Thoughts about perception and communication

Carnegie Mellon scientists are studying how the brain makes sense of natural scenes using a computational model of visual processing. “The model employs an algorithm that analyzes the myriad patterns that compose natural scenes and statistically characterizes those patterns to determine which patterns are most likely associated with each other.”

The bark of a tree, for instance, is composed of a multitude of different local image patterns, but the computational model can determine that all these local images represent bark and are all part of the same tree, as well as determining that those same patches are not part of a bush in the foreground or the hill behind it.

Whether the theory is exactly correct or not, in thinking about it, I realize that we take understanding and perception quite a bit for granted. Our comprehension of the world is supported by complex internal processes that, like all characteristics of living systems, can vary from one “bundle” (human being) to another. We evolve diverse assumptions about the world based on our diverse interpretations. When we communicate, we generally think we share assumptions about reality, but our assumptions are only similar, and less similar where we have differences that will color perception (culture, language, internal process). Communication is far more difficult than we imagine. How do you communicate more of your substructure, so that the things you write or say are understood because your specific neural context is understood? I studied Irish author James Joyce quite a bit when I was in college, and I recall that, with Finnegans Wake, he created a book that could only be understood if you read what he’d read and could get into his head. He understood that a reader’s experience of a book will differ from the experience the author might have intended, depending on the reader’s background, perception, interpretation, culture… so each reader’s experience of a book is different, and if you’re trying to convey your unique sense of the world as you sensed it, you have to demand that the reader crack your code by following a path similar to the path you followed in reading, thinking, writing.

Author: Jon Lebkowsky

Co-wrangler of Plutopia News Network, cohost Radio Free Plutopia. Podcaster, writer, dharma observer, enzyme. Former editor/publisher, FringeWare Review; associate editor at bOING bOING and Factsheet Five; writer at Mondo 2000, 21C, Wired, Whole Earth Review, Austin Chronicle; sub-editor at Millennium Whole Earth Catalog; blogger at Worldchanging. Digital culture maven, podcaster, writer, dharma observer, enzyme. On The WELL, Cohost of VC (virtual communities), Media, and Civil War (.ind) conferences.

One thought on “Thoughts about perception and communication”

  1. Jon,

    Thanks for pointing this article out. No doubt you are right that many of us take our complex wiring for granted.

    When I considered the meaning of the article, my realization (or re-memory) is that there are actually scientific researchers who dedicate their entire lives to the bleeding edge. Generally, my curiosity doesn’t even take me to the fringe.

    Just wanted to drop you a line to let you know that I am very fascinated by the ideas you share here on Weblogsky. Thanks for sharing. I am definitely going to start tuning in more regularly, and would love to hear more from David A as well.


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