Thursday, March 10, 2011

Reading David Abrams The spell of the sensuous: Perception and language in a more-than-human world and came across this gem of a passage in which he describes the role of perception in the life of an organism.
Consider a spider weaving its web, for instance, and the assumption still held by many scientists that the behavior of such a diminutive creature is thoroughly "programmed in its genes." Certainly, the spider has received a rich genetic inheritance from its parents and its predecessors. Whatever "instructions," however, are enfolded within the living genome, they can hardly predict the specifics of the microterrain within which the spider may find itself at any particular moment. They could hardly have determined in advance the exact distances between the cave wall and the branch that the spider is now employing as an anchorage point for her current web or the exact strength of the monsoon rains that make web-spinning a bit more difficult on this evening. And so the genome could not explicitly have commanded the order of every flexion and extension of her various limbs as she weaves this web into its place. However complex are the inherited "programs," patterns, or predispositions, they must still be adapted to the immediate, situation in which the spider finds itself. However determinate one s genetic inheritance, it must still, as it were, be woven into the present, an activity that necessarily involves both a receptivity to the specific shapes and textures of that present and a spontaneous creativity in adjusting oneself (and one's inheritance) to those contours. It is this open activity, this dynamic blend of receptivity and creativity by which every animate organism necessarily orients itself to the world (and orients the world around itself), that we speak of by the term "perception" (50).
I can't help imagining how different the world would be if we lived in ways more attuned to our perception of the world-as-it-is, rather than the world-as-it-is-said-to-be. What are the tools and methods we use to know the world and how do those shape the world we experience?

Abram, D. 1996. The spell of the sensuous: Perception and language in a more-than-human world. New York: Vintage.

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