V. 6. The Trouble with Having a Canary

 

If outer attention communicates with the objects outside the windows, inner attention, being its alternative, deals with the images on the opposite wall (chapter V.3.). These images differ in kind. The products of our memory are essentially photographs – they hold literal impressions of our past. The ones reflecting our imagination would be more like sketches of dream images, or comic books. They combine familiar fragments into unfamiliar configurations, and bear the mark of our individuality. For their part, abstract realities would display themselves as abstract paintings – the kind of art deprived of any concrete form or literal contents. The coloring and the shapes wouldn’t be telling stories; they’d rather speak in proverbs and sayings. These canvases would manifest the synthesis of our revelations, the extraction of the valuable from the layers of many similar occasions.

The three noetic realities – of memory, imagination and abstraction – constitute our general perception of reality. As such they very rarely display themselves separately. They typically overlap and complement each other at almost every moment of our active life. The inner wall of the corridor appears more lined with collages than with separate images unitary in style.

In the manner the shadows from outside the windows fall on the opposite wall, our inner attention allows the objects of our outer attention to reach the relevant portion of our perception of reality.  Inner attention seldom operates in total isolation from the outer world. Most of the time it works in a close collaboration with our outer attention under the guidance of our self-perception. Let’s trace how exactly this occurs in real life.

For her thirteenth birthday Flynn is taken out by her grandfather who wants to buy her a “live” present. The old man knows well enough that it’s better if a pet is chosen by its future owner, than given away as a surprise. So both of them go to the big pet shop, where he lets Flynn browse through the cages and make up her mind.

What Flynn is going through is the stage of prehension. In an unknown world our self-perception directs our outer attention in search for facts, which would either satisfy us, or threaten us. Using our senses, both our self-projection and self-preservation drives (chapter II.1.) would pick the facts that relate to them, or, in other words, which are relevant to their hierarchies of circumstances, and dismiss the rest.

Flynn likes animals. Being near most of them has always excited her. She loves feeding and petting them, because by doing so she feels good, and maybe a little important (self-projection). Yet she is scared of big pets. They make her tense and insecure. So she quickly passes by the canine section in search of something more intriguing and close to her heart (self-preservation). In half an hour she narrows her quest. Under the patient eye of her grandfather she runs back and forth between the small isle with the turtles and the bird room. Her excited pace shows that she is pretty close to her final decision. It is the small tortoise with the red nose and the bright-yellow canary that she is choosing from.

Thus Flynn enters the phase of evaluation. Pertaining to our survival and welfare the facts chosen through prehension become eligible for further investigation, or evaluation. Our self-perception judges them according to their power of influence exactly over our survival and welfare, and arranges them as circumstances in the hierarchy of our perception of the environment. This process is part of our inner attention, because the new facts have to find their place in the abstract reality of our perception of the environment. In order to achieve this task our self-perception first uses our inner attention to revive the corresponding section of our perception of the environment. It is like illuminating the shelves in the dark cellar where the newly arrived wine of the same vintage rating is supposed to be stored. Then you just arrange the bottles – our self-perception executes the arrangement of the facts in between the already existing outer circumstances. It compares their strength with the strength of the rest, and places each of them on the spot of importance it deserves.

Flynn’s case is obviously not a matter of survival. Nevertheless her attention goes through evaluation with equal intensity. As an animal lover (self-perception) she first has to revive – or get the sense of – her specific preferences (perception of the environment). Then she tries to grade against those preferences the different facts representing each animal. She evaluates their cuteness, the care they need, the way they smell, the noise they make, which of her friends already has a pet like this, and so on. But her inner attention is not alone at work. As it happens most often to all of us, her evaluation process goes hand in hand with prehension: Flynn constantly double- and triple-checks the appearance of both animals, and feeds with the information her decision-making (or evaluation) process. Finally she points to the canary. It could be her love for singing as part of her self-perception, and hence the importance of sound as part of her perception of the environment, that has caused her choice. She carefully puts her arms around the golden bird cage, and happily leads her grandpa out of the store.

Flynn places the existence of the bright-yellow canary on a very important spot in her perception of the environment. Her whole day revolves around it now. She feeds it, cleans its cage, strokes and plays with it, listens to its songs, and often just watches its every move in wide-eyed adoration. Unfortunately a couple of weeks after she gets it she forgets to close the cage door and the bird escapes. It has obviously managed to fly out through the open window, and all efforts to find it are in vain. The next day the family finds a few scattered yellow feathers in the back yard. Some wild animal has taken by surprise the little singer. Now Flynn has to deal with the outcome of her initial decision – the one that prompted her to choose the canary as a birthday gift, and to wrap her world around its presence. 

