Monday, March 26, 2012

BeingHuman 2012: Perception From Both Sides of the Fence

"The developmental learning process involves creating integration of movement and perception into a coherent pattern..." - Carl Ginsburg, The Intelligence of Moving Bodies: A Somatic View of Life and Its Consequences

Life is chaotic (a pattern). Everyone seems to have their own agenda (a pattern), or at least their own strongly held convictions (a pattern), about how things should be done, their own lens (a pattern), through which they see the world and make sense of the seemingly incoherent movement of time, technology and ideas, not to mention politics, economics and power. Neuroscience sees the world through the filter of it's own studies, which of late, have brought new insights into the discussion about how we make sense of experience. 

For example, what if, because of the way our brains are designed, we only understand reality through the veil of past experience (another pattern)? For example, you recognize the logo above as a bar code (yes, it's a pattern!), even though you didn't think about it; it was a visual recognition that occurred below the level of conscious awareness. You made sense of the image without thought, based on past exposure to bar codes over a lifetime of shopping in supermarkets that use them on every item they sell.  If its true that we can only perceive an experience based on past experience, neurologically, then given that knowledge, we can be a little more detached from 'being right,' (a seriously deeply ingrained pattern!), and a little more objective and compassionate in realizing that others see the same situation as we do, but from an equally valid perspective. This could be a huge step in the direction of creating a coherent integration of understanding among peoples across a world divided not so much by geography as in past centuries, but more by minds that are set in peaks and valleys of righteousness, which, like walls of certainty, interfere with coherent integration and living with each other in a way that makes sense.

Consider this: At the first Being Human Symposium held March 24th, 2012, in San Francisco, Beau Lotto, who holds a Ph.D. from Edinburgh's Medical School in cellular and molecular developmental neurobiology, demonstrated just how differently we understand the meaning of experience based on the perspective we are coming from. He runs the Lotto Lab in London: an experiential public research lab that specializes in perception. By means of a number of ingenious illusions, he demonstrates the divide between what we perceive and what is actually there.  He began clarifying the divide by using a visual illusion based on the perception of color, since, he says,  'Its is one of the simplest things the brain does,' which is remarkable in and of itself when you think about it. For years I have been reading about these kinds of visual illusions, never really understanding their relevance to reality. Lotto is a vivacious presence with a mischievous sense of humor which you can get a sense of by viewing an older version of his presentation from a TED talk given in 2009.

By showing a variety of images in successive illusions that challenge you to discern which colors are held in common, you begin to realize experientially, that context is everything. Without understanding that the context, or the lens through which we see a thing either puts certain distinctions in bold relief or tends to cast them as minor by setting them in the background, we will never realize how biased our most cherished perceptions are; including the one that holds that we are unbiased.

One of the things that was so moving and powerful about this symposium, was that it was a true attempt to create a meeting of the minds between the hard sciences and the social sciences, and between how the brain makes meaning of reality through the senses and how our environment, our familial, social, and cultural assumptions and perceptions dictate our behavior 'below the hood;' in other words, without our conscious awareness. Psychology proclaims that at least 80% of anyone's behavior emerges out of subconscious impulses. If we behave in ways that are driven by things we don't even notice, no wonder we are at loggerheads with each other on most issues that impact us all. All this and more is the domain of AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT, hence, my enthusiasm: this is a major move in the direction of understanding how somatic experiencing contributes much more than an understanding of movement, it's trains us to refine our perceptions, be clearer in our communications, to evolve a functional life and a functional ability to survive on a planet we have compromised by our lack of understanding of these principles up to now.

Another piece of somatic understanding that was implicit, although unfortunately not explicit, at this symposium, was the importance of balancing different ways of perceiving: via the intellect versus the non-verbal, via cognition versus imagination, via information versus the arts. Some might frame this as left brain versus right brain 'thinking,' although that model is also being questioned by neurology currently.  My only suggestion to improve this event, would be to include the awareness that experiential movement could have augmented learning for both audience and presenters, by providing relief from eight hours of sitting and by instigating a mental state change to prevent intellectual overload and further cement new learning as a somatic experience.

So, although the lack of the inclusion of movement as a way of perceiving and sensing our environment, was an oversight that demonstrates the need for a better understanding of the efficacy of accelerated learning models as well as somatics on the part of the organizers, it was a really nice start to what I hope will be a continuing conversation about the intersection of understanding that can further human evolution when the linguistics department speaks to the education department, and the social sciences speak to the neurologists and when artists, musicians, poets, writers and movement educators are in conversation with philosophers, microbiologists, psychologists, and neurologists about how we shape our reality in functional ways.

This is the very foundation of AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT: it's the development of a learning process that integrates our perceptions, internal and external, with our actions into a functional relationship with reality. To use the language brought into the conversation by Carl Ginsburg in his new book quoted at the beginning of this article, this is exactly how we create a agency, or the ability to direct our actions in functional ways as individuals and as a society: there can be no functional act without integration. And integration involves improved understanding of our own perceptions, sensations, awarenesses, how to augment them, how to develop them, and how to make them useful, intentional, coherent and organized so that function can occur with ease and grace like a symphony moving in apparent synchronicity.

Oh, and to add the salient question of the symposium, lest it be overlooked: 'What does being human mean to you, now, in the 21st Century?' And from my point of view, biased, I know, 'What, in your experience, does AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT lend to Being Human?'

3 comments:

  1. Great post! I especially love the suggestion you provided, "...include the awareness that experiential movement could have augmented learning for both audience and presenters, by providing relief from eight hours of sitting and by instigating a mental state change to prevent intellectual overload and further cement new learning as a somatic experience". Quite honestly, I think this conference can EASILY be made into a weekend. I will definitely share my suggestions as well through my post.

    To answer your question, 'awareness through movement' does lend itself to being human. Actually, after the Being Human conference, I saw the band, Quantic, perform in Downtown San Francisco and noticed how individuals moved to the music. It was so visablly apparent that the individuals who incorporated free flowing movement and really sank themselves into the movement looked and seemed most alive and present. In any case, sorry for the tangent but I loved how you incorporated your somatic practice and education into the post. Again, I enjoyed reading it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you...awareness by any means, coming your way, in the present moment!

      Delete
  2. Great post! I especially love the suggestion you provided, "...include the awareness that experiential movement could have augmented learning for both audience and presenters, by providing relief from eight hours of sitting and by instigating a mental state change to prevent intellectual overload and further cement new learning as a somatic experience". Quite honestly, I think this conference can EASILY be made into a weekend. I will definitely share my suggestions as well through my post.

    To answer your question, 'awareness through movement' does lend itself to being human. Actually, after the Being Human conference, I saw the band, Quantic, perform in Downtown San Francisco and noticed how individuals moved to the music. It was so visablly apparent that the individuals who incorporated free flowing movement and really sank themselves into the movement looked and seemed most alive and present. In any case, sorry for the tangent but I loved how you incorporated your somatic practice and education into the post. Again, I enjoyed reading it.

    ReplyDelete

Comments & questions are always welcome. What are your biggest challenges? Have you had similar experiences? Where do you want to go with your own practice? Share your insights, don't practice in a void of isolation. Consciousness is everywhere!