Sunday, April 20, 2008

Clear Thinking

There are three basic steps for clearer thinking as presented by author "R W Jepson":

Perceive >>> Feel >>> Remember

We depend first of all upon our observation in forming judgments, or more strictly speaking, upon the perceptions of our senses—hearing, touch, smell, taste, as well as sight; the accumulation and repetition of these sense perceptions and of our interpretation of them becomes what we may call experience; and the power that stores them up in our mind we term memory. "Seeing is Believing," but it is a notorious fact that our eyes can easily lead us astray. How often, too, is it found that reliable eyewitnesses may give substantially different accounts of the same simple occurrence! Why is this?

It is possible to see things, without noticing or being aware of them. The eye registers an impression of everything that comes within the range of its view; but our awareness depends upon a number of circumstances; our attention may be weak, or intermittent, or distracted; we may be preoccupied; we may be in poor bodily health. Again, the direction of our attention is naturally determined by our interests at the time or by our point of view.

We may see things, even notice them, and then dismiss them as being of no consequence or significance. "There are none so blind as those that won't see"— this would tell us that we can even shut our eyes and refuse to see what runs counter to our desires. It's a matter of deep feelings. We suggest a slight different solution to a problem in that puzzling play which up to now has received no adequate explanation. We give a good illustration of the common failure on the part of observers to see anything you are not expecting to see.
The danger to which many of us are too often prone is that of interpreting what we see in the light of preconceived opinion. We were present some years ago at a lecture by a professor of psychology. He began by talking to us about Napoleon's campaigns and referred to the battles of Marengo, Hohenlinden, Austerlitz, Jena, etc. Suddenly, without warning, he produced and showed for a second a piece of white cardboard with a word on it printed in large capitals. He asked us to write down the word we had seen. The majority of us wrote BATTLE. As a matter of fact the word was BOTTLE! Authors frequently find difficulty in detecting printers' errors in the proofs of their own writings. Familiarity with the words they have originally written makes them read rapidly and carelessly; they see perhaps one or two letters in a word, or one or two words in a sentence correctly printed, but the rest of the word or sentence escapes their eye and is taken for granted. Errors they miss in this way are more easily detected by proof-readers who approach the text without any previous knowledge of its contents.
Another source of deception is the habit we have of confusing details of what we have seen with the inferences made from them. As soon as the mind receives sense impressions it proceeds to interpret them in the light of experience; the interpretation or inference follows so quickly that in actual practice it is bound up so closely with the sense impression that it is difficult to separate the two. A very great part of our so-called facts of observation consists of partial sense impressions completed by rapid interpretations or inferences supplied from imagination, memory, or previous experience. Thus the stage, the movies and talkies rely upon our ability to reconstruct the whole from the part. The more ignorant and uneducated a person is, "the more difficult it is for him to discriminate between his inferences and the perceptions on which they were grounded. Many a marvellous tale, many a scandalous anecdote owes its origin to this incapacity. Not what we saw or heard, but the impressions which we derived from what we saw or heard, and of which perhaps the greater part consisted of inference, though the whole is related not as inference, but as matter of fact. The person who says, "I see there's someone ill at Number So-and-so," when the sole evidence is a doctor's car standing outside, sees no such thing: what he really sees is an appearance equally reconcilable with the inference he made and with other totally different inferences.
One of the most celebrated examples of a universal error produced by mistaking an inference for the direct evidence of the senses was the resistance made, on the ground of common sense, to the Copernican system. People protested that Copernicus's theory contravened the common-sense conclusion, i.e., the conclusion derived from visual observation, that the earth was stationary and that the sun and stars moved round it. They 'saw' the sun rise and set and the stars revolve in circles round the pole. But we now know that they saw no such thing; what they did see was a number of natural phenomena which could be equally well explained by a totally different theory.

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