Perception Cues in Resolving Conflicting Data

The psychology of perception shows us seeing requires contrast.  Artists learn about color by seeing the difference between the contrasting values of color systems presented against different backgrounds.  We see that our judgments of colors are never independent of context.  Science has also proved that humans may all also see colors differently.  So, aside from changing context that determine color perception, there is also the fact of human physiology.  However, what binds humans together in our world is how affectively we all respond the same to colors. 

 

Should we take the same principle to matters of decision making of contrasting data, something very similar happens. The simplest forms of judgments we make, those modes of binary thinking that draw upon contrasting values, i.e., evaluative conclusions, require acknowledging how the context of framework of a picture of something change the timbre of our perceptions.  Empirically we may have difficulties substantiating our decisions while everyone shares the same affective experience.  At the same time, we may be rest assured that the decisions we make are justly and objectively shared by others. 

 

Making those choices involves additional complications.  To begin with, conflicting data reveals contradictions.  Aesthetically, we are confronted with dissonance.  The colors do not resonate with each other, and there is an overall feeling of disharmony.  The given information in a picture fails coherency.  In such an instance, our usual habits of problem solving seem to fail us, and we have nowhere else to turn.  We not only question if our knowledge is illusory but also whether or not we are being fooled by the guise of things.  Left without bearings in tacit awareness and intuition alike, the brain suffers a kind of paralysis from not knowing what to do. 

 

Caught in the throes of such difficulties, a person making judgments is in no different a position than an artist struggling to render a coherent pictorial idea.  However, the difference between an artist and it seems the rest of the world is she actually leans towards such difficulties of ambiguity.  For an artist, the conditions of alterity proffer the potential of new meanings.  The rest of the world can benefit from this experience to open up new horizons in the mind and shake those old gut instincts that carve out preconceived pictures of the world in our minds.

 

Few studies have actually been written on how artists handle ambiguity.  Most studies (most notably Rudolf Arnheim) in aesthetics emphasize gestalt perception.  A generation of art educators have followed along the lines of this tradition and established a cognitive model of artistic perception as the foundation for teaching pedagogy.  In truth, the learning to be gained from art is how to resist compacting a work of art into a fixed idea.  When artists are making art, at least those most successful at it, they do not create works with an easy solution.  The viewer must explore the image and seek out those areas to ponder similarities, differences, contradictions and associations.

 

The poststructuralist literary criticism of Jacques Derrida bears some light on this difficulty of rendering meanings from binary oppositions.  Without discounting its relevance to feminist applications of his ideas, the importance of what Derrida illustrates in his deconstruction theory is the potential of a rigorously logical method of inquiry, which is ironically espoused by those who have no faith in logic at all. As we delve into the mystery of things like words, we learn to unlock modes of thinking, we decipher the ciphers and unveil the apparent guise of things.  The experience is sublime no differently than Theordo Adorno used the word “Erschüttert,” to describe a vision of something that takes us into the deepest abyss. 

 

For certain, the outcome of a war of signs and meanings can never exist without at least an existential crisis.  In no situation in business, science, technology or law could ever such circumstances appear without a serious conflict.  Where do we look for the outcome?  When we see something that is completely nonsense, a total surfeit of reason stretched to unreason, we may find that answer within the eyes of the beholder. 

Eva Hesse, No Title, 1966.jpg

The Illusion of Confidence: Perceptions of Skills and Expertise

The Illusion of Confidence: Perceptions of Skills and Expertise

 

 

In their fantastic book on the illusory qualities of intuition, The Invisible Gorilla (2009), Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons discuss the not so unfamiliar case of how experts’ estimation of their abilities outweighs the objective truth.  Moreover, people’s trust of experts seem to rate higher when they perceive confidence in that individual’s behavior.  Without question, such illusions of competency through confidence seem to be a very American quality, if not also a desired and valued character trait. 

 

In the landscape of the globalized economy, such narcissism serves to weaken the competitive edge of American businesses.  Chabris and Simons additionally find that incompetence also causes overconfidence.  As people take on new skills, their confidence grows.  Sometimes people have low self-confidence when they start out, but they may also have the illusion of capabilities they truly do not have no differently than experts fail to realize the gaps in their expertise.  Quite simply, experience does not guarantee expertise. 

