Home: Scrying: Schrödinger’s Apple, Part 2: Perception and value

Schrödinger’s Apple, Part 2: Perception and value

January 25, 2006

Now that I’ve discussed the idea that the world is constructed on an array of complex values, I must admit something. Every time I’ve told this to another philosopher, they’ve balked. The idea that values exist before an experience is contrary to just about every philosophic view out there, not to mention, contrary to our every day experience. When confronted on this issue, I don’t budge. On the other hand, I’m quite sure that is the way the world is… it is just our perception that is reversed.

Human experience is a seemingly chaotic jumble—a fact I’m sure anyone could agree with, after trying to have a “good” day—and this jumble rearranges as time passes. Those connections of value are always there, but it becomes difficult, if not impossible to distinguish them individually while in the middle of on experience. (That explains the old proverb, “hindsight is 20/20”.)Do we instinctively understand the shapes and values at the core of our world? Do we learn to understand them? Or perhaps learn to ignore them?

So, going back to dreaming of Eden, was this always true? Or perhaps, did we once understand basic values, and take their complexities for granted? Perhaps, like Plato suggested so long ago, we have an innate knowledge of certain values, a sense of basic geometry, or, in other words, a sense of the aesthetics of shape that holds the world together.

It, of course, doesn’t hurt that scientists have recently shown that such an innate sense of geometry exists. To do this, they gave basic, non-verbal tests to a group of amazonian villagers, called the Munduruku. They were shown groups pictures of basic shapes or lines, and then asked to choose which of the group was different. The villagers did quite well, showing that without any mathematical education, they were aware of most of the basic concepts.

An MSNBC report summarized the results well, as well as offering a sample test (just in case you want to compare yourself with the Munduruku.) They summarize here:

Considering the 43 sets of images together, the Mundurukú villagers got about two-thirds of the answers right. Mundurukú children and adults did about as well as the 26 U.S. children the researchers tested. A group of 28 U.S. adults did better than any of the other groups. Nevertheless, the Mundurukú and U.S. participants had the most trouble with the same questions, which adds further evidence for the presence of core knowledge of geometry among the Mundurukú, according to the team led by cognitive scientist Stanislas Dehaene from the College de France and INSERM in Paris.

The report did not contain any speculation as to the root of this innate knowledge, but did include a few doubts:

The new study described here is not likely to end the debate over just well and how universally humans understand geometry in the absence of schooling or exposure to words such as parallel, symmetry or right angle. Some scientists will continue to wonder how well the experiments actually test human understanding of geometry rather than visual perception abilities or intelligence.

Nevertheless, the authors of the new study conclude that they have uncovered evidence for a basic understanding of geometry among people without much formal education. Future research may clarify if humans are born with these intuitions or if we acquire them early in life. 

I’d like to see more about the differences between “a human understanding of geometry” and “visual perception or intelligence.” Just what is human understanding, if not intelligence (logic and reason) applied to perception? The journal article abstract is only two lines long, so I can’t say if the authors went into more detail or not. I’ll certainly be keeping my eye out for that future research.

So, perhaps we do have an intuitive sense of all the geometric dimensions of reality, or even the passage of time, or of uncertainty. We can instinctively understand that certain arrangements have certain values, and that rearrangement can change the value… or we should be able to. What happened, to change this view, to make humans decide values could be blanketed over the masses?

Somewhere in our earliest civilizations, while doing the firsts of many things, writing, farming, and more, humans began to argue over which code of morality (along with which creation story, etc) was most correct. Even 10,000 years later, no one can seem to agree on a solid solution. Perhaps, after all this time, we are finally starting to rediscover the nature of values and uncertainty.