This is the post that I wanted to write previously.
Forewarned–it’s probably going to be a clusterfuck as it contains an amalgamation of a number of different ideas, approaches, perspectives, and thoughts.
But that’s how my intuitive brain works. It collects and filters and changes its perspectives to try and grok what’s going on at all times. This post is because of all of those activities.. it’s a combination of different ideas that I’ve picked up over time that have been utilized to make sense of the sensory and social data that I’ve experienced throughout my life.
At it’s core, it’s about how we perceive–but in particular about how the perceptions that we have of the world are each structured–at a root level–in fundamental ways that vary from person to person.
To organize this a bit–let me sort out four different nodes/perspectives/sources for my thoughts here.
1. First–people who have thought a lot about cognitive structures will not see this as anything special, as there has been a good amount of research about how humans perceive information and how they process it. In this field, the basic idea is that their are mental processes or tools that are built up over time in people and that they use these tools to get a handle on the information that comes into the mind via the senses. This approach, one might note, often seems very influenced by a metaphorical application of of computing/computers/computation to the human mind in the sense that it structures this understanding in a kind of hierarchy of processes and subprocesses–much like is done within the now ubiquitous realm of computers.
2. Second–this kind of thinking also appears in many other areas of my experience–for example, in grad school I was introduced to/had inflicted upon me the ideas of postmodernism. This philosophy/critique/approach to understanding reality has its origins in the skepticism put forward against all-encompassing claims of scientific objectivity and truth. In this way–it was a relativistic critique about modernist claims towards having absolute knowledge about stuff–but more importantly–it shifted the focus to the crucial aspect of interpretation and it often made claims that “reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually.” (<–see the wiki link above..).
Now–one could get sidetracked on that last sentence–and a number of scientists, social scientists, and humanities academics did just that for about two decades.
I’m not going to do that. We can talk about the truths and flaws of postmodernism some other time–but what I do want to point out is the fact that postmodernism made the aspect of interpretation much more prominent. Reality was no longer assumed to be an unmitigated set of facts that just presented themselves to a person in obvious ways–but rather reality’s “real-ness” had to be constructed by individuals assignment of importance or meaning to the data that they had taken in.
3. Third–there is language. Now–many of the aforementioned postmodernists like to talk about how reality is an “inscribed text”–meaning that people/objects/concepts/things are really just a construct of the meanings that we have given them. Important, however, is the fact that they think that meaning resides almost entirely in language. This idea–that all thinking is actually a kind of verbal process is not one that I subscribe to–I have experienced all kinds of mental processing that does not bother with language or words. And one should also always be a bit suspect when a group of people who make their living by creating texts start telling you that all of reality is about how we mentally “create texts.”
This does not mean that language is unimportant. Language is fucking cool. As I’ve mentioned on this blog many times before, language is an important tool through which we understand the world. I’m personally most persuaded by George Lakoff’s understanding of language by means of embodied categories–as outlined in his book Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things–but there are many different philosophies about how language shapes the reality that we perceive.
To make this concrete–we need only use the concept of color to lay out how language shapes our perceptions (Lakoff does this–as do many others..). From my personal experience, I can note that the German language does not have a native word for the color “orange.” Yes, they have adopted the word “orange” from French–but that’s a high-falutin word that not everybody knows. Instead, when German’s encounter the color that we consider “orange”–they most often describe it as “gelb”==their word for yellow. Now.. it may become a “reddish-yellow” if they need to distinguish it–but this lack of a word-while not limiting the optic cells in their eyes from seeing the particular wavelength of light that equates to “orange”–does change how their brain interprets and categorizes that wavelength–and thus it changes the story that they tell about their life to themselves.
4. Finally–where would all of this be without a link to the myers-briggs system that I’ve talked about here so many times. As a system for sorting out people’s personalities–the bigger point about MBTI is that people approach the world differently and that they have different preferences, strengths, and abilities when it comes to dealing with reality. Within the system itself–which is roughly based on Carl Jung’s thinking–there are 4 main functions–thinking, feeling, intuiting, and sensing–and each of them can be oriented primarily towards either the external/objective world outside of a person or the internal/subjective world in a person’s head. The thinking/feeling functions are considered the judging functions–they seem to be described as those that process data in an input/output kind of way–whereas the intuiting/sensing functions are the “perceiving” functions that shape/structure how this sensory data is acquired.
And that’s the perfect lead in for what I actually want to talk about….which is this:
It has been more and more of my experience that how people perceive reality==events/situations/communications with others is, at a fundamental level, structured by whether they have a more dominant thinking or feeling function. Now, I have long explained the difference between T/F to those who don’t know MBTI as saying that those who are more T tend–when encountering data–to first ask the question, “does that make sense?” whereas those who are more F tend to ask, “How does this make me feel?”
However–I want to revise that statement. Instead, I would argue that these preferences for T or F not only shape the kinds of questions that people ask after encountering new sensory data–but that they fundamentally structure how people perceive an event. By this–I mean that the physical/social data that a person receives is never just raw, naked, information that is then, subsequently, interpreted into having “emotional” or “merely-factual” content–but that most people (in my experience) go into every situation with a kind of “expectation” of the form of data that they will receive.
Perhaps “expectation” is not correct as far as this goes–but what I want to convey is that there seem to be some important differences for how people encounter the world around them regarding the emotional content/interpretation of events. In particular, those individuals who have a more dominant F than T go into situations with a mental/perceptual framework that picks up on/interprets the events/data/communications they receive with “an ear” for emotionally laden content.
Those who are more T, on the other hand, are often oblivious to or hard pressed to notice this content and instead tend to focus on logical/factual arrangements without regard to emotional states/intentions/etc..
Now–before this goes off the rails–let me be clear that I’m not making value judgements on this observation–and I’m not trying to imply that either state of the affairs is better or worse. Being an F is neither better nor worse than being a T or vice versa–but what is true is that the two preferences do quite often lead to very different interpretations of the same data.
In other words–if you have a T and an F watching the same conversation–or if they are even talking to each other about the same event–they may come away with radically different interpretations about what actually happened because they were both naturally geared to pick up on and/or interpret the events due to their differently structured perceptual apparati.
They both, obviously, can also come to false conclusions because of their natural proclivities for focussing on only certain kinds of data.
In the end–what I would hope is that this observation can help me be more aware of this aspect of communication so that I can better understand those around me and also so that I can reduce the kinds of miscommunication that all to easily happen in this way.
And now.. I must go.. as I have to get my hair cut.
More later today.. but that’s all for now. Chew on that and start a conversation if you’d like–I welcome it.