 

The key to competitiveness is to attain self-awareness of skills so that, in fact she is good enough at what she does in order to realize her own limitations.  As human capital is allocated within organizations, their goals should be to build knowledge value smartly: “As we have seen, the most incompetent among us tend to be the most overconfident, yet we still rely on confidence as an indicator of ability,” write Chabris and Simons.

 

Daniel Kahneman, an expert in cognitive bias, has discussed how the role of judgment is determined by the relationship between her level of confidence and her level of accuracy.  No differently than the role of a judge, those in business roles deemed to make judgments about innovative potential or business strategy, find that the basis of making decisions is based on a gradual buildup of information.  In no circumstance could even a doctor, for example, make a diagnosis without thoroughly gathering a sequence of data.  Kahneman writes a judge’s confidence soars with increasing understanding of a case. 

 

Kahneman’s study potentially assumes the fallacy of explicit knowledge construction.  While one might be used to thinking of intuition as the only culprit of illusory thinking, so too may objective knowledge be an illusion. 

 

In the study of art history, which draws upon ideas long established in cognitive psychology since the 19th century, art historians have familiarized themselves with top-down and bottom-up fields of perception, how, on the one hand, knowledge draws upon subjective experiences while, on the other, our perceptions of reality derive from embodied, or tacit awareness.  An analysis of these two sectors shows the cognitive and optical have several variations.  One may even confront a cognitive fiction and an optical truth. 

Johannes Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance, c. 1664.jpeg

Take, for example, the Netherlandish artist Johannes Vermeer’s Woman Holding a Balance of 1664.  A hotel owner by profession, the artist made few paintings in his life.  Each one predominantly reflects on some aspect of domesticity, often picturing women.  His paintings are prized for their crystalline light, which sheds clarity and accuracy on the tangible.  We see his paintings as being so real and truthful.  We doubt nothing we see.  Implicitly, we feel as though we have lived it but cannot exactly explain how.  Cognitive psychologists believe all objective knowledge is rooted in such tacit awareness.  However, behind the appearance of the visible we emerge ourselves into a deeply subjective and contemplative experience of the real.  The outward appearance of things seems to say to us we can imagine being there and have experienced this sensation, whereas inside we know a different experience.  If we dwell in this painting, we feel some kind of transcendent beauty in the everyday, a sense of peace in the moment, which feels spiritual, and that inclines us to contemplate the riches of worldly existence.  In the face of such contemplations and the perception the woman may be thinking about her unborn child, the painting of the Last Judgment in the Background reminds us of truth in spirituality. 

 

No less differently, in any business profession, such intuition tempered by objective fact is a necessary component to expertise in any field. Instructional design bifurcates informal learning, as defined as such, from formal, or tacit learning.  There are actually very few jobs out there requiring informal learning.  The truth of the matter is even the most specialized experts may benefit from subjectivity, implicit understanding, and intuition.  Therefore, mastery of skills is not enough without any benefit of such perceptual intelligence. 

Seeing Judgment

“This was a clear instance of a mental shotgun.  He was asked whether he thought the company was financially sound, but he couldn’t forget that he likes their product.”  - Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow

 

In Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman discusses how judgments happen.  Those small decisions we make – “like or dislike”, “good or bad,” etc. – are actually not sound judgments at all even while we would like to think of them that way.  We can look at a situation or even a person holding certain expectations whether that be a business plan or our perceptions of the leader to be the captain.  Our perceptions of things are always filled with misconceptions and personal biases.  Any aspect of business involving sound judgments requires self-awareness and a clear sense of objectivity about how we are thinking about things.  We must think about our own thinking.

 

In instructional design educators have established how such “metacognitive” abilities of problems solving allow a person claim personal agency over their judgments.  In order to make judgments, we must have strategies as well as a way to monitor and evaluate solutions we find to the questions presented to us.  This process is simultaneously deconstructive and constructive.  On the one hand, we seek to find the inconsistencies, contradictions, and ambiguities in habitual judgments, and then from the wreckage we build back up a new picture of things. 

 

The human mind draws upon both tacit and intuitive awareness in a effort to create knowledge.  These are the perceptions in raw form that we have to deal with.  In part, they are quite viable, but they also require this metacognitive awareness.  Seeing how such evaluations are processed in the minds of individuals, we can see how important the selection of leaders is.  Too many like minds are actually to the disadvantage of organizations.  The streamlining of skills and personalities actually weaken an organization.  A very successful company, Deloit, capitalizes on a diverse set of skills and backgrounds and even hires people such as actors, musicians, and artists seeing the potential of their valuable contributions. 

