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The knowledge most worth knowing.

The Three Perceptual Contexts That Enfold This Basic Information

We live in a personally experienced universe. The information it provides is inexhaustible. This information becomes public knowledge when it becomes available to minds and in print or on the Internet.

But HOW do we experience its mysterious and not so mysterious realities? We experience the universe subjectively by means of the perception of and the invention of CONTEXTS--three major contexts that we become aware of by means of our senses and whose details society investigates intellectually via the sciences.

I deem these three contexts "perceptual contexts" because they have perceivable boundaries. In a real sense, as Malcolm Gleiser, a professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth, put it: "... We are how the universe thinks about itself."

Within these three perceptual contexts reside enormous cognitive power. They give to us the meaning and significance of all objects, processes, ideas, and feelings--the actual contents of human experience.

These three contexts exhibit characteristic properties. They can be as broad as the expanding universe, as miniscule as what nanotechnology deals with, or as narrow as a prejudice. These contexts are empirically psychological and/or social domains providing backgrounds that are all-encompassing. They encompass all material being and mental contents. There is no human belief, purpose, or behavior that is not molded by an interior or exterior contextual influence. They relate subject matters of learned content that becomes an individual's personal or subjective meaningfulness.

The power of these perceptual contexts springs from their historical reality as time-binding processes (Korzypski, 1994) and from current cultural influences which anthropologists call enculturation. These established contexts mold the personality, character, and mental accomplishments of a developing SELF. Every person becomes embedded in the traditions and institutions of the locality into which he/she is born.

The three perceptual contexts from which there is no escape until death do us part are (1) the Self Context, (2) the Proximity Context, and (3) the Universal Context.

The Self Context

The first of these perceptual contexts is the domain of the SELF--whose perceivable boundary is the surface of the human body: the skin, the body's largest organ. Both a barrier to and an entryway for information, the skin is the physical and outer limit of the individual. It encompasses and reveals human shape--the characteristic, unique human form by which each one of us is identified by sight, by name, and by finger print.

The skin is the outer boundary of the wholeness of the individual. It contains all and reveals many aspects of our personhood. This physical wholeness demonstrates the unique identity of an individual who is distinct from all others. It outlines a body's position in space and time.

The skin is the container of some 10 trillion separate cells and 100 million or more bacteria that live within and upon us.

The brain, protected by encompassing skin and bone, the skull, is the controlling and most important organ of the SELF. The seat of the central nervous system, the brain, is fed by the peripheral nervous system, our sensory systems, and is a loaded domain filled with conscious and unconscious information in the form of imageries and meanings provided by the two other important sources of information, the PROXIMITY and UNIVERSAL CONTEXTS.

The brain of every developing SELF is both a victim and a commander of human experience through which all images, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are filtered and organized. The brain's cortical expansion through millions of years became the stage for the development of modern perceptions, language, practical and imaginative conceptions, and purposeful behaviors.

All humanity's comprehending takes place within the SELF Context. What the totality of individual experience exhibits to the outer world is by means of personality--this subjective totality consists of an individual's beliefs, attitudes, interests, and behaviors that persist over long periods of time. The forming of an individual SELF includes the creation of personal habits that reveal a self-regulating system reflecting a unique personality. It is based on temperament and expresses itself in myriad ways. This personality is judged by other humans as being engaging, pleasant, cool, serious, flighty, nasty, mean, or dull--positive or negative characteristics that draw others closer to making friendships or making for indifference or rejection.

Within the brain, controlling feelings, thinking, and behavior is a coordinating process we call mind, or better yet, minding. This minding process is based on an awareness of being conscious. Consciousness is awakened initially by the slap of a nurse's or doctor's hand, introducing the new individual to a cooler outer world of experience. The content of the newly established minding process of this new self awareness is the sensory information streaming in from the outer world. Multiple sensory imageries become the knowledge that begin to satisfy a natural curiosity that everyone is born with.

Guiding this intake of information and establishing ultimately an "open" or "closed" minding process is another natural condition of minding. It is a condition that influences an open mind to remain curious and a closed mind to limit itself by means of paranoid, dogmatic, symbolic religious beliefs or rigid political ideologies. This inborn process is labeled intelligence. And it exists in degrees. Intelligence is the ability to think and learn, the ability to think clearly and learn facts and skills with the ability to apply them sensibly and rationally. Intelligence creates an intellectual base that deals with the understanding of the information being offered by experiencing the input from the outer world. It is presumed to organize salient, interior personal knowledge without the interference of emotional bias.

