Tools, Obstacles and Extension into the World


We assume that we see objects or things when we look at the world, but that’s not really how it is. Our evolved perceptual systems transform the interconnected, complex multi‑level world that we inhabit not so much into things per se as into useful things (or their nemeses, things that get in the way). This is the necessary, practical reduction of the world. This is the transformation of the near‑infinite complexity of things through the narrow specification of our purpose. This is how precision makes the world sensibly manifest. That is not at all the same as perceiving objects .

We don’t see valueless entities and then attribute meaning to them. We perceive the meaning directly.[171] We see floors, to walk on, and doors, to duck through, and chairs, to sit on. It’s for this reason that a beanbag and a stump both fall into the latter category, despite having little objectively in common. We see rocks, because we can throw them, and clouds, because they can rain on us, and apples, to eat, and the automobiles of other people, to get in our way and annoy us. We see tools and obstacles, not objects or things. Furthermore, we see tools and obstacles at the “handy” level of analysis that makes them most useful (or dangerous), given our needs, abilities and perceptual limitations. The world reveals itself to us as something to utilize and something to navigate through–not as something that merely is.

We see the faces of the people we are talking to, because we need to communicate with those people and cooperate with them. We don’t see their microcosmic substructures, their cells, or the subcellular organelles, molecules and atoms that make up those cells. We don’t see, as well, the macrocosm that surrounds them: the family members and friends that make up their immediate social circles, the economies they are embedded within, or the ecology that contains all of them. Finally, and equally importantly, we don’t see them across time. We see them in the narrow, immediate, overwhelming now, instead of surrounded by the yesterdays and tomorrows that may be a more important part of them than whatever is currently and obviously manifest. And we have to see in this way, or be overwhelmed.

When we look at the world, we perceive only what is enough for our plans and actions to work and for us to get by. What we inhabit, then, is this “enough.” That is a radical, functional, unconscious simplification of the world–and it’s almost impossible for us not to mistake it for the world itself. But the objects we see are not simply there, in the world, for our simple, direct perceiving.[172] They exist in a complex, multi‑dimensional relationship to one another, not as self‑evidently separate, bounded, independent objects. We perceive not them, but their functional utility and, in doing so, we make them sufficiently simple for sufficient understanding. It is for this reason that we must be precise in our aim . Absent that, we drown in the complexity of the world.

This is true even for our perceptions of ourselves, of our individual persons. We assume that we end at the surface of our skin, because of the way that we perceive. But we can understand with a little thought the provisional nature of that boundary. We shift what is inside our skin, so to speak, as the context we inhabit changes. Even when we do something as apparently simple as picking up a screwdriver, our brain automatically adjusts what it considers body to include the tool.[173] We can literally feel things with the end of the screwdriver. When we extend a hand, holding the screwdriver, we automatically take the length of the latter into account. We can probe nooks and crannies with its extended end, and comprehend what we are exploring. Furthermore, we instantly regard the screwdriver we are holding as “our” screwdriver, and get possessive about it. We do the same with the much more complex tools we use, in much more complex situations. The cars we pilot instantaneously and automatically become ourselves. Because of this, when someone bangs his fist on our car’s hood after we have irritated him at a crosswalk, we take it personally. This is not always reasonable. Nonetheless, without the extension of self into machine, it would be impossible to drive.

The extensible boundaries of our selves also expand to include other people–family members, lovers and friends. A mother will sacrifice herself for her children. Is our father or son or wife or husband more or less integral to us than an arm or a leg? We can answer, in part, by asking: Which we rather lose? Which loss would we sacrifice more to avoid? We practice for such permanent extension–such permanent commitment–by identifying with the fictional characters of books and movies. Their tragedies and triumphs rapidly and convincingly become ours. Sitting still in our seats, we nonetheless act out a multitude of alternate realities, extending ourselves experimentally, testing multiple potential paths, before specifying the one we will actually take. Engrossed in a fictional world, we can even become things that don’t “really” exist. In the blink of an eye, in the magic hall of a movie theatre, we can become fantastical creatures. We sit in the dark before rapidly flickering images and become witches, superheroes, aliens, vampires, lions, elves or wooden marionettes. We feel everything they feel, and are peculiarly happy to pay for the privilege, even when what we experience is sorrow, fear or horror.

Something similar, but more extreme, happens when we identify, not with a character in a fictional drama, but with a whole group, in a competition. Think of what happens when a favourite team wins or loses an important game against an arch‑rival. The winning goal will bring the whole network of fans to their feet, before they think, in unscripted unison. It is as if their many nervous systems are directly wired to the game unfolding in front of them. Fans take the victories and defeats of their teams very personally, even wearing the jerseys of their heroes, often celebrating their wins and losses more than any such events that “actually” occur in their day‑to‑day lives. This identification manifests itself deeply–even biochemically and neurologically. Vicarious experiences of winning and losing, for example, raise and lower testosterone levels among fans “participating” in the contest.[174] Our capacity for identification is something that manifests itself at every level of our Being.

To the degree that we are patriotic, similarly, our country is not just important to us. It is us. We might even sacrifice our entire smaller individual selves, in battle, to maintain the integrity of our country. For much of history, such willingness to die has been regarded as something admirable and courageous, as a part of human duty. Paradoxically, that is a direct consequence not of our aggression but of our extreme sociability and willingness to cooperate. If we can become not only ourselves, but our families, teams and countries, cooperation comes easily to us, relying on the same deeply innate mechanisms that drive us (and other creatures) to protect our very bodies.


Дата: 2018-09-13, просмотров: 17.