July 30, 2013

Henry Geiger - We See What We Are (1980)

Henry Geiger (1908?-15 February 1989) was the editor, publisher, and chief writer of MANAS Journal which published from 1948-1988. Abraham Maslow called him “the only small ‘p’ philosopher America has produced in this century.”
Below is an excerpt from, "We See What We Are" by Henry Geiger. Source: MANAS Journal, Volume XXXIII, No. 16. April 16, 1980.
How do we know? The question is too big, of course. There are so many things to know and so many ways of knowing. Yet the importance of the general question cannot be denied. What we do in our schools and colleges—and how we attempt to explain things in conversation—depend upon it, or should. One reason for confusion is bound to be that we have mistaken ideas about how people learn. A similar difficulty attends the simpler process of seeing with our eyes. In a paper which outlines the history of theories of vision, the M.I.T. psychologist, Richard Held, suggests that the assumptions on which existing theories are based stand in the way of progress in understanding. At the end of this paper (published in Structure in Art and Science, ea., Kepes, Braziller, 1965), Prof. Held says:
We may be able to avoid vitiating assumptions if for a moment we regard the observer with all his capabilities as a machine having unknown rules of operation. . . . It is immediately evident that if this machine does in fact respond adaptively to physically definable properties of its environment, then information about those properties must be available to the system that controls its behavior. . . . But what has not always been recognized is that the specification tells us nothing either about the machine's method of processing the information which must be available to it or about the manner in which this information will relate to perceived objects. . . . What sort of an information processing system could conceivably yield the correspondence that is sought? We might as well confront it with the most general and difficult demand that we know of. The system should be capable of the kinds of pattern recognition of which human observers are capable.
The psychologist ends by saying that human beings are possessed of an extraordinary capacity for pattern recognition which cannot be explained as the result of education. We are just able to see and recognize, and hardly know how. "We are forced to conclude that having been presented with a relatively small sample of instances, the system can recognize an unlimited set." We must not, Prof. Held seems to be saying, ignore what we can really do because of the limitations implied by past theories of how we do it.

In his book, The Tacit Dimension (Anchor, 1967), Michael Polanyi, a chemist turned philosopher, sets out from precisely this point of view in a discussion of knowing. While seeing is a sense experience, it is closely connected with, or a serviceable analogue of, the knowing done by the mind. Polanyi says:
My search has led me to a novel idea of human knowledge . . . by starting from the fact that we can know more than we can tell. This fact seems obvious enough; but it is not easy to say exactly what it means. Take an example. We know a person's face, and can recognize it among a thousand, indeed among a million. Yet we usually cannot tell how we recognize a face we know. . . . We recognize the moods of the human face, without being able to tell, except quite vaguely, by what signs we know it.
He finds a clue to how we do this in what we do without noticing it:
Physiologists long ago established that the way we see an object is determined by our awareness of certain efforts inside our body, efforts which we cannot feel in themselves. We are aware of these things going on inside our body in terms of the position, size, shape, and motion of an object, to which we are attending. In other words, we are attending from these internal processes to the qualities of things outside. These qualities are what those internal processes mean to us. . . .

Modern philosophers have argued that perception does not involve projection, since we are not previously aware of the internal processes which we are supposed to have projected into the qualities of things perceived. But we have now established that projection of this very kind is present in various instances of tacit knowing. Moreover, the fact that we do not originally sense the internal processes in themselves now appears irrelevant.
We go, if we are scientifically inclined, from tacit knowing or intuitive recognition to analysis of detail, which may enrich our knowing—or it may not.
True Theories About the World #savegutenberg. Source: GutenbergGreatBooks. Date Published: February 26, 2013. Description:
This is an excerpt from a lecture in which Dr. Dewberry discusses Michael Polanyi and Thomas Kuhn's perpective about what can be KNOWN by science.