But the most important cognitive force utilized by the brain that has been most fruitful culturally is not thinking, with its use of analytical, isolating, and reductive rational thought processes. Its logic to seek the truth ends up with verifiable but often unverifiable abstractions. Accompanying a level of intelligence is the inborn process influenced by curiosity that deeply affects the character and content of the SELF context. It is a person's imagination.

The imagination is the source of the creative in humankind. As a cognetic process--a process that makes unique connections--it is the ability to visualize and to think originally, the ability to utilize imagery and ideas especially of things never seen or experienced directly. The imagination exhibits a resourcefulness to deal with problems and difficulties and creates semblances of reality by means of the domains of the arts. The major tendency of the imagination exhibited through human history has been one of the sources of the civilizing process.

An agency at the center of this process has been promulgated as an affor-dance, which has been defined by the psychologist James J. Gibson. An affor-dance is the perceptual recognition of a special connection between the SELF and the environment. It is the noticing of a new, possible environmental condition that can be used constructively to satisfy a human need. And so it connects an observation with a newly conceived possibility for a creative act that has a pragmatic result. The significance of affordances will be dealt with further in discussing the PROXIMITY CONTEXT.

Knowledge of a culture is contributed to by a community of minds whose interests, strength of feelings, and intentionalities have created domains of informal and formal information that the youth of a society are introduced to by a systematic enculturation process we call education. In this way, every culture produces a characteristic form of the SELF having variations created by an individual's local experience. The tension between a culture's structured symbolic systems and the pragmatic experience of a newly absorbing intelligence determines the quality of the modes of judgmental criteria used by this uniquely conscious developing personality.

By its behavior, the SELF exhibits intentions. Intentions are concerns about beliefs and actions, beliefs about what is out there, what there is to know, and what to do about it. Therefore, it becomes significant that conceptualized facts to be relied upon be accurate and true. That validated facts correspond to observable realities. These facts describe the properties of the world and are fed into subjective experience. Intentionalities lead to wondering and being curious about them and all the characteristics that promote successful life.

The highest level of achievement in an individual's self-development is psychosocial comfort. It is the accomplishment of a sense of positive self-esteem. It is the feeling of self-worth that builds confidence in one's own merit as an individual. It is the accrued sense of the ability to control one's purposeful behavior and to advance authentic personal accomplishment practically and intellectually--the major positive goal of enculturation.

The achievement of self-esteem creates a unified personality that frees the use of curiosity and imagination to empower a personal sense of responsibility. This sense of responsibility encourages the use of versatile creative efforts not only in the pursuit of self-interest but also to the advancement of altruistic activities whose purpose is to improve environmental conditions conducive to sustainable human survival.

And now, how do we perceive the outer world, the physical environment we all have to contend with? I characterize it has the PROXIMITY CONTEXT. Do we perceive it directly, or do we merely have to interpret what we experience? What is it that we learn about when we experience?

The Proximity Context
  This morning I found s spider resting - or perhaps hunting -
  on the leaf of an oakleaf hydrangea, the axis of the spider's
  abdomen perfectly aligned with the axis of the leaf. What I
  noticed was the symmetry of the placement, the way spider and
  leaf resembled each other. What I wanted to notice was the
  spider's intent. I would have asked it, "What are you doing?"
  Or better yet, "Who are you?" But all I could do was look -
  and notice that I was looking - and make the best of the
  sight I'd seen. (Verlyn Klinkenborg)

The perceivable boundaries of the PROXIMITY CONTEXT are everything we can see, touch, hear, smell, and taste with our naked senses. It is our total physical environment ranging from a handful of sand, whose grains can be isolated and counted, to the roughness of bark, to a star, whose pinpoint of light tells us where it is or was. It is the Proximity Context that we experience physically, our sensory systems making us directly aware of it. We perceive directly the substantialities of its properties claims Gibson. We accommodate its dimensions and qualities, its objects and events, their shapes, colors, textures, shadows, movements, and relationships. From the Proximity Context is drawn directly all the nonverbal information upon which sensory comprehension is built. This context is the local source from which grow the possibilities of communication about environmental facts--one of the major roles accomplished by learning a language. It is the essential "ground" for the Self, feeding it information (stimuli) constantly, predominantly by means of the sense of sight. What happens in its proximity--the local environment--of every Self literally decrees the scope, scale, and direction of its human potential.

The Proximity Context presents a rich perceivable world offering the possible awareness of enormous concrete detail. But much of this detail is and can be ignored or not even sought by the uncurious. Yet curiosity is a ubiquitous inborn human capacity. As a universal psychological trait, curiosity fostered the development of a disciplined description of the outer world by means of the development of the sciences: whose role John Dewey described is to pursue "ever firmer specification." What the sciences seek is to establish the validity of the regularities and invariances among all the forms and processes that Nature produces. All this incoming information at the ecological level promotes either thoughtful and/or imaginative responses in the Self.

