CHAPTER SIX - THE QUESTION OF PERCEPTION COMES INTO PLAY (1)
Let's set Dr. Doidge's "The Brain That Changes Itself" and his visit to Dr. Bach-y-Rita's lab aside for a while. I promise you we'll get back to it...
Instead, let's take a closer look at something that occurred six months after Doidge's visit. You've already seen part of this video of Cheryl Schiltz a few entries ago, where she talks about "seeing things differently" and even claiming that what she's seen "a thousand times before" - suddenly "means more".
Now let's put Cheryl's statement in its proper context. Here's what happened before, during and after that clip :
So, what began as an attempt to address an out-of-whack Vestibular System, which affected Cheryl's balance,suddenly introduced Cheryl (and us) to an entirely new and decidedly different area of inquiry: Perception!
I should mention that by then, Paul Bach-y-Rita had already made his now famous statement : "We don't see with our eyes, we see with our brain." ...And at that time - in 2003 - I believed him - sort of... But many years before, I had also been introduced to the possibility of an entirely different way of looking and seeing - one that has little to do with the brain.
The term "Direct Perception"***, was first introduced to me by a man who was neither a neuroscientist nor an ophthalmologist - but who, nevertheless, had first used the term way back in the 1930's. By "Direct Perception" the man was suggesting that there are normally four stages in the act of Perception...not one. They are perception, contact, sensation, response.
1. Perception: begins with the act of looking...When you walk into a room you look without necessarily focusing on anything in particular.
2. Contact: This is generally followed by what we call "seeing" or - if something is moving - "watching".
3. Sensation: Then comes the initiation of our cognitive processes - which involve thought and memory. That's how sensation happens - We recognize what we are seeing or watching and name it ... "Rolls-Royce"..." "Mona Lisa"... "Angeline Jolie"... "Tiger"...
4. Response: And finally comes our response to what we have now seen, made contact with and named... If it's a beautiful car, we respond accordingly... or a dangerous animal ...or a work of art... or a beautiful someone of the opposite sex... or the same sex, if you're so inclined...
But the man also said that - without realizing it - we move through these four stages, almost instantaneously, by habit - and therefore experience them as one act! That's the way most of us normally go through life, habitually seeing and responding - and it's been that way for most of us humans for thousands of years. However, the man said, it may be possible - by perhaps increasing the level or degree of our attention to what is actually taking place - to mitigate what happens when sensation takes over and we interpret what we see through our conditioning... good or bad... Because that's what the cognitive process is made up of -- all that we have witnessed and been conditioned by - in one way or another...
NOTE: In the Bible, St Paul mentions this kind of perceiving that is filtered through our conditioning - he called it seeing "through a glass darkly"... (It's also the title of a famous Ingmar Bergman film.)
The man who told me this was J. Krishnamurti. If you've never heard of him, you might want to GOOGLE his name. Because what Cheryl was suddenly seeing - and describing - in what some might consider "mystical" or as she puts it "esoterical" (sic) terms ... is a form of what Mr. Krishnamurti called "Direct Perception". The BrainPort had assisted her in mitigating her conditioned mind's effect on what she was experiencing "out there"! That's why everything looked different and meant more to her. She was "seeing" the world around her as if for the first time - not just through her conditioned mind/brain. And that capacity of "seeing for the first time" was so new and powerful that day - that it allowed her to even see what mystics have described as "the oneness of everything" - A phenomenon that Quantum Physics has since corroborated by proving that - at the quantum level - there are no separate "things". There is only "no-thing-ness".
Interesting stuff, huh?
Now back to our friend Dr. Doidge. Here he is writing about Paul and "plasticity" and people he calls "neuroplasticians".
"The first neuroplastician of his generation, Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita focused on the plasticity of the senses. He was so far ahead of his time that many disbelieved it when he showed, in Nature <Magazine> , that he was able to teach congenitally blind patients to see, with cameras delivering gentle electrical signals to their tongues. The sensitive tongue surface behaved like a retina and sent data to the brain’s touch system, which, through the formation of new pathways, was able to turn those signals into sight. His subjects were able to learn to sink basketballs in hoops and discern faces, objects, perspective and looming objects."
Dr Doidge makes several erroneous statements in that paragraph about how my friend Paul was able to "teach congenitally blind patients to see" and the role the surface of the tongue played and "new pathways " being formed as a result of Paul's endeavors. But for now, let's focus on the one that Doidge got right!
The first paper Paul Bach-y-Rita ever wrote about "plasticity" ( Bach-y-Rita, 1972) - was not about the brain being plastic- but about the senses being plastic. The title of the paper included the term "Sensory Plasticity" - not "Brain Plasticity". And few will argue that there's a big difference between what a "brain" is and what a "sense" is .