 

Kahneman shows how our inclinations to develop “mental shotguns” combined with what he calls our desire to seek out the illusion of “intensity matching” explain why we have intuitive judgments about things we actually know very little about. How interesting that Deloit would be hiring those people who seem to be most inclined towards subjective and intuitive thought!  Perhaps the reason is because, as Kahneman describes intensities and mental shotguns, we find that because of the way artists see things, they tend to weigh less the importance of things in terms of value and desire less to match like with like, and in terms of mental shotguns artists are less inclined to succumb to excess computation – that way the mid works to overestimate things, especially when we are confronted with a surfeit of information. 

Giambattista Tiepolo, Psyche Transported to Olympus.jpg

Among art historians, the practice of connoisseurship has long been debated.  For some, the practice weighs as a measure of authenticity and value whereas more recently experts look at the study of drawings as an exercise in how the ideas and expressions of individual artists take shape in sensuous form.  For example, the 18th century artist Tiepolo, long loved by art historians for his masterful ceiling paintings, especially in Würzburg, Germany, and especially his lyrical pen and ink drawings, represents the epitome of the gold standard in the study of the Old Masters. 

 

Take a look at Tiepolo’s Psyche Transported to Olympus, we see the goddess of mind or soul being transported up the gods to be immortalized and brought in union with her love Eros. She covers her hand over her eyes because she was afraid to see.  From the story we learn Psyche had been a beautiful woman who was untouchable, and she had to seek out love by learning how to look.  In Eros, she discovered what she valued.  The old fashioned connoisseur values the drawing by its material effects: the saturation of the brush, control of line, and overall pleasure of how the composition integrates into a whole.  However, the contemporary connoisseur sees the subtle inflections in the saturation of the brush, the strength and tenderness of line, and the “non-finito,” i.e., how our imagination can creatively add to the traces of what is faintly visible.  This is about seeing value as a factor of learned skill, individual expression, and the capacity of poetic imagination.  So too in business strategy do wee see how we may be too blind and filled with expectations to recognize tangible value. Yet, in those things we find them, we discover the knowledge value of learned skill, an uniqueness and individual quality, and a beautiful story. 

Perception Evaluatives of Mental Models: Hedonic Value and Uncertainty

The famous studies in cognitive bias by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman reveal our beliefs are framed by how we interpret uncertainty.  They claim people rely on heuristic principles, which reduce complex tasks of evaluating probabilities and lead towards simpler judgmental operations.  Their first study from 1974, “Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases,” indicate the importance of perception.  Humans naturally coagulate perceptual data to form abstractions, or mental models, or schemas, in their minds. 

 

The reliance on heuristics and the predominance of biases affect both the layperson and expert. Tversky and Kahneman claim the expert only fails when they rely upon intuition.  In their study, the authors find cognitive bias appears on account of representativeness, i.e. the illusion of similarities and cause and effect relationships we perceive; availability, i.e., the retrieval of what is most easily recalled and imaginable; and the evaluation of perceptions as a function of “anchoring,” i.e. the weighing of subjective preferences as a function of value. 

 

The world appears less simplistic today, and for those contributing to the work force, the everyday tasks require the availability of problem solving skills suited to interpret sense perceptions in a world that is as illusionistic, distorted and seemingly incomprehensible as walking through a hall of mirrors.  In fact, while much of what we can do is constructed from the bottom up in terms of objectivity and tacit awareness much of it also inevitably requires we address how from the top down intuition and subjectivity are actually a part of what we all do.  

 

About at the same time Tersky and Kahneman published their study, D.E. Berlyne published his study, Aesthetics and Psychobiology, in which he also discusses how humans handle judgment and uncertainty.   How people make judgments of works of art and how they see them depends upon the function of hedonic value, i.e, the pleasure we take in a work of art.  There is a very good reason why left-wing scholars claim Andy Warhol was the master of sublime irony.  He was actually a harsh critic of those whose tastes he placated, realizing the average person does not really want to think, and he laughed all the way to the bank!

 

Andy Warhol, Marily Monroe 1967.jpg

Generally, people respond to pleasure and displeasure in art.  People react to art when a stimulus and response occur together in close succession, and that is when learning takes place.  People like repetition and emphasis and like to make associations.  People typically find nothing to gain out of a work of art that offers no stimulation but also do not like a work of art that offers too much confused information.  The psychosexual drives of human perception incline us to seek out art that offers a kind of simulation and also release as kind of gratification or reward of the viewing experience.  

