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Elephant Juice

January 27, 2012

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Elephant Juice

As a teenager, I watched the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. This is a tradition I try to keep up each year. It’s a bit like reading Usborne Guides for children; entertaining, bite-size, palatable info that I find much easier to swallow.

This year the RICL was about ‘the brain’, and was entertaining as ever. It reminded me that “what we perceive” is but a subjective notion and that what others perceive might be similar but not the same. In fact what we conceive of seeing is sometimes at odds with what was ‘true’… A minefield I know! …but fun!
It illustrated that our brains ‘memorise’ (encode) stimuli, map patterns, and retrieve or create perceptions etc. (neural activity, chemicals, electricity).
Take a look: http://richannel.org/christmas-lectures-2011-bruce-hood–whats-in-your-head
It was fascinating to observe visual illusions that illustrated the limits of our visual perception.
That we only clearly see a visual tunnel of a few inches at a time and via stepped saccades we build up our idea of what we’re experiencing. The Change Blindness illustration was enlightening: http://youtu.be/ImQFQj6yvVE?t=32s

And so we are what we think and we think what we are… the paralysis of analysis – my Achilles heel.
And so… thankfully, enter the conciliating creations of myth, song, fable and assurance.
The logic is fair enough and indeed wondrous, but I also wonder what we might do if it were not for the colouring, soothing, palliative artistry that culture, art, nature, and meaning give us.
Without my dose of coffee, cheese, music, fiction and wonder, I would be more lost that I am.

Turn to your friend and silently mouth the words “elephant juice” to them while they watch you… what do they see you say?

Thank ‘heavens’ for mystery.

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