We had a huge windstorm last night. It did a small amount of damage, knocking things over and filling the pool with leaves and sticks, but thankfully no buckets of dust, as Phoenix regularly suffers. The wind came on a little after 9:30, when I was half-dozing in bed, hanging onto enough consciousness to let me know when 10 pm came, and I could sit up in bed and watch Eric McCormack do another episode of the TV show Perception.

In the show, he plays a schizophrenic genius; a man who struggles with the fine line between the medication that allows him to function (as a university professor and sometimes assistant to homicide detectives) and his own intellect.

Eric McCormack in Perception, photo TNT

I’ve known or studied people like this before- one of my first interests in the concept of balancing a fix with a life is a great story in an Oliver Sacks book (The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat perhaps) about a man with Tourette’s who divides his time between being responsibly medicated and allowing his genuine creative mind to exist unfettered.

His family enable him in this as a function of kindness, and they do lovely things for him, like collect tasty words or phrases or names for him to chew on. I am deeply touched by this.

I’ve always been grateful for my very strong ability to cope with the world; no matter how odd I am, or how different my experience is, I am aware of the common reality, I understand the need for it, and I can move within it successfully and seamlessly. I can be “other” and yet still function cleanly. It would be very hard not to be able to do this.

Last night’s Perception featured the professor off his meds completely; when he does this, he sees and has conversations with people who are not actually there; he has a hard time separating his reality from the common reality unless he recognizes the individual he is talking to as a regular character of his subconscious.

There is much we don’t know about the world around us, and worlds we cannot guess at within the other inhabitants. If we can’t talk to a thing, for example, we tend to devalue its capability or potential. We are shocked when we learn that plants do basic calculations to decide about how to make it through the night, or that they communicate actively through fungal networks at their roots (and take pre-emptive action if they learn that a pest has infested a neighbor) or that animals navigate by the stars, or the magnetic poles, or that mice learn and sing individual songs, or that whales have racial memory.

Why we are surprised by these things is one question (and the answer is human hubris and lack of imagination) but why we discount the possibility that plants have awareness of the world around them or animals have language or emotion (even after faced with so much data to the contrary) is another. I wish science was more open to mystery, but then, of course, it wouldn’t be science.

It strikes me strongly that humancentric hubris is all that stands between us and our ability to bond with the natural world.


7 thoughts on “perception

  1. That article about the singing mice is fascinating! “Her discovery reminds us that each species perceives the world in a unique way, with a finely tuned set of senses, and so finds itself in a slightly different world. Bacteria call to each other with chemicals. Mosquitoes detect the carbon dioxide we exhale. Ants see polarized light. Turtles navigate using the earth’s magnetic field. Birds see ultraviolet markings on flowers, signs invisible to us. Snakes home in on the heat in a cougar’s footprint or a rabbit’s breath. Most of these different worlds are little understood because of the narrow reach of our own perceptions.” So true!

  2. Lovely post. Perception seems similar to a British show called Wire in the Blood, in which the protagonist, the other, is a brilliant university psychiatrist who consults with the police to solve spectacular crimes, usually some kind of deviant murder. Socially disabled in his own right yet hyperaware of the meaning behind social interactions, he fights to be understood and more importantly, believed.

    I continually fail to understand why humans, especially those in positions of scientific or religious authority who can wield influence over great flocks of sheep, refuse to consider there is a whole world (well, an infinite number of worlds) we do not know and cannot tame or control (as if that’s what we need to do). Well, I know why, but I just don’t get it. Why we have to own something before we can revel in its beauty is beyond me…mere observation is not discovery.

    • Science is now obligated to not consider things that cannot be proven, in fact, that is like one of the defining conditions of psuedoscience.

      In talking to Hartmann about wishing that human attention and intention (which each spawn shitloads of quantum potential and obviously have some sort of energy/force/potential to become action) could be measured, and pointing out that plants measurably react to human intention by showing increased awareness or what can only be described as agitation when harmed by bad people, he said, “It makes me uncomfortable, because at this point it’s still pseudoscience.” And I get sad, because there is no bridge. And, I guess, rightly so.

      But science needs dreamers to help direct it; it is not wrong for me to ask Jack Wisdom if he doesn’t think, somewhere in his chaos theory-minded soul, that we should be looking for the math that brings, in models, the universe back together to a singularity. Because a cold dead loss of momentum is a failed system, or smells like one to me, and if he believes in creative design/God, then wouldn’t he expect our system to have the opportunity to regenerate, to become whole again, to be… reborn?

  3. It seems to me that the very essence of science is to look at and study the mysteries. Today I suspect that it all comes down to funding (corporate sponsorship, most of the time) and a fear of public ridicule (Look! They’re studying… MOUSE SONGS!?!), which would then mean a lack of funding. I don’t see how you can decide what can and cannot be proven unless study is applied.

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