 

Berlyne’s experimental aesthetics also draws upon some ideas in information theory toward an understanding of the motivational aspects of aesthetics.  For him, the human drive of perception as a motivational function may be compared to information-theoretic measures.  Surely, scientific studies do show the human eye functions in similar ways among all people.  We look for certain signals that are like “values” and “intensities.”  However, Berlyne is identifying the same pitfalls of perception about which Tversky and Kahneman’s study is written. 

 

As in true art historical expertise, business strategy draws upon the ability to both understand and see a way around mental models, to find those windows into new vistas. As an exploration in knowledge construction, examining the way we can deconstruct those mental models help us break through into unlocked modes of thinking.  This begins with making judgments, those first assertions we make about a work of art which make us form an picture of an idea in our minds.  We learn to lean away from the easiest explanation and seek out those ambiguous areas that beg for clarification.  Looking at a work of art is more about seeking the questions than finding the answers. 

Perception and the Myers & Briggs Personality Model

Most notably in psychology, but also too philosophy, perception is described as the reception, understanding and interpretation of data acquired through the senses. We form abstractions of ideas in our minds that take shape in a mental impression or model stemming from perception queues.

 

In the Myers & Briggs personality model perception is actually a gray area between two opposing traits.  On the one hand, one type of perception is that person who adheres to Sensing characteristics of attentiveness to the physical world.  Those who seek Sensing as a mode of understanding tend to start with what they know and seek out the big picture through inquiry and investigation.  They view problem solving as a process of analyzing their sensory intake.

 

On the other hand, those who characterize Intuition seem to seek out answers rather than look at solutions as a process of discovery.  Intuiters utilize solely affect and look for what is implicitly given in a situation by estimation and assume an underlying meaning to things.  Theoretically minded, they tend to start with an abstraction, which they impose on the object of their sensations rather than start from the bottom up.  In fact, it is a bit of a stereotype that Intuiters are the sole explorers seeking out new possibilities.  Kevin Kelly called the process of cognifying in his book on technological innovation, The Inevitable, a kind of dreamwork, but he meant this in the most objective sense.  The questions innovators ask are related to Intuition as well as Sensing: the process of inquiry leads to instrumental knowledge – Mind; AI will tell us more about how we define humanity.   

 

While intuition is a part of perception, intuition itself, argues Gerd Gigerenzer in Gut Feelings, is far more flexible than perception.  That part of intuition that stems from perception is inferential; i.e., that we take something and go beyond the given.  Psychologists call this unconscious inference – we fill in the rest of what we see to provide an answer for ourselves when the eye does not have sufficient information. 

 

Gigerenzer argues insistently for the merits of intuition.  He views that our habits of looking for patterns of things, finding meaning in symbolic representations, and dwelling in impressions are founded on prior experiences, which earn trust in our minds.  Yet there are those who recognize how unconsciously we block out so much and invest ourselves in the illusory guise of knowledge.

 

I thought it is very interesting that Amy Herman, author of Visual Intelligence, built her training practice using art as a perception tool along the lines of the Myers & Briggs Sensing category trait.  She is a life long lover of art, which she studied in college and found later on as a lawyer that everything she learned about how to look at art could be utilized in her career, and then she went from there.  However, the Briggs & Myers test prefers to align lawyers with the category of Intuition. 

 

It seems to me actually Sensing and Intuition must be inseparable modes of thinking coming from opposite directions, one from below and the other from above.  Not all knowledge can be theory nor all of it discrete fact.  The mind works between the abstract and concrete.  Scientists think that way, professors (not all) do, doctors should, just as lawyers, technology innovators, etc., any sort of profession that requires building mental imagery and abstractions in the mind. 

 

One aspects of Gigerenzer’s book that stuck a nerve for me is how he thinks gut feelings are the necessary way we “invent” stories and are a form of risk.  If a lot is coming through the unconscious in such decisions, they are a form of secondary revision, of which we are not aware.  And so in the present tense, by falling back into those shadowy areas of the mind that are so obscured and haunted, we really should not trust ourselves. Rather than the mind providing incentives and its natural desire to be expansive seeking out new horizons, we fall back into what we really do not know but believe.  The artist JMW Turner once said about his art, each painting an act of bravery, that his greatest risk was that of not overcoming fear.  Ironically he needed to feel fear and also conquer it in order to make art. 

