“Secrets of the Masters” – Clear Vision

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“The knife cuts but it cannot cut itself; the eye sees, but it cannot see itself.”

Shihan Pascetta - Okinawa 1987

As our individual lives unfold we begin to amass a volume of knowledge. This is a combination of “Firsthand Knowledge” along with much “Secondhand Knowledge”. I personally define “firsthand knowledge” as information that we assimilate and process further through personal experience. This is the “been there, done that” type of information that weighs heavily on our overall concept of life.

In contrast, I define “secondhand knowledge” as information we glean from other sources. Those sources begin with our family (mother, father, siblings, etc.) and then friends, associates, and later, teachers/mentors (in a more formal way). Less direct sources may include written, audio, or video material. In my opinion, it is extremely important to accurately and critically identify the source of all secondhand knowledge when weighing its credibility.

When weighing the credibility of firsthand knowledge we each have a greater tendency to give this information automatic credibility. This may well occur because our perspective of life is established on the basis of what is seen through the lens of our own eyes, not through the eyes of others.  It is critical to remember that the validity of the conclusions drawn from processing any information is a function of the original and underlying premise or premises.

The dilemma begins with the fact that “firsthand knowledge” is the only knowledge that is “real” to us. Until a person experiences something “firsthand” then that particular “knowledge” can only be seen conceptually not perceptually. As a result it is imperative that we each examine our own individual internal process more clearly and critically first. Second, we must then examine the sources of “secondhand knowledge” clearly and critically before allowing it to seriously influence our conclusions.

“Critical Mind” vs. “Open Mind”

I refer to this process as having a “Critical Mind” and contrasted with having an “Open Mind”. Although I support the concept of allowing ourselves to consider all possibilities (in this sense, keep our options “Open”), I firmly believe that we need to critically examine any such “possibilities” within the limits of our own experience and the “probability” of accuracy  of those ideas that are beyond our experience. All things are “possible”, however, not all things are “probable”.

The ability to communicate is the beginning of sharing information and knowledge but communication is dependent on an effective and accurate “transmitter” equally coupled with an effective and accurate “receiver”. This factor serves to determine whether there is a connection or disconnection. Further, when “transmitting” information, it is just as valuable to know when to “receive” feedback. This factor is critical to insuring that the “transmission” was received accurately  before proceeding further. This is also a foundational tenet for teaching, for counseling, for negotiating, and even for establishing and maintaining any constructive relationship with another human being. How many relationships do you know that have been reaffirmed or broken on the basis of communication or the lack thereof?

Perception vs. Conception

As humans, our minds have the unique ability to view information both perceptually and conceptually. Although we use the senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste, it is the mind that actually deciphers these stimuli. This is what I refer to when I use the term, “perception”. We “perceive” through our senses in a similar manner to the animals.

We “perceive” if something is bright or dim, loud or quiet, hard or soft, pleasant smelling or putrid, sweet tasting or sour. Although we use the physical apparatus of the eyes, ears, nervous system, nose, and taste buds, it is actually the mind that must process the stimuli presented through these organs, identify them, and interpret them.

The truly unique capacity of the human species is to “conceptualize” this information. The clearest evidence of this capacity is easily demonstrated through the use of language. We can substantiate this conclusion by beginning with observing the usage of certain words. For example, if we use the noun, “chair”, and ask a group of people to close their eyes and describe the picture they would associate with this word, we would likely discover that the “chair” in each person’s mind differed somewhat from the other people. By the way, the concept doesn’t change even if the language does. “Chair” in the English language conjures up a very similar image as “sedia” in the Italian language, “stuhl” in the German language, or “كرسي ” in Arabic.

However, assuming this hypothetical group all spoke the same language, every “chair” would share some very common characteristics. This is what we refer to as “definitions” in any given language. Language allows us to share concepts, however, does not always transfer individual perceptions accurately. This is why I refer to this as “secondhand knowledge”.