The outcome of acting upon a circumstance from the outer world always “fathers” a conglomerate of new facts, which differ from its “parent” in a very significant point: some of these facts regard not the environment, but us, because we have willingly participated in their creation. It has been our decision, and the direction of our behavior that determined the specific outcome, i.e. the specific group of facts. Therefore, this group would mirror not only the environment but also our own efficiency, strengths and weaknesses. This opens more work for our self-perception. Certainly, it would again use our outer attention to process all the new facts through prehension, and after that our inner attention – to get the chosen ones through the stage of evaluation. But with this the job of inner attention won’t be finished. Together with recreating in complete detail the relevant section of our perception of the environment, our self-perception uses inner attention to evaluate its own relevancy, and then find the suitable spot for each of the new facts in the right hierarchy. This way these “second generation” circumstances enrich and update not only our perception of the environment but our self-perception as well.

Flynn, sensitive as she is, is crushed. She cries her eyes out in a dramatic reaction to the death of her pet. The loss of the canary immediately occupies the top spot in her perception of the environment. But this is not the only change. Her inner attention projects this outer circumstance onto her self-perception grid, creating a new important inner circumstance: Flynn not only admits her fault but finds herself unworthy of dealing with important matters such as looking after anybody, even if it is a small bird.

There is another characteristic that distinguishes the facts from the first and the second generation, and it is that the latter, unlike the former, already have a context, that relates them to the ones that have created them. As we know from math, every two dots can be connected in a straight line. Straight lines indicate direction; they establish trends. If you follow the line and it hits a third dot, you instantly make the link with the previous two, and understand its essence better, even before studying it. You know at least one of its qualities: the quality that unites its two predecessors. This unifying quality is already an abstract feature. With time there’ll be other facts aligning themselves along the straight line, strengthening the trend in our perception of reality. This means that we often pick as circumstances facts without studying them in detail, as long as one of their characteristic belongs to an established trend. (In a social context this could lead to profiling and prejudices; in the realm of the psychological – to complexes.)

Apparently Flynn’s anguish will persist for quite a while. The shock for her soft heart is too big to go away overnight. The straight line between the two dots – “I tried hard” and “I failed miserably” already cuts sharply through her daily routine. But her inner crisis could grow even worse. Since her self-perception is already topped by a negative circumstance, it is very possible that she starts selecting as circumstances other facts similar in essence. Once she, leaving for school, forgets her pen or ruler at home – as all kids do – the missing item might occupy a very high spot in her perception of the environment. She might not let this outer circumstance go for the rest of the day, this way easily allowing her inner attention to raise the circumstance of her negligence even higher in her self-perception, creating a dangerous, self-destructing trend. With time all similar facts down the road could be subject to the swarming effect (chapter III.4.), gathering around this trend, and causing a huge change in her self-perception, which may even become permanent. 

The process of establishing trends in selecting facts and converting them into circumstances might also use facts from our past, which our self-perception hasn’t instantaneously dealt with. Since they haven’t been subject to immediate interest they have sunk “unstirred” into our memory, becoming part of our general knowledge but completely unrelated to our behavior. At a certain point, triggered by a consecutive similar occurrence (the straight line), our self-perception directs our inner attention to reveal from among the facts of our memory the ones relevant to the current situation. These could be either facts about the outer world or about our own selves. Once retrieved, they update respectively our perception of the environment, or our self-perception, and become part of our experience.

A month later Flynn unexpectedly finds out that the canary’s escape wasn’t her fault. Her teary little sister tells their mother that it was her who left the cage door open, and then was too scared to confess. In less than a day Flynn is back on track to becoming the cheerful girl she used to be. Liberated from the main cause for her sense of inferiority, she begins to gain her self-confidence back. Forgetting the school rulers and erasers doesn’t seem that important any more. Her perceived negligence resigns its superior position in her self-perception hierarchy. Yet its place has to be taken by some other circumstances. What Flynn needs now is reassurance – a healing unguent for her inner wound. Her self-preservation drive obligingly provides her with the previously overlooked facts her friends have tried to console her with: her loyalty towards all of them, her consistency in going after her goals, her attention and love for her smaller sister. But the inner boost comes in the form of past facts too. Her self-perception unearths some memories which she has almost forgotten. Looking back at her negligence complex, Flynn wonders how she could not have thought of things like her attentive care to her cousin’s kitties at the annual family reunions, or the whole day from three years ago she devoted to her baby sister while her mom had a medical emergency. Returning to her experience is the final push that helps her fully overcome her crisis.

This is the basic route our inner attention follows. It could certainly include the selection of imaginary facts – equally important as the facts from our present and past. The examples might differ, but the mechanism stays completely the same. Also, in provision to the complicated nature and high number of the facts that cross our path, it ceaselessly overlaps the described stages of the operational cycle, jumping with a lightning speed back and forth to serve the cascade of new information that pours over us every moment of our lives. The faster it shuttles, the firmer our grasp on reality is.

© 2010 Peter Budevski

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