Consciousness vs. Perception

Discussion of Julian Jaynes's first hypothesis - that consciousness (as he carefully defines it) is based on language, and related topics.
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Consciousness vs. Perception

Post by jnqckz »

In the new edition, Jaynes' afterword talks about this distinction. So maybe it belongs in the "new edition" discussion, but a voice told me to put it here.

One of the other residents in my building is a dog named Gracie. Most times she is quite friendly to me. But during the winter I wear jackets and coats which have hoods. Whenever Gracie sees me in one of these, she becomes very agitated and barks her head off.

The most likely explanation (which I haven't explored with Gracie's human) is that she was once mistreated by another man who wore a hood. So I think Gracie perceives me with the hood, it triggers a very painful memory, and the memory triggers her fight-or-flight response. As a conscious human, I can spatialize time, reflect on my memories of the reactions of other animals, and form a conjecture.

Gracie perecives, but unlike me, she isn't conscious.
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Re: Consciousness vs. Perception

Post by Moderator »

Yes the equating consciousness with perception (or any number of other things) is a common misconception, not only among lay people but also psychologists and cognitive scientists, who for example present talks at conferences with titles such as "Why Babies Are More Conscious Than We Are" — when what is really meant is "more attentive" etc.
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Re: Consciousness vs. Perception

Post by HurdyGurdyMan »

"Consciousness", it seems, has different definitions, depending upon which author one is reading. In most popular books, it doesn't seem to be very well defined, if defined at all, leaving one to equate it with "perception." I think that one of the major contributions of Jaynes was his taking "consciousness" (the definition) to the next level - showing how it is a process of a neurological being with the necessary hardware, and, with the added caveat of a learning curve, a software, if you will, before the analog "I" makes it's appearance as "me" in that virtual-scape we call the "mindspace."

The only voo-doo is what you do.
John R. Schedel
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Re: Consciousness vs. Perception

Post by John R. Schedel »

Perhaps an insight from communication theory might be of some use.

There is a consensus view in communication theory that "perception" involves the interface between phenomena and the "meanings" that we humans attach to these phenomena. In this sense, "meaning" can be operationally defined as "the attribution of symbolic significance". Thus, it would seem that, conceptually, Jaynes is very much "in the main stream" of current communication theory even though his rather cumbersome nomenclature may not be. It could be said that, when Jaynes wrote his book in the mid 1970's, Jaynes either anticipated subsequent developments in communication theory and/or "reinvented the wheel" in terms of that body of theory. In either case, Jaynes needs to be considered more frequently and seriously by communication/rhetorical scholars than he is and has been.
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Re: Consciousness vs. Perception

Post by shrimperdude »

This occurs when you are out-of-doors on a sunny day; when you have found a comfortable seat somewhere in the shade. There is nothing on your mind to distract you from what is the beauty of this day, and the wonder of your leisure. There is a gentle breeze stirring, and you are in your comfort zone temperature-wise; perhaps have even commented on the extreme perfection of the moment. The leaves overhead are in motion, but gently; on the ground there are delightful patterns of light and shadow moving about. Is it the randomness of this motion that fascinates; that draws the eyes? That endless variety, like when you measure the intervals as waves roll in with inexhaustible energy; or listen to the creativity in the never repetitious sound of a waterfall; the restless, unceasing light activity in a closely observed campfire; all these things can delight and mesmerize; all have the ability to impose a calmative effect on one's emotional state.

Upon closer examination, I believe you will find that there really is a qualitative difference between those observations of random aural and visual phenomena, and the effect on your consciousness when you make those observations of the subtly changing patterns of light and shade. Your mind (at least some part of it) is actively perceiving something quite different from the random motion of the shadows being cast onto the ground as the breeze filters through the leaves overhead. What is uniquely fascinating to your mind as you make your careful observations, are the myriads of circular lightpools that are winking on and off, but appear (when they do) exactly in the same position they were in when they winked out; not random that; not random at all!

The rays of glorious sunshine, as they make their way through the obstructions to eventually strike the ground, sometimes will pass through passageways determined by the angle of the sun, that are so constricted by the solid objects which are absorbing or reflecting them, that it's just as if they have passed through a pinhole. That particular alignment will of course make an image of the sun that is then projected onto the ground. These images are not as bright as the directly lit patches of sunlight on the ground, they are not all the same size(determined by the distance from the image to the pinhole), but they are all as round as the sun! Part of the fascination that is mesmerizing you, is the inability to categorize the observed phenomena, but you are perceiving it.

It was on a day in Atlanta (a day when I thankfully was not inside a dark theater), when there was to be a partial eclipse of the sun, that I was first able to categorize these phenomena. A lot of people were outside, observing the eclipse while it was nearing its peak. Some were even making their observations with pinhole cameras they had devised from various materials. I was seated in a lawn chair; there were no trees around, but there was one small bush there nearby, casting its meager shadow on the walkway beside where I sat. When I finally noticed it; I mean took a good look at it; well,... I could hardly believe my eyes. There on the ground, scattered about in the shadow of that bush, were many tiny crescents; images of the sun overhead that was only partially occluded by our moon.

Now we go back to the OED for J. Harris's 1704(his Lex. Techn. I) quotation to help us better define what is perception:

Perception is the clear and distinct apprehension of any
object offered to us, without forming any judgment
concerning them.
Or Kames ideas expressed in 1762(his Elem. Crit. III):
External things and their attributes are objects of perception;
relations among things are objects of conception.
And finally, to Miss Cobbe in 1855(her Intuit. Mor.):
Every perception necessitates this double element of
sensation and intuition, ~the objective and subjective
factor in combination.

You probably know that an incredible amount of ink has been spilled here, in the West, over just this need to define terms:MIND; CONSCIOUSNESS; IDEAS; PERCEPTIONS. I don't feel, however, that one must be in the bag with all these tiresome scholars in order to intuit (if you will) that there are subtle differences involved; that, and that between us (reader/author), we need only share a common understanding of what precisely the experience (carefully described here) is that I am referring to. Able to come to the conclusion that many(most) can perceive the optical phenomena without any prior knowledge of the optics involved; and further, without any conscious idea of what exactly is titillating that far corner of one's mind, urging additional time spent making these subliminal observations.

The 'teaching' here that has value, is that when I formed the concept, of images observable on the ground, that concept began immediately to facilitate the clear seeing of the phenomena, and doing that, without diminishing the wonder that was already present, in fact enhancing that same sensation and making it more available. It was these strange or foreign concepts that Gurdjieff felt compelled to make available to Western minds (without which we are endangering our entire species' chance of survival); that Pirsig intimated in his ZAMM, and floundered hopelessly while trying to clarify them by formulating his MOQ. Both of the gentlemen I've mentioned here believed that it was through one's most intimate and serious or concentrated involvement with arduous and physical tasks, tasks that already produce output with real (or accepted) value, that a facility could be manifested whereby significant development of the SOUL; SELF; CONSCIOUSNESS becomes possible; even probable.
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