Winslow Homer - The Obtuse Bard (draft 20150402) screen 003
In 1991, Ted Kennedy's face was seen in this NASA photo of Mars and reported in the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers. This form seen in Nature had a sufficient similarity to the form of an image stored the mind of many people. This perception was easily shared with others using a newspaper story. The unconscious brain processing easily presented people with a match, but only for those who were familiar with images of Ted Kennedy. Nobody was actually fooled by the image.

While the image in this example may be interesting, in today's busy technological world, we commonly regard a perception like this as a "false positive." We regard it as an undesired distraction, even as potentially dangerous in some situations, such as when driving a vehicle. Should such an illusion occur, in todays culture, we are not only likely to dismiss it, but we are also likely to attach a note to our subconscious that we do not want to see such "false positive" matches. In todays world, we may even be inclined to think that actually seeing things that are not there may raise a question about our sanity; most people avoid that. Eventually, our unconscious processing tightens the alpha level and it becomes more likely for any new "false" association to get filtered out before being passed along to our conscious mind. There is a downside. When we restrict our alpha level, it also becomes more likely that we will increase the number of missed useful relevant perceptions. We might spend a day at a Disney park without ever seeing a single hidden Mickey. We should learn to appreciate the "false positives" as an indication that our imagination is not excessively restricted.

In our modern time, compared to the time of primal humans, as individuals, we have less need to discover new useful forms in Nature. Today, we just learn that knowledge from our culture. In the small portion of human history since Immanuel Kant, scientists have been taking over this human activity of discovery, by staking the claim to rational thinking about nature. Scientists claim they have the method to determine whether an imagined pattern in nature is useful or not. In our modern world, professional scientists have become the commissioned explorers who seek new patterns in nature, sometimes discarding old patterns in the process. We seem to forget that the front end of the scientific method is the creation of a hypothesis, which is a non-material product produced from the consciousness of a person with an open imagination. True scientists are modern oracles who see beyond the boundaries of theoretical knowledge by using their imagination to see things that are regarded as unreal, unreal because those things have not yet been made real by empirical methods.

As each of us matured from infancy, we learned an abundance of previously identified patterns from our culture. One might say, because of these preconceived ideas, we cannot see Nature in the same way early man viewed Nature. As young children, in our infancy, before we learned lots of preconceived ideas from our culture, we viewed nature more like primal people viewed the world. Once we eat the apple of preconceived ideas, we lose our innocent perceptions.* With imagination, even as adults, we can think outside the box, but it takes effort not to be fooled by the expectations that come from our knowledge and experience.

* This is a point that also seems to be suggested by William Wordsworth in his poem Ode Intimations of Immortality.


Copyright 1992-2015 Peter Bueschen
The presentation is available at The Obtuse Bard website