JMW Turner, Snow Storm, Hannibal and His Army Crossing the Alps, 1812.jpeg

Perception and Positive Thinking

The human faculty of perception touches upon both spheres of the brain.  Quite the contrary to most art educators, it is not just a cognitive ability. 

 

It is interesting to consider how living in a world of an intangible flow of information networks impacts perception in this very regard.  The philosopher Paul Virilio landed upon this difficulty when he wrote about our perceptions of this infinite landscape before us:

 

With “teleobjectivity,” our eyes are thus not shut by the cathode screen alone; more than anything else we now no longer seek to see, to look around us, not even in front of us, but exclusively beyond the horizon of objective appearances.  It is this fatal inattention that provokes expectation of the unexpected – a paradoxical expectation, composed at once of covetousness and anxiety, which our philosopher of the visible and invisible [Maurice Merleau-Ponty] called PANIC.  – Paul Virilio, Art as Far as the Eye Can See

 

From brain science we learn how important the limbic system is for maintaining our “focus.”  This large brain network affects emotions.    The limbic system includes brain regions such as the amygdale, hippocampus, cingulated gyrus, orbital frontal cortex, and the insula, which are connected in various ways.  It is either or both how perceptions affect our emotions or how emotions affect our perceptions that is key to understanding how we organize, categorize, and interpret the world.  The limbic system also affects us behaviorally in terms of our drive. 

 

In other words any sort of confusion that provides a stimulus and hits a hot spot in the brain has the potential to function as psychological warfare.  We have seen much of this in recent years in politics and no doubt also the technology sector.  This particular strategy can cause chaos for reasons of evoking a confusion of primary rewards and primary threats.  We lose the ability to trust our perceptions no longer knowing whether or not we should trust what we see.  Interestingly enough, this is actually visible in an MRI. 

 

All over the brain is sabotaged. Our memory is affected.  Also having so much to do with the prefrontal cortex area of the brain, the destructive force of “drama” (not to be taken lightly) causes problems in understanding, deciding, memorizing, and inhibiting.  In the postindustrial world where capital is held in the hands of those who control the flows of information, danger is not an irrational emotion. 

 

Suddenly, we recognize the value of mindfulness art offers to us today.  For as reasons as simple as helping us overcome distraction, it is highly useful.  Art teaches us to draw upon all sensory experiences.  It actually also teaches us to doubt our perceptions and find ways to analyze them.  It serves an integrating function for the ego as well, adding to mental and emotional clarity.  Some experiences of art, especially those that are written about, can also offer an inner sense of resolve because in writing in contrast to spoken language, we explore our own subjectivity, and the brain naturally wants to achieve insight. 

These landscapes of the mind in art can better prepare us to conquer Virilio’s “teleobjectivity.”  Perception, both subjective and objective, affective and cognitive, intuitive and tacit, neither solely in the mind nor body, to be found neither far nor near is the experiential domain of Reality we can also call art.

I know this is true about Mark Rothko.  The man suffered even in his own lifetime rumors of suicidal hints in his paintings, and that myth has even amounted to an Off Broadway show, “Red,” designed for fame by exploiting a myth about artists with drug and alcohol addiction problems.  Everyone seems to see the same thing in his painting.  We look for the easiest thing we can recognize and which draws upon preexisting knowledge and experiences.  To look at a Mark Rothko painting, we must see Nietzsche’s Dionysian and Apollonian poles of what is rational ad irrational, visible and invisible.

Mark Rothko, Brown on Gray, 1969.jpeg

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

What Human Perception Can Lend to Artificial Intelligence

How often do we exclaim “I can’t believe my eyes!”  The distrust of vision goes back to the earliest stages of developmental psychology in our childhood.  Art historian Ernst Gombrich once wrote about the drawing habits of children and differentiated between knowing and seeing.  But do we really know without seeing?  It seems part of human nature to withdraw from the sensory world when reality threatens comprehensibility.  A long time ago, the German art historian Wilhelm Worringer wrote Abstraction and Empathy, one such treatise on the subject of naturalistic and abstract art.  While the language of that book dwells within fascist ideology, the book has continued to arouse interest on this very provocative topic.

