Thursday, April 24, 2014

Perceptual Cognition

Many philosophers have pointed to the relationship between perception and wisdom in order to emphasize the weakness in what was once thought of as the pure rational, analytic mind. Clever analysis can use statistics to prove the opposite of what they show. Even in terms of raw data, the ability to make something clear to vision offers immediate understanding of something the verbal/symbolic mind would take forever to wade through. In a wonderful book “Atlas of the Real World” pages and pages of statistics are transformed into maps that show exactly how the important relationships are distributed. It’s clear in an instant who is doing what and how much of it.

Since the maps enlarge the areas that utilize the most of the statistic in question, this example maps the metaphoric room taken up in the world of the Internet, how large a presence any given country has. Images offer insight directly to the part of the mind sensitive to the whole, the key relationships, proportions and balance. The possibilities for human cognitive development can expand exponentially as we learn to use the images and all the information and relationships they contain in the analysis of issues. Looking at issues visually is not only valuable for what a given image illuminates but also what questions are posed by seeing particular visual representations together. The co-mapping of different areas of information opens areas of insight by the immediate visual associations. This map from “Geographica” shows world fishing areas and offshore oil drilling together revealing potential hazards to the food supply.

Breaking loose of traditional ways of using informative images opens the way to invent new cognitive skills. Since mapping in the hippocampus is a foundation of the brain’s storage organization we can use it as a tactic to understand more elusive things and shed greater light on them. We all have the ability to map anything we want. Try mapping your facebook life as a universe with yourself as the sun and friends as planets positioning them in terms of emotional closeness to you. It gives you a more nuanced picture than lists and categories. If you alter the size of the planet according to importance of the person to you the understanding goes even deeper. Some may be important without being close. They could also be colored according to status and given orbiting planets of their own. Each visual relationship illuminates more and makes it clear how much was missing from the shorthand version made from words and lists. Images are far more comprehensive in what they can show than verbal descriptions. And mapping is just one form of visual representation.

How perception is organized offers a window into the organization of the mind itself.
What matters is immediately scanned and attention directed to what is most important.
What we see determines where we look. Research has shown that we can only process a certain amount of information given in units like numbers or labels. But when the information is organized into images we remember vastly more. Comparison and analysis of the implications of images together could bring some cohesion to the fragmented responses to serious world problems. The evolution of the mind depends on cultivating perceptual cognitive skills.

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