Upbeat Cynicism

what do you mean i lost my mind?

Life’s an itch

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The New Yorker has a fascinating article on how complicated the process of perception in the human brain is turning out to be, starting from a peculiar case of itching.

The grabber:

One morning, after she was awakened by her bedside alarm, she sat up and, she recalled, “this fluid came down my face, this greenish liquid.” She pressed a square of gauze to her head and went to see her doctor again. M. showed the doctor the fluid on the dressing. The doctor looked closely at the wound. She shined a light on it and in M.’s eyes. Then she walked out of the room and called an ambulance. Only in the Emergency Department at Massachusetts General Hospital, after the doctors started swarming, and one told her she needed surgery now, did M. learn what had happened. She had scratched through her skull during the night—and all the way into her brain.


The author seems a bit sloppy on one thing, though.

He references George Berkeley, the philosopher:

We do not know the world of objects, [Berkeley] argued; we know only our mental ideas of objects. “Light and colours, heat and cold, extension and figures—in a word, the things we see and feel—what are they but so many sensations, notions, ideas?”

He uses that as a segue into the current theory that “visual perception is more than ninety per cent memory and less than ten per cent sensory nerve signals.” He doesn’t dwell on the memory or experience aspect of it, or even mention what this might mean in terms of childhood perception and psychology. Starting off with Berkeley and avoiding obvious corollaries gives an erroneous impression of what the scientists are actually saying — to wit, that the brain uses past experiences to a great degree to make sense of and fill in perceptual data. Contra Berkeley, past experiences are built up by experience, as recorded by perceptual data, and not “invented” by the mind or put there by God.

Regardless, the article is very interesting, and worth reading through to the end.

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