Based on these conclusions, it is relevant to recognize the limitations of language and communication even between the most intelligent and educated people. This limitation becomes even more magnified when either person in an exchange of information is limited in their personal ability or capacity to use language effectively.

These conclusions do not indicate that the sharing of knowledge and information is not valuable. They do, however, help to explain why there is the strong possibility of misunderstanding and/or confusion between even the best of people.  Although the information gleaned from secondhand knowledge can be very valuable, it can never be a substitute for firsthand knowledge.

Examining the Mental Process

When examining “firsthand knowledge” we must also be self critical. One of the functions of the brain is to categorize and store information derived from external and internal stimuli, from our perceptions of those stimuli, and from the concepts formed regarding all of the above. As a person amasses and stores a greater and greater volume of information the brain categorizes this information is a number or consistent ways. This retention of information is done in a manner that allows us to access such information in a fraction of a second. Amazing!

One of the methods used in this process is to take all “current” stimuli and compare it with all past stimuli. Partial categorization is accomplished by first identifying all elements within the current stimuli with similar elements of those already in our memory. The second is to identify all the elements that are different.

The grouping of common elements serves to create a “concept” associated with any particular stimulus. Part of functional identification is to subsequently process the less prominent details. We can see this process exemplified in language by the use of adjectives that clarify the concept of a particular noun (person, place, or thing) and/or the use of adverbs clarifying the verb (action applied or received).

Understanding the structure of language gives a glimpse into understanding the processes of the mind. It is also interesting to note that manner with which different cultures communicate (the specific structure of their language, including colloquialisms) can give a greater insight as to the customs and underlying mental processes of the people from that culture.

The entire process of conceptualization evolves in any person over the course of their lifetime. Although there may be other elements that affect, limit, or expand a person’s mental capacity for this process, it occurs in each of us at one level or another regardless of the limitations. These conclusions are relevant when assessing the credibility of “firsthand knowledge” within ourselves.

In opinion, this capacity for “to perceptive” and for “conceptualization” is an amazing part of the way that humans have been created, yet, we must also consider the limitations that come with it. Another factor in this discussion comes from the observation that our internal mental processes are both “personal” and “private”.

“Behind Your Eyes”

I specifically mean that no one actually shares your internal experience. I’m not referring to compassion, or empathy, where one is able to “relate” to another’s thoughts, feelings, or experiences. I am referring to the fact that at any given moment, no one is ever literally “in your shoes”. No one can ever see from “behind your eyes”, regardless of their compassion or desire to “be there for you”. No one actually “thinks your thoughts” or “feels your feelings” beyond some brief, assumed, and very limited situations. This is simply part of the human condition.

Furthermore, we can never see ourselves from “the other side of our eyes”. Specifically, we cannot ever see ourselves as others can. We cannot hear ourselves as others can. We cannot feel ourselves and others can. We cannot smell or taste ourselves as others can.

This may be why we are drawn to examine our image in a mirror, whether to admire, or to be curious, or to be embarrassed. Why are we “surprised” at how our voice sounds when recorded (“Is that the way I really sound!?!”)? Why are we so curious or even surprised (whether pleased, amused, or disappointed) when we watch ourselves on a video? Please admit that the first person you look to examine when you see a photo is yourself, regardless of your motivation or self-view. It is an innately natural response.

These conclusions are important to consider when assessing our human experience, our growth, further development, and our relationships with others. As a Martial Arts Master, they are helpful when determining how to improve teaching methods. As a father/mother they are important to understand when interacting with your own children. As a son/daughter they are important when trying to understand your parents. As a partner in a romantic relationship they are important when trying to understand your partner. As a friend they are important when trying to understand your friends. As a human being they are important when trying to understand yourself and other people in general.

This discussion is certainly not exhaustive when dealing with the subject. We have not begun to factor in the nature, value, and/or effect of emotions. We have not yet begun to examine the factors of faith, human spirit, and/or spiritualism. However, the discussion presented here should stimulate the examination of an important part of the mental process and subsequently is a significant place to begin.


Copyright © 2010  R.V. PASCETTA, All rights reserved

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