How we perceive is often the beginning of the discussion

Bird Droppings December 13, 2021
How we perceive is often the beginning of the discussion

A dear friend brought up a conversation with a flat earth believer the other day. This person he had been talking with essentially disavowed science in many areas. My son offered Mars is visibly round from a telescope and or, for that matter, any other visible planet? Exciting and, as usual, religion can easily pop into the discussion. I raised the question in line with a Literature lesson some students had been working on dealing with fiction. I asked is history fiction and or nonfiction. Most students said it is nonfiction, and two said it could be either it depends on who was looking at the event.

“I love a people who have always made me welcome to the best that they had. I love a people who are honest without laws, who have no jails and no poorhouses. I love a people who keep the commandments without having ever read them or heard them preached from the pulpit.” George Catlin (1796-1872), Artist and Chronicler

“People only see what they are prepared to see.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I can remember growing up seeing the fascinating prints of George Catlin’s paintings of American Indians throughout the US. Many of his images are all we have of tribes that were decimated through disease and slaughtered by white soldiers in later years. Catlin saw different people than did most. So often, we all tend to misuse our perceptions, and we see only what we want to see and not what is there. Perhaps it becomes difficult to tell the difference as we tend to push our ideas on others.

“After sleeping through a hundred million centuries, we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked—as I am surprisingly often—why I bother to get up in the mornings.” Richard Dawkins, Evolutionary Biologist

This is an interesting outlook from one of the world’s leading biologists. It still becomes how we each see this fantastic world. Some will go at life seeing how much they can squeeze from the earth, much like an orange being put through a juicer. Others see as Dawkins does “a sumptuous planet sparkling with color.” Many of the authors that reflect on Native thought look at the interconnections and how they are so critical to our continued existence.

“I know that our people possessed remarkable powers of concentration and abstraction. I sometimes fancy that such nearness to nature as I have described keeps the spirit sensitive to impressions not commonly felt and in touch with unseen powers.” Ohiyesa, Dr. Charles Eastman, Santee Dakota, Medical doctor, and author

In the movie Wounded Knee, Dr. Eastman is depicted being trained as a physician in the late 1800’s one of the first Indians to go through medical school. Dr. Eastman was the attending physician to the survivors of the Wounded Knee Massacre. His views were conflicted by his immersion in the white culture, and yet as he grew away from this, his writing tried to show the other side, the Indian side. Yesterday I was sitting in my co-teaching class of ninth-grade biology. We were going over the idea of various forms of evolution. The lead teacher flashed an image on the wall, one of an owl sitting in a tree, and I listened to the multiple comments from the group as to what they saw. Ideas varied and often would be more about color or shape that they were reminded of. It became evident to me that as we talked, it became apparent that our ideas come primarily from our experiences. Even the class teacher, a seasoned teacher with limited experience, was limited in what she was adding to the talk.

I saw a duality as I viewed the picture of an owl. Using native thought in which from tribe to tribe, owls are viewed differently. My dear friend, who is Creek, believed owls to be a harbinger of death. Other friends from western tribes see the owl as a symbol of wisdom and knowledge. So, in my thinking, I see wisdom and fear as parallels running along together, never quite touching but also flowing in a symmetrical pattern that ties the two together.

“The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” Carlos Castaneda

Being a fan of Carlos Castaneda, even though controversy surrounds his writing, I recall several stories in his books of various times when his mentor kept after him to look deeper, not just what was presented. He might be seeing an owl sitting on a post, but what Don Juan, his guide, would say would be to look into the owl beyond the owl what is there that is meant for you to understand. As my friend feared owls, I came to embrace the calls at night, often calling back to the great horned owls that would nearly surround me in the early morning hours, calling to each other and me.

“All civilization in a sense exists only in the mind. Gunpowder, textile arts, machinery, laws; telephones are not themselves transmitted from man to man or from generation to generation, at least not permanently. It is the perception, the knowledge, and understanding of them, their ideas in the Platonic sense, that are passed along. Everything social can have existence only through mentality.” Alfred L. Kroeber, The Superorganic

Profound thought, and as I ponder this morning, perhaps the novel of a group of young boys marooned on an island comes to mind. All civilized idea seems to pass away, and instinctual and survival modes kicked into gear. It is the thinking processes that are passed on. As I watch students in school, one comes to school already reading, and one is not even ready to read, and when you look to the family, each child came from you see one where education is a key and the other where it is mandated. I talked with an assistant principal at one of the local high schools recently about just this thought. We, teachers, are often considered the bringers of education, morality, normalcy, commonality, and who knows what else when we only have one-third of a day for less than two hundred days a year. It is that sixteen-hour syndrome of another perception that so often dislodges any attempt at helping a child find a way in life and then carries into school, especially in older years. In twenty years of teaching in high schools and working with emotional issues. I have yet to find a student who did not have some contributing factor from home.

“There is, perhaps, one universal truth about all forms of human cognition: the ability to deal with knowledge is hugely exceeded by the potential knowledge contained in man’s environment. To cope with this diversity, man’s perception, his memory, and his thought processes early become governed by strategies for protecting his limited capacities from the confusion of overloading. We tend to perceive things schematically, for example, rather than in detail, or we represent a class of diverse things by some sort of averaged “typical instance.” Jerome S. Bruner, Art as a Mode of Knowing

As I reread this thought from Bruner, it makes more sense we tend to, after several experiences, establish a mean and mode of experiences and then treat each new experience based upon the average. Rather than embracing a unique experience, we take it as what has happened previously, and soon you find students saying I am bored. We, as teachers, have not expanded our students’ perceptions to see the presented details. In a hurry to teach and get through a specific amount of material in a given time, we too form averages and then teach to standards, and soon a world full of simply standards exists, and there is no longer a bell-shaped curve, but we are flatlined.

“Every man feels that perception gives him an invincible belief of the existence of that which he perceives; and that this belief is not the effect of reasoning, but the immediate consequence of perception. When philosophers have wearied themselves and their readers with their speculations upon this subject, they can neither strengthen this belief nor weaken it nor can they show how it is produced. It puts the philosopher and the peasant upon a level, and neither of them can give any other reason for believing his senses, then that he finds it impossible for him to do otherwise.” Thomas Reid, Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man

Sadly, as I finish my journal for today, this statement is true. We all tend to so strongly believe in our perceptions we disavow the possibility of any other even when we know it is so. But our perceptions are based only on the experiences previously held. If averages limit those as in the paragraph above, then rather than “a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life,” as Richard Dawkins so eloquently describes, we have just a bland façade that never changes and never goes anywhere. I wish for each of you to exceed the mean and mode of what you presume to be your perceptions and, for a day or two, try and see more and hear more and do more. As I end my daily sojourn as I have for nearly twenty-one years now, please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


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