Among these responses, however, is a uniquely human process fostering innovation. In a real sense, innovation can be considered to be the source of all civilized attainments. Accepting innovation's imaginative role of creating the "new," we have to understand the epistemological bases of how this happens. The affordance has been promulgated by the psychologist Gibson as the perceptual core of this inventive process.

What Gibson proposed by means of his voluminous theoretical and experimental investigations as reported in his 1987 classic, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, was to link perceptual information directly to properties of the environment affording new functions for human devising. Gibson emphasized that the information conveyed by the senses brought into consciousness existing environmental values. These values were dawn from an ecological base in which the Self had to maneuver in safety. Gibson maintained that the senses did not merely offer "stimuli" to the brain, but information derived directly from the environment. This information contained affordances that when acted upon became cultural facts advancing pragmatic human developments.

A form of "functional seeing" the affordance performed a central role for the picking up of information carried in the ambient light, for example, reflected from objects in the environment. It was functional because the affordance connected the observer to the environment without dualistic implications. This incoming specificity of information sparked thoughtful and/or imaginative responses of a functional nature. Thus, for example, the affordance of a heavy stick or rock for pounding, or the sharpness of a specially shaped stone to be a scraper or piercer. Any particular object could have many affordances. An apple can be eaten, thrown, baked, or turned into sauce or juice.

What Gibson achieved was the beginnings of an "ecological psychology," which emphasized the importance of analyzing the concrete world, to "take seriously the scientific problem of defining places, objects, and events that surround human beings" (Reed, 1988). Gibson created a psychology of environmental values in which he made a distinction between perceptual cognition, or knowledge OF the environment, and symbolic knowledge ABOUT the environment (Op Cit, 306). It is the latter distinction that the UNIVERSAL CONTEXT will deal with below.

Finally, Gibson wrote, "If the affordances of a thing are perceived correctly, we say that it looks like what it is. But we must, of course, learn to see what things really are, for example, the innocent-looking leaf is really a nettle, or that helpful-sounding politician is really a demagogue. And this can be very difficult." (1986, p. 142)

The Universal Context

The third and final perceptual context is the UNIVERSAL CONTEXT. Its boundaries are defined by what we can see, touch, hear, taste, smell, and think about with the help of tools--from the subatomic particles made visible by colliders and mathematics, the microorganisms and fine structure made visible by means of the microscope, to the sun, planets, galaxies, and dark matter made visible and brought closer by the telescope.

The development of mundane yet crucial tools has had a long evolutionary history. It is a long jump from the digging stick to the hoe, shovel, steam shovel, and back-hoe, as well as from the stone axe, spear, bow and arrow, to the cannon, rifle, machine gun, battleship, and atomic bomb!!

Humanity's most important tool, however, is language created by the invention of symbol systems. This development of linguistic symbols called abstracting is expressed as "words." Their main role is the creation of names with the accompanying syntactical ordering systems. The invention of names as symbols occurred to connect the developing minding process to what was observed in the Proximity Context. It became the main way of recognizing and communicating about objects and processes to others by verbal forms of social discourse.

The role of the Universal Context is to provide the minding process with linguistic and intellectual disciplines. They are domains of knowledge-contexts secured by means of scientific, philosophical, and intuitive descriptions and explanations including every sort of felt human experience.

The invention of names created precise knowledge and contributed enormously to the semantic level of comprehension. The advent of naming things that primitive man excelled and engaged in assiduously, as Levi-Strauss has pointed out, assisted in the perceptual and symbolic reduction of chaos. This intensive labeling of environmental objects, events, and inner processes created systems and classes of things and situations. All names became denoters dependent upon particular contexts.

The need for the development of linguistic labels for newly informative contexts became urgent. So the minding process produced an increasing capacity to absorb new knowledge. This knowledge of new domains and realms of human civilization can be dramatized by viewing I.A. Richard's list of words standing for the primary concept, for example, of "give up." Each of these words necessitated a familiarity with the contexts, which would give them meaningfulness, words such as "abdicate," "desert," "resign," and "vacate."

The symbol as a mental construct was created by two natural processes. The first is that of extraction--the work of our sensorial systems, considered to be actual perceptual processes by the psychologist Gibson. Extraction brings into the brain informative imageries perceived directly as properties of the environment. The second process is abstraction--dealt with critically by Alfred Korzybski in his creation of the discipline of General Semantics. The integrating of both these extensive processes by the brain provided the bases for the linguistic categorical systems characteristic of the Universal Context.

