A colleague recently came upon me from behind with the observation “I recognised you from your gait”. I didn’t say it, but my immediate thought was “I don’t have a gait”. We are familiar with this of course from the pointless insistence that “I don’t have an accent, everyone else does”. How better to demonstrate that we see the world from a singular point of view, with a singular history, and we can only see a world with that grounding.
Jacob Von Uexküll is very good at this, pointing out that we each encounter a world that arises by virtue of our capacity for making discriminations and acting. On his view, an astronomer encounters an astronomer’s world, a tick encounters a tick’s world, etc. No amount of linguistic coordination can get rid of this simple fact.
I have a brother who is trained in forestry, soil science and archeology. Going for a walk in the woods with him is exhausting and delightful, as he reads the world directly in a manner I cannot hope to copy. He is not thinking out loud. He is just reporting how he finds the world.
For one insight we must surely have by now is that there is no image of the world that we can appeal to that is independent of our capacity for understanding, our history of meaningful engagement with life, and our expertise. There is, in short, no separation between perception and cognition. We touched on this in a previous post. There I noted that “we fall through to meaning, always”.
This seems to me to be of especial importance when we have to negotiate co-existence with others from very distinct cultural, religious, and geographic backgrounds. We are liable to think that experience must be similar to us all (for some version of “us”), and we forget that despite our no doubt sincerely held belief in our individuality and independence, we necessarily see things in a manner that arose in specific cultural and historical circumstances.
I am not a Christian, in the sense of having overt beliefs in any transcendent God. But I undoubtedly encounter a Christian world. It is interesting to note that self-professed atheists are all similarly located. Strident atheism is an option only to those firmly grounded in a Christian culture. I encounter a European’s world. I encounter a middle class person’s world. This makes some things jump out at me, and blinds me to others. This makes some kinds of action inevitable and prohibits others.
The questions we are pursuing here are not only relevant to the cognitive sciences. They are relevant to any discussion that seeks to establish consensus.