It has been many, many years since I have studied mathematics, analysis, or anything of the sort. I use language from those arenas and I could well be mis-using terms. I very much welcome feedback on this! Since my aim here is to be as clear as possible, please feel free to email me or send me a message letting me know of any linguistic, terminological, mathematical, or even metaphorical errors or inconsistencies you see, should you be so inclined. 🙂
Our feelings are always there. They are indicators of significance. We ignore them at our own peril.
Our feelings are the medium through which every other thing we perceive is filtered. It is the water in which we live and through which we swim. The source of the deep currents that ebb and flow and cause the center of our awareness to drift even when we aren’t actively in motion.
How I see this working (in a mechanical sense):
My feelings influence WHAT I see, even before I form an opinion on it. Like lighting, my emotional state at the time of perception will highlight some things and cast others in shadow. I may or may not be aware of what my lighting is. Even if I am cognizant of and familiar with the lighting currently in place, I may or may not have a good model for what its effects are in terms of what it makes easier/harder to see.
This is all the pre-language setup.
At this level there is nothing but sensory input and feelings. I would go so far as to say that feelings are both a context and an input. I’d say they are the primary (as in initial) input. (Inflammation is a word that strangely comes to mind.) These may actually be two different layers, but they are very close to one another and seem nearly linked. One informs the other. And feelings can grow and have layers added to them. They can become more complex in keeping with whatever layer they’re originated in. Sensory input may also do the same though I’m less sure of that.
Feelings (instincts? chemistry, perhaps?) exist – with or without language.
Sensory input exists – with or without language.
That is the first dimension.
Then comes language. (I see at least two levels to language – more on this later.) It’s the second contextual layer – the second dimension.
The first level of language (words – both nouns and verbs) allows us to understand sensory input differently. When this level enters the picture, our engagement with input (of a feeling or sensory nature) doesn’t leave, but is instead modified, deepened. We can now label our inputs and describe how they move. We can label some emotions too.We can situate them – like a dot or a line – on a graph.
And with those labels come additional associations that we may or may not have noticed before we added the labels.
I see this as a two dimensional situation because language has its own features and also because if I don’t have language for a phenomenon, then my understanding of it seems to remain on the feeling/sensory level. Furthermore, the language I DO have for an experience will influence how and what I perceive in it. And the language I have for that will in turn influence how and what I feel as a result of that. So my perceptions are now not just sensory. They aren’t just the feeling of squinting and turning our face away – they are the mental addition of the idea of “bright!” They aren’t just the feeling of pores puckering, rising into goosebumps, hairs standing on end, and the periodic shivers rippling across an arm – they are the mental addition of the idea of “cold!” These are base level opinions/interpretations. (*1)
Layer1Language (nouns/labels and verbs/movement) is a key element in the formation of things like opinions, interpretations, understandings. But it’s not the only element. There is a second layer to the language addition
Layer2Language (grammar) adds a time element to our experiences. I think of it as a third contextual layer – as moving from 2 dimensions to 3. This is the layer that I think dogs do not have (as always, I’m happy to see evidence I’m wrong about this). This is the layer that opens up the option of creating stories, although story-literacy is something I consider a skill, and it’s not something that everyone has in equal amounts. Opinions can go up to this level. In fact they may well be situated here. Depending on the language I have, they can even grow to be quite complex, when I start layering in multiple encounters and the variety of different feeling and linguistic (L1) environments that I am having these experiences in.
So at the moment we have something that looks something like this: (I want to move this to a mindmap/fractal illustration at some point because I think it will allow me to clarify further and perhaps identify some inconsistencies or other factors)
Perception (sensory), observation (both static and moving labels), interpretation (meaning within context – emotional/historical…) and opinion (prediction). Remember also that feelings are always a present influence (lighting and camera angle) as well as additional data source (score). And that language is the framework (structure) through which we assign meaning to these inputs and also another context through which we interpret these elements. As is our history (both the outside input history and also how we have perceived and interpreted it in the past and how that has changed).
And, I think that a lot of people end the progression here. We think this is it and everything can be understood within the contexts listed above.
