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Subjectivity in Perception - Essay Example

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Boston College
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Subjectivity is an essential concept in Philosophy and psychology that relates to agency, reality, personhood, consciousness, and truth. Typically, the term explains an idea that which informs, influences, and introduces bias in an individuals judgment about the reality. In other words, it refers to an array of the experiences, cultural understandings, perceptions, beliefs, and expectations. On the other hand, perception relates to the process of identifying and interpreting stimuli encountered. However, this should not be confused with sensation which refers to the process through which the bodys sensory organs react to stimuli. Thus, the subjective perception has various meanings and understandings with the most popular meaning defined by personal beliefs and opinions (Goldestein, 2010). For instance, the opinion whether an object is attractive or ugly and if pizza tastes better than a burger. These are personal opinions/beliefs because there lacks an objective way of determining the truth. A pizza can be better to one person but awful to another. In psychology, therefore, subjectivity significantly influences the perception and sensation since subjective perceptions, which are based on and informed by subjectivity originate in the mind.

An individuals experiences/subjectivity has significant influence in the way the mind processes things. At one point in life, you have eaten or tasted food that you did not like and food that you liked. Similarly, you have listened to musicians you enjoyed and others you could not listen for more than a minute. The first time you eat something new or listen to listen to an upcoming musician, the stimuli are processed using the bottom-up processing. In other words, this is when a perception is build up from the new experiences (Von Stein, Chiang, & Kong, 2000). However, sometimes top-down processing occurs whereby the stimuli experienced in the past influences the manner in which you process new ones. These concepts can be best illustrated using the image below.

If you read the text in the image out loud, it is likely to notice something odd. Specifically, the second the is likely to be omitted. The top-down approach can explain that phenomenon. Typically, the second the is irrelevant, the mind knows this and does not expect it to be there hence the tendency to skip it. In other words, your past experiences have altered the manner in which you perceive the text in the image. However, a reader who just started reading and uses a bottom-up approach would carefully read out each letter and less likely to make the mistake.

In real life situations where we encounter constant sensory stimulus, we stop paying attention to them. That explains why you cannot feel the weight of your clothes or see the scratches in spectacles. When a stimulus does not change, you undergo sensory adaptation. During this process, your sensitivity toward the stimulus reduces. That is well-exemplified when you fail to turn off the radio car at night. When listening to the radio on the way home, the volume feels comfortable and reasonable. However, it is highly likely to be shocked by the loudness of the radio the following morning after starting the car. The shock shows that we do not remember the radio being loud the previous night. This behavior elicits questions why the change in response. In the course of the previous day, we adapted to the radio volume (constant stimulus). As a result, we increasingly adjusted the volume to overcome the decreasing sensitivity. After spending a few hours away from the constant stimulus, we are no longer adapted to the stimulus, and the volume that was once reasonable is now loud.

How subjectivity influences perception and sensation can be best understood by analyzing the fundamental sensory processes such as vision, pain, hearing, smell, and taste. Vision is an important aspect that defines a human being. It involves light entering the eye through the pupil, and an image focused at the retina. Since a human being has two eyes, the image is focused on each retina from different angles forming a 3D image. The eye also comprises of specialized regions such as fusiform face area. Damage to these regions results in agnosia whereby an individual loses the ability to perceive visual stimuli. This phenomenon is illustrated by the writings of Dr. Oliver Sacks who says that he suffered from prosopagnosia, which is the inability to recognize objects or people (Rozier, 2008). Other critical regions comprise the ventral pathway and the dorsal pathway that processes large chunks of data about visual stimuli. Despite the specificity of these parts, optical illusions cause the eye to give misleading information.

The skin is the largest body organ. It provides us with information such as hotness, coldness, and pain. Such information is processed through somatosensation which encompasses the ability to feel a touch, sense pain, temperature changes and transduce physical stimuli into electrical signals that can be processed by the brain. Mechanoreceptors transduce tactile stimuli which are associated with texture to enable the conversion of stimuli to signals that the brain can understand. After conversion, information is sent to the primary somatosensory cortex for further processing. This region is divided into several parts based on the sensitivity of particular body parts.

