Hypotheosis III

Hypotheosis III

Neuroscience news – Researchers in Norway, England, and the U.S. have established by several experiments that at least some abstract knowledge is represented in the brain spatially. The essential idea is that many kinds of cognition – perceptions, experiences, and abstractions – are stored in cell grids of varying sizes and orientations, relative directions and distances among them standing in for relational and conceptual aspects. In doing so they co-opt the very mechanisms used to record location and navigational data. Our thoughts and understandings are mapped. Such a correlation between our mental and physical worlds will be intuitive to anyone who is familiar with or has ever used a Memory Palace as an aid to remembering. The Greeks and Romans were among the first to have employed this device, imagining the items to be remembered in locations along a path. I remember using a version of this in school, calling up answers to exams by mentally turning the pages of my textbooks to the one that held the answer, and finding it in its spot on that page.

This latest study is of special interest to me because my MLA thesis investigated collage as a representational medium for landscape design, and relied on cognitive science research into navigation strategies/modes. A key insight from that work is that people represent navigational information, like paths, distances, landmarks schematically, rather than accurately. Which is to say our mental models of the places we know and traverse ‘look’ like subway maps. We preserve spatial relationships between navigational data, but approximately.

What this leads me (back) to is a comment Deepak Chopra made once, on a television show. (Oprah?) I’ll paraphrase it here, as I cannot remember exactly the quote, but the idea he offered then is that everything human beings do is a projection or externalization of how we are made, how we operate – built on our blueprints, if you will. Subway maps, and memory palaces mimic and reveal deep mind structure; other facets of our being can be similarly illuminated. Here are a few human inventions that bear out Chopra’s novel thought.

I see automotive transport as a simulacram for the womb. Think about it: In a car you glide/flow through space, suspended, cushioned (oh, those heated leather seats), in a temperature-regulated environment, protected and tethered (frame, airbag, belts), passively connected to the outer world by sound (talk show, music, audiobook) and similarly nourished (sippy cups and straws, cup-holders, drive-thru’s and window deliveries). All the while supervised, directed, and tended to by SiriMom. What life-sustaining need is unmet? The one real difference is an addictive upgrade – in a car you get to steer.

In no small way libraries are physical models of memory, as are computers and the Cloud, however more abstractly. Search engines and card catalogs mimic the neurological paths we take through our minds to retrieve remembered information.

I wonder too what photoshop betrays about us – maybe that we mentally concatenate, and configure knowledge in a collage-like mode, appending (amending) cognitive maps with multi-dimensional callouts, like those affixed to landscape or architectural drawings. Or maybe photoshop reflects the way we layer, edit, and intermix memories over time.

Contemporary dance replicates visual perception in an almost freaky way. The hip/hop animation dance style is a slowed-down breakdown of the actual way we see, taking in discrete ordered bits of visual information so quickly we smooth the observations into a continuum. CD’s too are digital data, the gaps so small that we are told we hear their successive bits of sound just the same as we do analog recordings. Of this I am not so sure, based on the resurgence in the popularity of LP recordings, and the universal preference for live music. Could our hearing be a continual perception, even while sight is not?

Such an interesting way to look at the human world, that we are telling on ourselves at every turn. I wonder what other insights are hidden in plain sight?


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