 

Going into the 21st century, we find ourselves confronting a reality that demands we find the right questions to solve our problems.  Kevin Kelly writes about the twelve technological forces that will shape our future in his book The Inevitable.  He describes one of those as cognifying.  Acts of disruption in technological innovation bear an impact more powerful than in the previous industrial world. But what role do human have?  He argues we are in a race with machines.  In the future a person will be paid as much as they are able to work with robots.  He seems to leave the future in the hands of robots, but his last sentence of that chapter on cognifying is the bottom line: “Let the robots take our jobs, and let them help us dream up new work that matters.” 

 

Which is; that goes to say the future lies in the hands of dreamers.  Dreamers do not rely on what they already know, just as schools mistakenly teach kids to rely on remembered facts without teaching them how to exercise their perceptual skills to organize and interpret the data of sense perception.  No doubt will one day AI be able to exercise perception to find those answers better than we can as human perception is not infallible.  The dreamer must stand before reality and seek the questions, which we can leave up to AI to answer. 

 

We find ourselves positioned in a reality that encases us somewhere between knowledge and illusion and eye and mind.  How are we to posit the questions that allow us to short-circuit the brain with its expectations and logical confinements so that we let utilize our perceptions to explore what we seem to keep ourselves from seeing?

 

Rudolf Arnheim, gestalt psychologist of empirical aesthetics and author of Visual Thinking, a meditation on perception as a cognitive faculty of the mind, argues the sense data of our perceptions are transparent.  He wrote:

 

Theorists, philosophers, and psychologists differ in the precision by which they define their concepts.  Quantification allows for measuring and counting but is not necessarily closer to the truth of descriptions.  Any level may be the appropriate one for one’s objective.  What finally matters is how deeply one penetrates to the core of what one is looking for. – Rudolf Arnheim, Two Ways of Being Human

 

But if we look for what we pursue, thinking that we will be on some path of discovery, our knowledge stems rather from inside the mind.

Whitney Painting .jpg

To deconstruct a perception, just like a text, we need to maneuver between the inside and outside the object of representation.  This is no different than wavering between reason and affect, as the philosopher Jacques Derrida argues based on his reading of Emmanuel Kant that reason itself is based on affect.  We must constantly be asking ourselves what we are looking at inexhaustibly.  The core of something does run very deep; Derrida calls this a lacunae.  It is both summons an opening but also the limitless closure of an abyss. 

 

The possibilities of perception are therefore limitless.  They are also at the same time delimited by a liminal condition of a kind of “frame” or “framework,” which Derrida calls the parergon.  The practical implication of this in the postindustrial world of data is the framework of knowledge value that serves innovation. 

 

 Much weight is placed on uniformity of knowledge value within organizations whereas in fact to strategically align a business in the globalized economy a multiplicity of perspectives is necessary.  Leveraging knowledge value requires constant inquiry into strategies of interpretation in pursuit of solutions.  Once we know our secret strategies we may better approach the world of information.

Seeing the Forest for the Trees: How Perception Allows us to See the Big Picture

Judgment is synthesis.  An integrating experiences, which draws upon sensations and are processed in both the cognitive and affective areas of the brain.  As John Dewey writes, it is a process without rules and therefore guided by intuition and tacit understanding.   He writes:

 

Analysis, discrimination, must result in unification.  For to be a manifestation of judgment it must distinguish particulars and parts with respect to their weight and function in formation of an integral experience.  John Dewey, Art as Experience

 

That is; we form a perception of something.  Without doing this, we lose sight of the overarching judgment or conclusive impression and rather only see the discrete parts. 

 

The role of affect plays an important role in our ability to make judgments.  In psychology and aesthetics, this element of processing perceptions is called the top down effect.  Sometimes those top down processes can serve to inhibit our cognitive abilities. When we’re confronted with an overarching perception that arouses negative emotions, studies show that there is a tendency to narrow down on the particulars because the whole inhibits pleasure.  In effect, this inhibits our abilities to make judgments. 

 

Secondly, our cognitive abilities are affected by habits of attention.  The brain seems to work selectively, drawing upon those things that conform to previous experiences and even stereotypes.  The brain can therefore serve to block out breakthroughs into conscious awareness.  In fact, inattentive blindness is one of the most common pitfalls of mistaken beliefs.  Sometimes we can put together repeated elements of something that misguide our estimation of an overall problem.  We may carry the illusion of the easiest solution to something being blind of some larger issue.  And when we do see that larger issue, our perception of those discrete elements take on different characteristics. 

