How we Experience the World

Our experience of the world around us is based on our five senses. Everything that we are aware of around us, everything that we know is ultimately based on the sensory information we gather through sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.

As each of us has always had access to these senses, and all the direct evidence we gather about the world is sensory-based, we tend not to reflect much on the fidelity of our senses or the limited aspects of reality we are privy to sense. Many of us hold the implicit assumption that we sense all that is worthwhile to sense and that the way objects and phenomena appear to us, is their correct and only representation.

Also, many of us hold the implicit assumption that two items that look the same to us, actually look the same in “reality”.

Pragmatically, this is a very sensible approach, since questioning our only source of information about the world might lead to hesitation and inaction. It allows us to act swiftly and decisively in everyday life, gives us the confidence to rely on our knowledge about the world for future planning and actions. On the other hand, being aware that there might be more to know about the world than what we can directly sense holds incredible power as well. Unconsciously, and also consciously, phenomena outside the perceptible range of our 5 senses are “unknown unknowns” to us – we are not even aware that we are ignorant about their existence.

By gaining perspective on the limitations of our sensory apparatus, and thus of our model of the world, we may be able to become more permissive about other perspectives on “reality”.

Sensation, Perception, Cognition

From the perspective of the current neurosciences the process of perception and cognition is a very fluid one that happens throughout our nervous system and does not lend itself to be split into discrete stages. In order to structure our exploration, I will nonetheless talk about this process in three stages that are more for the benefit of structuring the information than rooted in any neuroscientific differentiation:

  • Sensation
    The sense information that is directly available to our five physical senses. Even though at even the earliest states of sensation some information processing is performed, the physical setup of our senses already structures the information that we are capable of sensing.
  • Perception
    The information processing we apply to the current sensory-based information to organize our experience, to navigate the world.
  • Cognition
    Our knowledge of the world independent of our current perception.

This is part of the stream States of Mind - find previous and follow-up posts there.

4 Responses to How we Experience the World

  1. Steven says:

    What do you mean when you say cognition is “independent of our current perception?”

    • Jonas says:

      Hi Steven,

      maybe not the best possible wording…
      What I mean by that is that a lot of our thought processes don’t directly reference our sensory input.

      Our model of the world, expectations, prejudices, assumptions all form a major part of our experienced reality even though they may have no or a minimal correlation with our sensations.

      I am looking forward to exploring this more in detail myself and would appreciate your input and feedback on this.

      Jonas

      • Steven says:

        Thanks for the reply Jonas!

        >”What I mean by that is that a lot of our thought processes don’t directly reference our sensory input.”

        True, not directly. Any kind of cognition is a slight deviation from our “raw sensory input.” The thing is – all information needs to be processed – even at a raw sensory level we are constantly filtering, deleting, and generalizing information processed through our nervous system.

        Our sensory and perceptual systems aren’t perfect and they are subject to a lot of bias and illusion.

        You’re right however that despite these drawbacks, we need to have some faith in our experience if we ever want to ascertain knowledge.

        >”Our model of the world, expectations, prejudices, assumptions all form a major part of our experienced reality even though they may have no or a minimal correlation with our sensations.”

        This is very true. Perhaps reality is not limited to just our raw senses? Because I believe even concepts created in our mind have a certain “place in reality,” and they can often dictate how we experience the world.

        This might be why I don’t like to consider myself a “materialist,” but rather a neutral monist. I think materialist viewpoints often deny the “reality” of mental objects, imagination, beliefs, emotions and how those things fit into the grand scheme of things. Consciousness is not separate from reality.

        >”I am looking forward to exploring this more in detail myself and would appreciate your input and feedback on this.”

        I’m just vomiting ideas right now. I like thinking about these things, but I try not to get my brain too wrapped up in it all.

        Cheers for the thought-provoking convo!

        • Jonas says:

          Thank you so much for your point of view.
          Many of these ideas I would like to look at in detail in the next posts/chapters and I’m looking forward to your input anddiscussing them with you ;)

          Jonas

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