Friday, September 30, 2011

Our Perceptions

So i'm reading my book about studies and came upon a cool part of human ability that I often leave out of my books. That is perception. Now I'm talking about physical perceptions no abstract perceptions. So, let me explain a little. So we have senses (hearing, feeling, smelling, seeing, tasting) that we are constantly taking in. Pause for a moment and try and think of something you are sensing at this moment from all five senses. Go ahead I'll wait.....Ok did you pick one out for each sense. It is amazing how much we sense and equally amazing how much our mind ignores. So our perceptual processes are doing three general things: 1) selecting the senses to pay attention to; 2) organizing these senses; 3) interpreting this organization and making sense of the world around us.

Our brain uses several tricks to make sense of this: 1) figure-ground (this is where we can focus in on one thing and ignore the other things. Think about the picture of the old and young women. Some see the young and some see the old but then they are able to switch it as well); 2) Perceptual Constancies (that is knowing and perceiving objects the same even though our senses are giving us new information about the object. For example as you walk around a chair the senses are telling you new things about it but you still see it as the same object);  3) Size Constancy (This is being able to tell that when you are 5 blocks away from a bus you know that it is not a toy).

The question is how much is learned and how much is innate, nature vs. nurture. This study talks about a man who has lived his entire life in a jungle and when he leaves he sees a mountain for the first time over a distance. He does not know how to comprehend it and can't tell if it is a mountain or a cloud. Later he sees a buffalo from a long way away and wonders what kind of insect it is. He has not learned how to perceive the size constancy outside of the jungle.

Okay so how does this apply to writing. First we need to understand the senses that are around us. As an exercise spend 5 minutes a day becoming aware of the sensations that your senses are telling you about then write them down. Remember all 5. Second when we write about our characters going into new environments and  places how are their perceptions reacting to those new places? Are they able to comprehend the things around them?


  1. this is is the difference between our reader feeling like they are in the story and reading a story...

  2. I usually write about me and family in my poems so what you see is how I'm feeling.

    Most interesting post to read.

  3. Great post!

    It would be interesting to write a story about a character whose surroundings change dramatically, to the point where they can't perceive it the way someone who'd lived there all their life did.

  4. This post reminds me of a writing activity I free write about the five senses around me. While it isn't necessary to talk about the five senses in every scene, just like you said, it's important to remember their existence! And to address if it's necessary...because they can cause us to pay attention. Does it smell differently? Is there a noise out of place? Does it appear like someone has been inside the house? All of the senses can be great in building an atmosphere an ms tension!

    Great post!

  5. I like the idea of taking five minutes each day to explore my own senses. I know I need to add more than sight to my stories. Thanks for the idea.

  6. Great post, Josh! I'll be thinking about this post in rewrites. My protagonist starts off in a very limited situation, much like your jungle example--small town, France, stuck inside most days due to doctor's orders, with only one friend who visits regularly. When he sneaks out of the house and travels to America, his perceptions of New York are key to making the story pop off the page. I need to go back and make sure I'm using all five senses, and looking at how he perceives the size of the city in particular.

  7. Great post. Everyone should do this exercise, if only to appreciate more what they have! Great idea!


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