 

To take the example of a work of art, consider Picasso’s Guernica.  The painting depicts the horrors of war, and the message unravels as we explore the image.  We fee a dispersal of our perceptions, which seem to land on the most identifiable and realistic fragments of the painting.  In empathetic response, we connect to each of these elements, finding associations for all of the horrors of human tragedy.  There is enough realism in the picture to arouse emotional responses in even the most illiterate art viewer.  We look for what we can both identify with but also find add to the novelty of experiences.   

Pablo Picasso, Guernica.jpg

The overarching challenge of Guernica is to be able to understand the entirety of the painting.  This challenges our ability to process things in complexity.  While some degree of complexity can add to the novelty of a work of art, too much of it can amount to confusion.  Picasso makes this complex statement understandable by the way he creates an organic connectiveness among the parts to bring together the larger impact of the composition.   So here we go from the discrete parts to the overall judgment.

 

Judgment as an operation of perception demands that we put things together.  Upon close examination of the picture, we see a general structure, such as how we can divide up the picture into three sections, or statements.  The two far ends compare with how women pushed back into a macabre darkness toss back their heads as they let our shrill screams of terror.  And then we are brought to the middle where we see a kind of pyramid divided into a light and dark half with the dark side about death and the right side in light about survival.  While there may be many meanings to the painting, for it is fraught with narrative ambiguity, there are also many solutions.  One might be how the horrors of war are powerfully symbolized in the image of womankind. 

 

Seeing the forest for the trees in judgment of larger problems requires that we exercise this skill of both discrete and structural analysis.  We can go beyond the literal meaning of the painting to infer a conclusion about what is inhumane.  In fact, the picture makes more sense this way even though when we go back to the theme of war, we also recognize the metaphors in the painting.  The same situation also applies to any kind of conceptualization of a business strategy, invention of any sort, legal issue, or medical diagnosis. 

The Doors of Perception in Innovation: Between The Subjective and Objective

There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.      

Aldous Huxley

 

 Perception encompasses the very same two ingredients as the thought patterns of disruptive innovators.  We address as our object a known and seek out an answer for the unknown. 

 

Every great idea begins with a unique perception.  Innovators are people who have learned how to activate the mechanisms of perception rather than let it idle as a lazy organ. 

 

This separation of thought conforms to another bifurcation within perception: our experience of the world as both deeply subjective as well as objective.  That is, this also seems to say perception is an inner, personal experience that our minds choose to act upon in certain ways.  Innovators not only possess unique experiences of reality, they also have the skills to ask the right questions to find answers. 

 

Aesthetic experience is immersive and explorative.  It is the essential first ingredient to all matters of innovation.  This entails having an experience of something.  Ideas don’t come out of a hat.  They’re lent to us by virtue of our abilities to experience reality in a unique way.  In fact, most innovators are right-brained.  It makes perfect sense we could borrow the lessons of artists by learning how to immerse ourselves into an artistic experience.

 

Perceptions of this sort are embodied, and our ideas spring from that experience.  Those ideas are the way we choose to represent something to ourselves in our minds.  That “picture” we create answers those underlying questions Arthur Schopenhauer mentions: the When, Why, and Wherefore of things rather than the more subjective experience of the What.  Aesthetic experience is both subjective and objective.  Suddenly we may have some sort of insight, which is personal but also takes us out of our ordinary selves.  It proffers uniqueness. 

 

This is all to say the foundation of innovation as a perceptual “event” lies within the domains of both the affective and cognitive spheres of the mind.  Art education typically leans toward the cognitive side without acknowledging how our own subjectivity plays such a significant role. 

 

Now, if we think about much of twenty first-century art, much of it reveals this understanding of ourselves.  For one, so much of it is extremely emotional!  Take, for example, the artist Julie Mehretu in works such as Dispersion of 2002.  Mehretu’s picture of the dispersal of sensory data represents the post-industrial paradigm.  She conveys the message, through her both personal and expressive language of Kandinsky-like colors and lines and Malevich’s rigid underlying rational geometry, the fusion of both the cognitive and affective and objective and aesthetic coordinates of perceptual experience. 