But the thing about language is, most of us don’t develop one in a vacuum. In fact, I’d wager that the more solitary we are, the less and less we use or need language. #moreResearchNeeded But when we learn things from others – when we develop a shared way of interacting, that is not a static thing. As one learns langauge, one learns also the emotions and connotation other people place on those words, those symbols, those turns of phrase, those descriptions, those roles, those stories, those histories. This is why I can take any word and say it to someone like it’s an insult and if I’m even moderately skilled, it’s likely that person will understand that I have just tried to hurt them. (*2)
Our understanding of language is also informed by who we are getting that information from and what we think of them. What role we see them playing. How we see them fitting into the story we may be building. Just as understandings shift over time as we put them in historical context, they’re also not isolated from our understandings of other people’s perspectives/opinions/etc/etc/etc. And that’s where narratives come in.
I think of narratives as the social context that all of these things (opinions, perceptions, interpretations, understandings, sensory input, history, language, stories, feelings…) are situated within.
Narratives (the way I am using this word) aren’t individual stories. (I cannot emphasize this enough.) They’re SHARED stories. They’re the aggregate, the trends. They’re data analysis, folklore, and fairy tales. They’re TVTropes.com. I personally often have a perception, a myriad of feelings, a story, an opinion. I don’t personally have a narrative. (Unless I think of myself as having many MEs, in which case I may have a culture I think of as “the being others call Kim” and a set of shared narratives within that culture). My personal stories are situated in relationship to the narratives of all the social groups I have encountered and interacted with and lived within or adjacent to. And the further my story gets from those shared narratives, the less my perception seems to fit any of those shared narratives, the harder it is to see and understand. Both personally but also for others.
Because here’s a thing I think people forget: none of these things live in separate containers. They do not grow independently of one another. Instincts, feelings, perceptions, labels, roles/archetypes, stories, narratives… all of these feed into and filter one another. In fact, it seems to me that sensory input (in terms of the actual things outside ourselves that trigger all this) is the ONLY thing that does not continue to grow and shift and drift and expand and contract. We can get many or recurring inputs, and our memories of those inputs do move in those ways. But the thing itself – if recorded properly – remains constant. (*3)
Which is, I think, generally the aim of science / scientific language – to be able to isolate that one single factor in order to understand it. But to do that effectively (and maybe this is where rationality comes in?) we must be able to see and identify all the other elements that DO move, so that we can get out of our own way. Science – the art of identifying and isolating the constant in a situation so that we may measure and understand it. (Rationality – the art of getting out of one’s own way in order to more effectively science/life?) Expanded out, of course, to as many layers of abstraction as one can effectively get to. #science! #rationality
(*1) And even these base level interpretations/perceptions/opinions can be wrong. If I drink a cup of coffee and my heart starts pounding, my brain can (and has) misapplied the label “Fear!” to that sensation. To which my emotions sometimes respond by shining a spotlight on whatever unfortunate person, thing, sensation, interaction, or thought happens to be most visible at that time. Enough repetitions of that (add in the grammar layer) – and I have now developed a phobia through clever application of caffeine. The fun part is that, it only takes a few times spotlighting things that are similar and then my brain will start LOOKING for things in the same category and LOOKING for those possible-fear-indicators, creating a self-reinforcing loop off of a few primary experiences. Maybe that’s because on that level, our brains are really good at seeing what they’re looking for. (Or it might just be that because it is such a deep level it requires much less detail and nuance to form that connection. Maybe it takes less volume of input to convince it and it doesn’t see distinctions that other layers might see. So it sees in less detail and so is broader in application as well as what it considers viable input?)
(*2) Or, on a darker note, if my attempt is on a different contextual level – one where they aren’t supposed to be emotionally hurt but instead socially – then it might serve better to keep them unaware but shift the social spotlight so that the people around them find it easy to connect what I said with insult. The point being the equivalent, however. That the same words can do very different things if a person of skill uses them in context-savvy ways or depending on which contextual level their intended effects lie. Meaning maybe a more high-def observation is required to determine meaning and intent in situations where someone might be communicating on that more nuanced level.
(*3) In fact, in some ways, this is a much easier point to make with a recorded input. Because even though I record something (say – a musical performance), my perceptions/interpretations of that event shift over time as well. Even on a sensory input level. For example: I might listen to it in different environments and hear different things. But if I record it with the right equipment, I can see that the acoustics, the pitches, the volume, etc of the recording itself remain the same. I have often found that extensive and periodic review of recorded things tends to return great value to me.