with our brains, to interact with small clans, and analyze other groups on a limited level. It becomes immensely difficult when we decide to analyze a population that's larger then our brains biological tolerance limit. For example, economics is a difficult subject, specifically because in some ways it's an emergent phenomenon. From the actions of individuals, to actions of small groups, to larger groups, eventually a large-scale phenomenon is developed, that can be applied globally. Yet at this level, simple analysis fails us, because of certain emergent properties of large scale chaotic behavior. Just as nearly empty space at the subatomic level can lead to physical interactions that we, at our middle level are aware of, certain small scale trends can eventually lead to a higher system that seems independent in some ways. Typically, this is what's considered an emergent property. Similarly, the neurons in our brain, simulate the real physical world around us, and in doing so, activate what we know as thought, or consciousness. The exact mechanism is still unknown, but chances are, emergent phenomenon are at play. From what may be gathered, Emergent Properties, are aspects of our attempts at defining phenomenon that exceed our scopes and perceptions.

Looking at various examples that we encounter on a daily basis, can help illuminate us, into the limitations on our mental scope. First, let's consider the information from the rest of the world that we're bombarded with on a daily basis. Looking through various web sites that suit our needs, we are exposed to news of wars, famine, celebrity gossip, disease, mass death, plane crashes half a world away, natural disasters, etc. We have become global information filters, and initially, it may seem normal, but having evolved as small hunter and gatherer clans, it's mentally very taxing trying to keep up with all the global information. The mentally taxing aspect comes from having to deal with phenomenon that are beyond our mental scope. This is not to say that we cannot achieve some form of understanding, but it becomes harder and harder, with more inclusive information. Secondly, we can look at our individual daily interactions and realize how limited we are in scope. Police for example deal with a proportionally higher criminal element then for example, butchers. In that respect, an officer can perceive the whole world as more criminally biased, then a butcher. In the same token, a gastroenterologist, because of his daily interaction with ulcerative patients, will assume that a greater proportion of the population suffers, then the actual number of people. Ultimately then, SCIENCE frees us of these patterns of thought. A doctor can look at research papers that illustrate just how many percent of the population suffers from ulcers. Even with his limited scope, his reliance on science will help keep in unbiased and retain some measure of true perspective. Similarly, an officer can look at certain crime statistics and realize that although it appears that murders seem to have increased, maybe his interaction with certain cases make it seem so, when in fact, they're on the decline.

Ultimately, our reliance on empirical evidence and the scientific principle wills us to achieve perceptional ability and scope beyond our limited examples. Although the information that we receive may be excessive, and our mind may strain to understand counterintuitive properties of the universe, or subatomic matter, economics, consciousness, or even linguistic development, we will ultimately benefit from the accumulated wealth of scientific knowledge. Irrational beliefs (I'm not going to mention religion, even though I just did), are often a result of our limited scope and perception. Though difficult, we can break free of our mental chains, by allowing ourselves the freedom of exploring both the large, the small, and the absurd.


Anonymous said...

Dear Agnostictruth,
Are you implying that science should be used to compensate for the idea that everything in our world is relative, whether it be in perspective or scope? If so, I choose to concur that human beings, at large, (should)default to science to steady the flow of information that daily saturates our minds...for factual science is one of the only things that remains constant in our world.
Well done~

Anonymous said...

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