Many people would like to avoid or eliminate pain. However, the perception of pain is typically a way of the body notifying us that something is wrong and urgent attention is needed. The effect of subjectivity on pain has been noted in people experiencing phantom limbs (Weinstein, 1998). People with phantom limb experience itching that emanates from the missing limb. Also, they experience phantom limb pain caused by the uncomfortable clenching of the muscles of the removed limb. According to Weinstein (1998), there is evidence that the brain reacts to information sent by the nerves from the wounded area which continues to send signals even after amputation. However, scientists have realized a new method of treatment that involves subjecting the brain to simulated conditions which then trick the mind using a mirror that creates a simulation of the amputated limb. This subjectivity allows the patient to manipulate the visual representation to a better position thus minimizing and even sometimes eradicating the pain (Ramachandran & Rogers-Ramachandran, 1996).

Subjectivity has a significant impact on how we understand and respond to smell and taste. Among the sensory processes, perhaps subjectivity has the highest influence on smell and taste. Unlike other processes noted earlier, smell and taste receptors combine directly with the stimuli transduced. Typically, odorants in the environment combine with the receptors in the olfactory epithelium. The concept of receptors binding to odorants is related to the operation of a lock and a key whereby an odorant binds to a receptor that matches its shape. However, Turin (1996) argues that the vibrations of smell molecules relate to their subjective odors. Regardless of the method of binding, evidence shows that the end result is a sequence of brain activity. In other words, our memories and knowledge about these sequences and patterns define the subjective experience of smell (Shepherd, 2005).

The influence of subjectivity on perception and sensation is exemplified by analyzing reality. Here, we concur with the assertion that reality is subjective and developed in the structures of our brains. It is challenging to acknowledge that what we see around is part of reality, that the architecture and everything we see around only makes up the perception of reality. While there are questions whether reality exclusively exists in perception, perhaps it is correct to argue that reality can only exist where there is awareness to relate to the reality we perceive. That statement asserts that reality is personal and subjective. In other words, we can only be knowledgeable of our experiences and perceptions. For instance, a student revising for exams in her bedroom hears birds singing outside and people talking in the living room. Undoubtedly, these experiences are perceived by her senses as real. However, what she experienced was a perception of real events happening in a given time. If she was not near her home, she could not have experienced the perceptions and could not have become part of her reality. Thus, the reality is inseparable with time.

However, questions arise whether the same reality exists when a person is unaware like when asleep and the sense of time is often distorted and not perceived. It is important to note that the state of a dream represents a unique type of reality whereby the subconscious mind can create whatever it wants. But, would a person dream if he had no sense of a conscious reality? It is highly unlikely because the context of a dream emanates from the past experiences and associated emotions. In other words, a dream is created from the subjectivities and cannot be about contexts that we are yet to experience. Although dreams might seem surreal, their primary theme is founded on subjectivity, what we know, and our encounters.

Understanding concepts and things that we encounter daily is made possible because we value them and rank them differently based on the significance we have attached to them. Although it would be rare, an object that is afforded no value would not be perceived by the sensory parts. Typically, objects that are not within our sphere tend to have little or no value. For example, there are numerous trees in the Caribbean. Am aware they exist because I have seen pictures and videos showing they exist. As such, I could choose to select one of those trees and incorporate into my reality. Although I might convince myself that the tree still exists in that forest, I have no evidence to prove it does. If I continue to hold onto this belief, I will suffer from a delusion, which could be interpreted as a way of fulfilling my wish. Therefore, that tree cannot be included in my reality because I have no access to perceive it due to differences in geographical locations. It should be noted that there is a thin line between perception and belief. However, it is not possible to perceive something that I do not know whether it exists. In other words, I must experience/encounter the object before I perceive (subjectivity then perception).

Since childhood, human beings have learned the art of identifying things that they come across and attach linguistic attributes to them (naming), which forms a key aspect of the world we know as reality. The completeness of this world depends on the level of consciousness a person can access. While some people have high levels of awareness, others grow up to old age with little awareness of the events around them. They fail to notice the small details within perception and these moments are lost never to be re-captured. In our awareness, perceiving things allows us to put them in our reality. This helps to lock them in a category-based memory that is vital for day-to-day routine. Therefore, everything we encounter with our sensory organs establishes a connection with the world and its occupants. However, the occupants (objects) cannot exist without the human beings being aware of their existence. For instance, consider a chair in a room. You can see that it exists, occupies space, feel it, hear it when it is moved around, and possibly smell its wood. Even if it is undoubted that the seat exists, would it still exist if we could not recognize it using our senses? If you lost your senses now, you would still be able to identify it by drawing memories and forming a reality. The reality formed will be subjective due to the earlier relationship developed with the items and stored in the brains. However, new objects...

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