Paul got the idea about all the "senses" being somehow connected when he read a book by psychologist James J. Gibson, whose title says it all:
And now here's Paul (again) quoting from Gibson's book which he tells me was "published in '66 "! - that's six years before he wrote that first paper mentioned above - and three years before he would succeed in creating the first Vision prototype of his invention in 1969. How many of us know the publishing date of a book we've read - and can remember it almost 40 years later? But in Paul's profession - in his life! - that date had special importance. I've already included this clip in a previous entry - but now, if you listen closely to what Paul says about psychologist James J. Gibson - and how he says it - it all suddenly takes on a whole new meaning... (That's his young engineer associate Ed Fisher "feeding him" the setup... which is equally as important... so listen to what Ed says, as well... )
It is now clear, that Paul unfortunately mixed things up rather seriously in what he said, and what happened as a result of the mix-up. You can even hear him mixing the terms up. But in doing so, he erroneously equates "The Senses" with what Gibson called "Perceptual Systems". However! Gibson's entire book - in fact his lifework - was based on differentiating between the two. The "Perceptual Systems" do indeed have a very unusual relationship with each other. The "Senses" on the other hand is - at best - a misnomer for certain capacities all living things have, that leads us up a blind alley . (No pun intended.)
But by '66 Paul was already in the thrall of the burgeoniong discipline known as Neuroscience... and that's how and why and when erroneous terms like "Brain Plasticity" and "Sensory Substitution" became the domain of the "brain scientists" and "neuro-scientists"; and gained world-wide recognition through Paul's writings and the subsequent writing of Doidge's "The Brain That Changes Itself" and countless others. But once Doidge's book with its magical albeit nonsensical title appeared, the public - which is constantly clamoring for "the next best thing" - embraced it with open arms, and Huxley's "Brave New World" was now on the fast-track to becoming a reality. Moreover, our friend Dr. Norman Doidge not only got himself a best-seller, he started what has become a whole new cottage industry of "neuroplasticians" and people who write about things like "neuro-economics". (That's my favorite - because the guy who's cashed in on it by writing a book about "neuro-economics" is the same guy who's made a name and a small fortune for himself by doing battle with all the other guys he considers phoneys - "Skeptic-in-Chief", Michael Shermer.)
NOTE TO DR. DOIDGE AND HIS PUBLISHERS AND DEVOTED FOLLOWERS:
My genius friend Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita got the parts about the "brain being plastic" and "the senses being substituted", wrong. In fact, in late 2004, during one of the last conversations I was allowed to have with my friend, we had also just been allowed to put up our own R&D website by the new management of Paul's Comany. In initially discussing it, I had suggested to Paul that we call the site "Sensory Substitution". He liked the idea.Then this insight thing began to take shape in my mind - and during what would be our final coffee klatsch, I said: "Paul, I don't think we should use "Sensory Substitution" as the website's name, because..." and Paul interrupted me and finished my sentence with: "It's too limiting!"...
And so it was, that the man who had invented the term "Sensory Substitution" decades before, saw that in light of where our research was taking us, the term no longer made any sense... And in my mind, that is the definition of a true scientist -- One who realizes his mistakes and lets go of them.
*** To my knowledge Psychologist James J. Gibson never heard of the world-renowned spiritual figure J. Krishnamurti, and vice-versa... Nevertheless there is one term that is central to each man's lifework: DIRECT PERCEPTION. Both approached it from different perspectives - to be sure - but they both were talking about the same thing... And, both stated that DIRECT PERCEPTION does away with the "Duality" that has existed in humanity's perception of the world, since the days of Descartes.
So, Dr. Doidge - if you're still listening - "Neuroplasticity " is not - as you claim - "the greatest discovery in the last 400 years"! -- But!!! It may just be that the detection of and the possibility of assisting DIRECT PERCEPTION to take place--- Now, that may well be - hyperbole aside - " a great discovery"!
For if it is true that the BrainPort can assist subjects in the detection and introduction of some degree of DIRECT PERCEPTION into their own existential lives, if only for a few hours - and I have hour upon hour of videotaped proof that such a phenomenon is possible - then the BrainPort can be used to address not just balance dysfunctions, but all "attention-related dysfunctions" - including Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder, Autism, Parkinson's and yes, even Alzheimer's Disease; as was implied seven years ago by all the projections on the "Star Chart" that had been put together . You'll recall, that's the Chart I showed you in a previous entry - the one that laid out a strategic plan for my friend Paul's Company in the very early months of it's existence as a real Company - and the one that the Company's new management would later discard - along with a few people - including yours truly.
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