By Danielle,

How Does 'the World' Change as the Light Changes?

5/12/2012 DK 0 Comments

With countless studies and discussions about it in various academic areas such as psychology, philosophy, science and art, there is no doubt that ‘perception’ is a highly complex yet interesting and mysterious topic. It is perhaps more intriguing than other topics or areas of study since it is deeply relevant to all (human) beings – we continuously form insights of the visionary and auditory “world” we contact with; we continuously “perceive”, consciously, subconsciously and unconsciously.

From little online research, it was immediately evident that the topic of ‘perception’ revolves around the idea that ‘no two people see the external world in exactly the same way’ (Fitzgerald). This is a particularly fascinating aspect of perception since it relates to the very basic elements of the world: that individuals and cultures differ, that the same thing/object/vision has different impacts on different individuals. And just as the widely accepted and spoken belief that ‘it is important to know yourself before anything else’ (or something along this line), that is exactly what I intended to do by watching the sunset on a warm March night: to pay attention to how I see, how I feel; how I perceive.

With the concept of ‘perception’ and individual differences in mind, it was difficult to steer my attention away from the usual movements of my body as I made my way down to St Kilda beach. How is it that I am unaware of the brain processes, the neurotransmitters and the central nervous system which constantly contract my muscles, letting me walk? How does it feel so automatic, as if no effort was given to move my legs? All I did was to decide to walk down to the beach and now my legs are moving in a familiar walking motion. Moreover, how am I thinking at the same time?
This is when I realised that I was “perceiving”; I was thinking about the way my brain is working, thinking about walking, and thinking about thinking. So far, perception to me was the result of “automatic” processes of my brain through which I perceive – feel, become aware of, and think about.

As I sat on the sand at the beach, I rather helplessly let my senses and brain “perceive” for me:
Under the yellow- and orange-stained light blue sky, the best words to describe my then state of mind would be warm, relaxed and calm. The glistening water and the faint sound of the waves further relaxed me. The familiar sounds of children’s laughter and mothers’ chatters – I felt safe in the midst of the seemingly never-ending sand, water and sky. I reminisced about family and friends from whom I am now far away, their hugs and smiles.
Little time later, the light blue sky slowly grew darker, or rather, lost its light, as the sun slowly approached the horizon. At the horizon, the surrounding water and sky reflected a more vivid orange. The sun and the colours seemed further away from me and the colours of the objects around me started to seem harder to comprehend. The light green-coloured rubbish bin nearby turned to a darker shade of green. As I observed the colour change, a feeling of anxiety was slowly creeping up.
This feeling increased as the sky turned dark purple and the sun slowly disappeared into the horizon, staining it dark red. The sounds of the waves and wind, footsteps and chatters got louder or I became more aware of them. I could make out the shape and colour of the rubbish bin nearby but it was no longer an obvious green. I would see the shape of the people walking towards me from a distance but often realise when they were closer that I was mistaken about their size or skin colour. The calm and relaxed feeling had long disappeared and I seemed to be sensitive to all sounds and movements around me. The safe and warm world around me had so quickly become unknown and foreign, in which I was aware of the surroundings but unable to adequately recognise them.
These changes in the state of my mind were, I guess, what ‘perception’ is. Everything was still there: the water, the sky and the surrounding objects. What changed was merely the amount of sunlight which consequently altered the way I look at the “world” surrounding me.
The fascinating fact is that I was unaware of how my perceptions changed. The way I felt in accordance to the change in light seemed to be the product of my eyes and brain processes of which I was not aware. That is, my perceptions were automatic and involuntary. Just as I discovered while walking to the beach, I did not consciously increase the amount of rods my eyes employed to see the world as it got darker. I did not consciously translate the visions and colours I saw into the feelings of warmth or anxiety.

As I thought about the involuntary processes of my organs, I formed a perception of the concept, ‘perception’. Perception is not the result of my direct contact with the world. Rather, it is the result of my organs’ ability and willingness to “see” and make sense of the world. Perceiving is not the conscious processes of my body and brain through which I familiarise the vision to me. Rather, it is to be powerlessly exposed to the conclusions made by my brain and to unknowingly adopt them. It is to become the canvas on which my brain paints, and in turn, to display the painting to the world as if it were my own; as if I had conscious control over its becoming. Then, to adequately conceive the visions and sounds around me and to perceive (that is, to feel, experience and think something about the things I am conceiving), are to have sufficiently victimised “myself” to the processes of my eyes, ears, and brain, for “I” am unable to escape and to separate from them.
Thus, my feelings of warmth and safety under the yellow and orange sky are neither explanatory of the colours (that these colours are associated with these certain feelings) nor what I voluntarily chose to feel. Instead, it is my eyes and brain receiving and comprehending the visual world then applying their comprehensions to their understanding of the feelings and words ‘warm’ and ‘safe’.

Whether others really see the same colour that we both call “yellow” or “orange”, and whether the words ‘warm’ and ‘safe’ describe the same feelings for us, are now irrelevant. Just as powerful my brain is (that it is able to form and alter perceptions based on its contact with the world), others’ must be, too. And others (presumably) are as clueless as I am about the intricate and mysterious ways the organs work to ‘perceive’. What matters is my understanding of my own body, brain and my curiosity about “me” before I attempt to understand and judge my perceptions in relation to others: What is “me”? If “I” cannot feel my thought processes and yet am completely dependent on them, am “I” merely the product of a combination of my organs and thoughts? Is there no such thing as “me” separate from and independent of my brain, just as I would presumably still be “me” if I lost a leg? Am “I” my brain? Yet, despite my careful attempt to be as objective as I can be about “me” in this world, these questions are still my perceptions of myself, the product of my brain.

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