Chapter 6: Physical/Unseen Perceptions and Moments Before Sleep

Sleepless Noticing

As a child I would keep myself up at night, marveling that every single human has such utterly different experiences. Now, years later, in the moments before sleep, I imagine a world in which our internal perceptions —those illusive and constant companions— become physical. But perhaps our internal perceptions already exist in a physical space, we just don’t know how, or where, to look.

“The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity.” As philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein explains, “One is unable to notice something—because it is always before one’s eyes.” (1) Often our perceptions are as easy to look past as a sticky-note on the bathroom mirror. Our perceptions need us to step back and get re-acquainted, because perceptions guide and form us, literally shaping our world.

Constructing the World and Perception

Perception is more than absorbing outside information, it’s also interpreting our senses through our memories, beliefs, and biases until perception is not a direct reflection of the world but a direct reflection of our world. “[O]ur perceptions come from the inside out just as much as, if not more than, the outside in.” Anil K. Seth, professor of neuroscience, clarifies, “[r]ather than being a passive registration of an external objective reality, perception emerges as a process of active construction”. (2)

Just as perceptions actively construct the world around us, we have the capability to construct our perceptions. Our challenge is to realize and remind ourselves that despite the multitudes of shared experiences, every single person’s perceptions infinitely differ. Our challenge is to wade through a world in which it is all too easy for a single perspective (3) to rise above the rest and claim itself as truth.

Harvard Divinity School’s Religious Literacy Project (4) explores how “‘situated knowledges’ are more accurate than the ‘god-trick’ of universal or objective claims that rest on the assumption that it is possible to ‘see everything from nowhere.’” Professor Diane L. Moore continues, “Rather ‘situated knowledges’ offer the firmest ground upon which to make objective claims that are defined not by their detachment but rather by their specificity, transparency and capacity for accountability.” (5)

Process: Art and Perception

To be accountable to the perspectives surrounding us —in the geographical present, in the historical past, and in wide world— is to simply be aware of perceptions. While we may never be able to truly understand another person’s perspective, we still attempt, and sometimes find, middle ground where our perceptions may brush past one another. Perhaps in the making and viewing of art, that accountability and awareness can exist.

In the middle of a road, in the middle of summer, “A Taxonomy of Perception” began (6).

An idea that started when my sister and I were 6 and 10 (7), has morphed into an invitation to touch and spin the human-sized wooden rings filled with paint, to read and ponder the giant sheets of paper filled with the participants’ perceptions. This community art project reminds me of how art’s process —whether paintings, films, poetry, storytelling, photographs, music, or whispering how a day went just before sleep— may be as close as we can get to internal perceptions existing physically. But even with this physicality, even with art’s generous and challenging guidance, the perspective we are closest to is also the one we need to learn about most; the perspective that is, and always will be, with us: our own.

“A Taxonomy of Perception” Look Wonder Discover’s 2019 Community Art Project

Click here to find out how you can see “A Taxonomy of Perception” in person.
Click here to learn about how “A Taxonomy of Perception” was created.

Endnotes and Resources*:

1. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Third Edition. Translation, G.E.M. Anscombe. New York: Basil Blackwell & Mott, Ltd., 1958.,p. 50e, section 129.
2. Seth, Anil. K. 2019. “Our Inner Universes: Reality is Constructed by the Brain and No Two Brains are Exactly Alike”. Scientific American, vol. 321, no. 3. Page 40-47.
3. Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. “The Danger of a Single Story”. TED. 2009. Accessed January 2020. 
4. Harvard Divinity School’s Religious Literacy Project. Accessed January 2020.
5. Harvard Divinity School’s Religious Literacy Project. “Cultural Studies”. Accessed January 2020. 
6. Look Wonder Discover. “‘A Taxonomy of Perception’ Explained”. Published 2019. Accessed January 2020. 
7. Look Wonder Discover. “Sister Projects”. Accessed January 2020.

People, Works, Terms Mentioned:
Ludwig Wittgenstein / Scientific American / Diane L. Moore / Anil K. Seth / Perception

*All references and resources have been thoroughly researched prior to use.