Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Learning To Weave A Tapestry Of Reality

Karntakuringu Jakurrpa

Typically sighted people have a blind spots that we don't often think about. We tend to be aware of the large one that is behind our heads at any given moment, but we rarely think about the tiny one that exists directly in front of us, between the separate fields of vision of our two eyes. We don't notice it because our minds create what "should" be there, making it appear like a seamless visual reality.

Our minds do this about a lot of things we sense from our environments, be it sight, sound, scent, touch, or taste. We fill in the blanks based upon experience and the clues around us.

This is something that babies must learn to do. When we are born, we sense the world as a miasma of sensory input that our more educated minds would find hallucinatory. This is probably the closest we ever get to fully experiencing reality as it actually is. In his book, The Case Against Reality, cognitive psychologist David Hoffman argues that what we perceive as reality is almost certainly not the world as it is. Molecular biologist, biophysicist and neuroscientist Francis Crick wrote that "(O)ne has to distinguish between the thing-in-itself . . . which is essentially unknowable, and the 'idea-of-the-thing,' which is what our brains construct . . . The idea-of-the-sun does not exist prior to its construction -- but the sun-in-itself did!" Cognitive psychology Steven Pinkler writes, "Our minds evolved by natural selection to solve problems that were life-and-death matters to our ancestors, not to commune with correctness."

In other words, we spend our lives, processing our perceptions in what we call our minds (which is not the same as saying our brains) in order to create the reality we experience on a day-to-day basis. It's not surprising, therefore, that we find ourself disagreeing about so much, even things that seem self-evident. The miracle, however, is that we agree upon so much. Most of us would agree, for instance, that the object outside my window is a tree. What it is in reality is unknowable, but somehow we've come an agreement that this unknowable thing is, in fact, a tree.

Spinner dolphins, like bats, use echolocation (sonar) to perceive the world. When they are hunting together in schools, they use their clicking sounds to coordinate with one another. Maybe they are using those clicks the way we do language, but it's more likely that they are using one another's echoes to create a kind of collective perception of their wider surroundings. They are still not perceiving their prey-in-itself, but rather they are constructing a communal idea-of-their-prey, one that better supports their efforts to feed themselves.

Likewise, we humans construct a collective reality from the input of our collective senses. It's a matter of life-and-death. We tend to think that this process is a language-based one, and certainly the development of language has accelerated (and forever transformed) this process, but Homo sapiens have been working together as a species to create this agreed upon reality since long before there was such a thing as language. This incredible, collaborative process of creation is mind-blowing in its implications. Indeed, it is such a complex thing that scientists are only just now beginning to comprehend the merest shadow of the outline of how it works. And ultimately, it is almost certainly unknowable.

Yet it is the work of every baby ever born. It is the work of all of us, every day, in every moment, and in every interaction. We do it whether or not we are conscious of it. We do it together, knitting our blind spots into a seamless reality, a reality based upon agreements that we likewise make whether or not we are conscious of it. Not only must each of us learn to do this incredibly complex and necessary thing, but we do it without instruction or the application of external motivations. Learning to do this is what we are born to do and it is the work of a lifetime. It is the ultimate example of the primacy of self-directed learning.

When we come together in our preschools and our communities, this is the most important thing we will ever learn. It is life-and-death. It is nothing more or less than learning to weave a tapestry of reality.


"I recommend these books to everyone concerned with children and the future of humanity." ~Peter Gray, Ph.D. If you want to see what Dr. Gray is talking about you can find Teacher Tom's First Book and Teacher Tom's Second Book right here

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