Perception Is an Action

woman cooking

Perception is action.

There is a tendency to take a particular instance of perception as our implicit total model of perception. And that instance is of the distant still gaze: i.e. We are looking at something from a distance, our bodies not moving and we are recognizing it for what it “is”.

It is a type of “I see arranged in front of me a table, with some books, food dishes, a cat and a tablet…”

The question is what has all happened prior to this scenario to make this moment possible? And: what bigger nested activity is this brief moment actually part of?

We are, as specifically embodied creatures, collaboratively actively interacting with, using and continuously changing our environment. There ultimately is no single static instance of disembodied perception.

Our embodied abilities have been shaped and transformed by the environment we are of – nerves, muscles, bones, microbiome, habits, practices, sensitivities, and other senses are forming as they are informed by a shaped, transformable environment.

We are almost never the static observer that the generic model of perception imagines. We are collectively alive – doing, moving, touching, tasting, being instructed and changing our environment. Culturally and historically shaped hands, feet, nose, hips, shoulders, concepts and habits are all moving and participating. Change hands into paws and perception (activity) significantly shifts.

Perception is an activity.

When we say “perception” we need to actively counter our cultural habit of implicitly taking this as a passive distanced action. Perception is active. And it is active in a multidirectional manner. What we interact with has agency and is shaping us.

Now what is it that we are perceiving? (e.g. what are we acting with as it acts on us). We are perceiving the world around us, but not some vague shapes and colors that we transform internally into representations of things. We are perceiving “affordances”. What is this? This is the relation between our embodied abilities and some relevant aspect of the environment. Perception is a relation between our shaped bodies in action and a relation to the environment. It is a dynamic relation to a relation in a loop of activity.

Now what does it look like to perceive an affordance? It looks exactly like what you see right now.

But, if it changes nothing about what you see – then why does it matter?

Because it gives you a new insight/approach to how you do and can experimentally and creatively interact with the world to sense, and do things differently. It helps shift perception, thinking and ultimately creativity from deep inside the head to an embodied worldly collaborative experimental activity.

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