Julie Mehretu, Dispersion, 2002.jpg

To make the analogy with the disruptive techniques of strategic innovation, compare the way Mehretu invites the spectator to go from dwelling on the What in the minutiae of the picture to an overall experience of the whole and the way innovative thinkers perceive their object both immersively and with an objective distance.  The second constitutes that position we take when we speculate about the When, Why, and Wherefore.  Additionally, one might add, look at a picture no differently offers the possibility of alternate realities.  We can ask ourselves those crucial questions that allow us to solve problems.  Art no differently than the world itself is filled with potential and possibilities.   

 

If following Huxley, the “doors of perception” lie somewhere between what is known and unknown, it seems the active process of perception as a subjective or aesthetic experience seems to project the subject’s “will” (following Schopenhauer) on that object.  What happens cognitively is something different; also active, it is but a “search.”

 

With this “search” in mind, immediately Jang Yongliang’s mindboggling paintings come to mind of a post-industrial society nestled within a seemingly very traditional Chinese landscape.  As our mind leans towards the pleasure of the overarching whole, we gaze at the landscape reminded of the great literati painters from centuries ago.  The details pique our curiosity, and we ask ourselves is this disturbed feeling we have about what we see a vision of what is or even an apocalyptic nightmare of what could be. 


Yang Yongliang, Endless Streams, 2017.jpg

 

So we begin to ask ourselves where these pictures leave us as humans in this world.  Hence we ask ourselves, lest we confront desolation, what do we need to do? And that personal opinion we claim is one that rests on this duality of perceptual experience as neither nor but both cognitive and affective. 

Perception and Change Bias

Our eye finds it more comfortable to respond to a given stimulus by reproducing once more an image that it has produced many times before instead of registering what is different and new in an impression.  – Friedrich Nietzsche

 

Perception of change is key to any profession.  In law, attorneys may find themselves overlooking discrepancies in a story, which result in the failure to discover hidden truths and underlying meanings.  Instead, the mind perceives patterns, which are illusions and maybe rather expectations, sort of like preconceptions imprinted on the back of the eye. 

 

In their book, The Invisible Gorilla: How our Intuitions Deceive Us, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons take on this very subject.  Their scientifically justified argument follows along the lines that the way our minds insist on seeing things distorts the truths.  We may make associations by false intuition and see causes that are not there.  How startling it is to realize that absolutely everyone, nobody excluded, goes through their days this way, letting our illusions govern both our minds and actions, because of the way our minds want to work.  We have to find ways to correct the ways we project our subjectivity on reality. 

 

In general, humans like to construe narratives no differently than we form Gestalts of things.  Just like we put together a picture, we link together a trajectory of facts, making connections, which are actually based on assumptions, and determine an underlying meaning.  The reality of things, which a lot of well-trained doctors know, is that sometimes it’s the random things that matter the most.  Inquiring minds look for the exceptions and the discrepancies in facts. 

 

History has left it to artists to unveil truths and short-circuit the mind’s weaknesses.  One way they have done that is by examining variable change.  Certainly, the Impressionists were maybe the first to explore what scientists and philosophers had discovered about vision.  In the twentieth-century even Conceptual artists grasped how mind and eye work together. 

Bernd and Hilla Becher, Water Towers, 1968-1980.png

Take, for example, the Germans Bernd and Hilla Becher.  They explored the vast countryside of Germany looking for old water towers and barns, photographing them in the display of a grid, as if creating a taxonomy of facts.  But the way in which a kind of somber redundancy pervades the variability reveals the conflicts of psychological repression and inner denial because everything is grouped uniformly together.  Suddenly, in one grasp of the display an enormity of information is lumped into a generalized whole, no different than how the mind serves a reductive function in the face of more information than is possible to take in at once. 

 

People overcome this tendency to repress differentials when they train the mind to question what they are seeing so that they may better see what is not there.  The best way to conquer our biases is to question them, which helps us suddenly build a different picture with the eye.  Photographers achieve this by reframing the same subject.  Rather than emphasizing uniformity like the Bechers, they stress variability.  Connections we make in our mind then appear to be mere illusions.  We become aware of our own biases. 

 

To follow Chabris and Simons, the problems we solve, the solutions we find – the narratives of reality we construe  -- necessitate cognitive training so that we see alternative paths.  Artists themselves are on this alternative path.  Each pursues a path to unveil a truth outside of the accepted narrative.  It is from them we can learn, for they know best, what it takes to reveal a way from illusion to insight.