Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Problem With Perception

A person studies the Book of Mormon and comes across the passage: “And now, it was only the distance of a day and a half's journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea; and thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward” (Alma 22:32).    Curious as to where the Land of Promise might have been located, the person thinks that perhaps finding a small neck of land might be the key to discovering the location. After all, it should not be too difficult to find a stretch of land that is small located between two larger stretches of land of which a person could cross in a day and a half. This suggests that the first thing a person needs to find is all the isthmuses.
With this information, the person starts out on his journey to find the Land of Promise. This, he feels, is no different than the many thousands of conversations he has had in the past with various people. After all, a person speaks, he interprets it, guesses at what he doesn’t understand and makes adjustments as the conversation continues. Communication, after all, is our sensing the world around us, and interpreting these experiences to fit with our inner views of the world. Yet, sometimes unbeknown to us, these views are not perfect. They are simply the best understanding we have so far.
    In most conversation, it is accepted to describe perceptions as being 'real'. Hence one may say 'That wall is black' rather than 'The wall looks like it is black' and will not expect to be challenged. However, there are many situations where our interpreted perceptions can cause problems.
    Andrew N. Meltzoff, (Co-Director, Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, Professor of Psychology, University of Washington Cognitive Development, Social Cognition, Imitation, Cognitive Neuroscience, and Self-Concept) has identified how we use theory of mind in learning, not only imitating what others do but what they appear to think. He claims that while minds are not directly observable things, we tend to think a lot about them, forming theories about beliefs, values, emotions, motivations, and thought processes.
    When we are interacting with others or thinking about them, we make guesses at what they are thinking and feeling. This is our 'theory of mind' about them. We even do the same to ourselves, stepping back and watching ourselves think and feel as we try to work out who we really are or what we are really thinking.
In particular, we predict the intent of others, which helps us decide whether they are a threat or otherwise we should pre-emptively respond to their likely actions. It is also notable how we evaluate what others are thinking and may conclude that they are wrong (have false beliefs). This gives us the opportunity to either correct their thinking or take advantage of their apparent misunderstanding. In the short term with strangers we use available signals, including facial expressions and other non-verbal signals. Longer-term we use our accumulated knowledge about an individual and the models we have built about them.
    We then often go on to assume that our guesses are true, interacting with others through our theory of mind, acting as if it were true. This can lead to all kinds of misinterpretations and misunderstanding.
    Done well, using theory of mind can be very helpful in working with others and enables us to better fit into a social context, even to the point of adopting the perceived thought processes of others. Done badly, it is common source of conflict. It can easily be affected by our own mental state, for example if we are angry or feeling judgmental, we will easily assume others have bad or evil intent. In a neutral sense, we can often believe that others agree with our beliefs merely because they do not challenge them.
    The latter becomes even more challenging and leads to extremely different views when what is being said is not expected to be challenged, i.e., such as in a speech, talk, or teaching environment where the teacher and student are at very different ends of a spectrum, such as a college professor and a freshman or sophomore student. It is even more of a problem when dealing with writing where the reader has little or no opportunity to respond.

While the person speaking or writing does not expect to be challenged, and knows that a challenge is not likely to take places, the lack of a challenge merely adds to the speaker or writer’s feeling of being agreed with. This can even be more exasperated where the tone of the speaker is pleasant and friendly, but the facial reaction of the student or listener is negative or defensive.
    Almost certainly, where the speaker holds a broader, more professional or more educated position, especially if on the subject, the speaker becomes defensive over the difference and tends to consider the reacting student in a “hidden” antagonistic manner. This causes a response “body language” reaction that is seen and understood by the student, though not necessarily at a conscious level, which in turn tends to divide the two apart on the issue or subject under discussion which, in turn, eventually leads to the person in a lesser status giving in or accepting the other view, if only to further the relationship.
     The end result is that the speaker recognizes the eventual change from difference to either indifference or agreement. If there is a response between the two, particularly from the lesser person, there is a strong tendency for the speaker or teacher to re-interpret what is being said and to guess at what we are thinking (“Theory of Mind”)—typically getting it wrong.
    In writing, even this limited interaction is missing and there is no way to actually know how the message is being perceived without some type of feedback mechanism, which rarely exists, except in today’s social media system where comments can be left on the page by the reader, though if they do not agree with the writer, they are often, at least sub-consciously, shunted aside into a category of uninformed or antagonistic. And seldom does the author of an article respond to the comments left on the article written.
    What this has caused, in the area of the Book of Mormon Land of Promise discussion, where minds ought to be working toward a common goal, but are in fact working in opposition to the overall singular reference point—the scriptural record—and has evolved into discussions of bias regarding one’s own viewpoints, interpretation, and beliefs. In fact, it is almost humorous to see how much one theorist can criticize and tear apart another theory, yet the same argument can be used against his theory in the same manner.
It is literally amazing that a Great Lakes theorists can criticize a Mesoamericanist theory that believes 3 Nephi 8 has reference to a series of volcanoes erupting, yet stand tall in his own theory that claims an area with no mountains at all is the Land of promise where mountains, “whose height is great” is a requirement. We could go on with these examples, but the point is, one has to stretch their credibility to the breaking point to complain about a theory they don’t believe in yet support a theory that does not itself match the scriptural record.
    We have posted in these pages time and again at least 32 specific scriptural references describing the Land of Promise as Mormon, Nephi, Jacob and Moroni have given us, yet theorists continue to support and promote their individual theorist that do not have those scriptural descriptions anywhere within their land area.
    After all, it is not a debate over someone’s theory—but a discussion over a matching and using of the scriptural record to support in total one’s beliefs in the location of the Land of Promise. Individual perception, state of mind, and belief system should not, and cannot, take the place of the scriptural record—as it is written—as the basis for anything regarding the Land of Promise.

No comments:

Post a Comment