This process made the Universal Context the largest and most voluminous context invented by the human experience.

Language as the major tool of the minding process not only enlarged the capacity of individuals to think about things but also was instrumental in building the enormity of the knowledge we have of the universe. This was accomplished with the help of the tools the sciences have invented and are still inventing to make ever firmer specification of their domains.

The invention of language created representational knowledge consisting of identifiable and recognizable descriptions of the material universe. The words and propositions used to accomplish this are manifested in the evolution of some 7,000 languages throughout the world--many of which have become extinct and are today becoming extinct with the dying off of their native speakers. However, the true power and extent of language taken as a descriptive process are attested to by the scope of the English language as registered in the 20 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Language is the major tool the minding process uses to express itself. It solidified meanings provided by the emotional responses and rational ideas that accrued through the millenia as humans came to psychological and philosophical conclusions about what reality and life were all about.

The emotional surround of some ideas and gross ignorance often turned deeply held ideas into beliefs. These beliefs became incorporated into domains of dogmatic, institutional knowledge--religions, whose "poverty of thought" was claimed by Levi-Strauss, "can never be overestimated." Bui ideas also like the concept of "symmetry" became tools of the sciences in their role to investigate and determine the nature and content of the physical universe.

Language--the symbolic tool--helped develop the characteristics of the many forms of culture that human societies created. CP. Snow described this achievement as the creation of two cultures, the arts and the sciences. Today we can add another creative mode, that of technology. Together with human dispositions, ambition, and skills, technologies' artifacts of invention have taken humanity to the heights of esthetic, ethical, and technological accomplishment, as well as to depths of incredible fears, callousness, the distortion of minds, and the physical destruction of bodies.

Language has been crucial to nurturing the minding process. Its words as labels are easy to create, to maneuver, and to manipulate compared to the processes of actual thinking. Thus we can ask what kind of performance has language exhibited in terms of it being a symbolic cutting tool that isolates and labels objects, processes, events, and ideas. Can its sharpening or dulling capacity be evaluated? How does this factor in its use at many levels of minding condition the enculturation process? Is it used merely to calmly inform, to persuade, or to inflame? Since it can be used to express honest or dishonest thinking, its use can have a sharpening or dulling effect affecting rationality.

In a real sense, language can be characterized as the outer skin of the minding process. It can be used to keep minding a closed process by inhibiting curiosity, by insinuating, by unconscious stereotyping, by supporting half-truths, and by faulty reasoning. It can be a powerful tool used to construct or corrupt. Language is the universal voice of civilized and uncivilized life and is used to represent democratic or undemocratic thinking that either advances or threatens the body politic.

The influence of an ideological context respecting or rather creating an affront to the democratic process is shown by a recent critique of the Constitution in which a conservative voice suggested that the phrase "... to promote the general welfare" might have been expressed better as "... to promote the private welfare"!

Language has become an even more powerful worldly influence because of the Internet. The development of Cyberspace confirms its universality as a context. It provides internationally bodies of accessible information of every stripe creating an "age of information overload." Because of the invention of the Blogosphere, another world-wide public domain of human expression has been created that knows no bounds and is filled with an infinity of voices also overloading the thin atmosphere surrounding the planet earth.

Merlin Donald describes its role distinctly, "Language allows us to differentiate and decompose the experience of an event" (2001, p.294). A great part of that is its assistance in the Self's becoming aware of its inner life. As far as privacy is concerned, however, the use of Facebook seems to express a surprising aspect of exposing human egos.

The content of the Universal Context expands at an accelerating rate as growing sciences increase their discoveries. Yet, though the world's population remains scientifically illiterate, multitudes eagerly adopt technological advances by using cellphones, Google, and other search engines to communicate and gain information. This occurs as less and less resources are being used to refuel the world's teaching efforts in spite of the urgent need.

Most other "tools," except language and weapons, are being used to make life more efficient and satisfying and to fulfill in some way the need for comfortable personal survival. Yet these needs are not being fulfilled for many because of the public's "trained incapacity." This is Veblen's phrase for pointing out how the general public is manipulated by the propaganda of vested interests using advertising, political invective, and overheated televised rhetoric to work against the public's own best interests. Here rests the failure and inefficiencies of the world's educational systems. Their inability to engender critical thinking in their enculturation efforts thus inhibited and undermined myriads of individual potentials.

The greatest human catastrophe facing the use of the enormous capacity of the Universal Context is the misuse of and lack of being able to marshal the astounding brain power available in the world's population by the world's legislators and educators. That the public's great brain power is not being accessed for constructive use but cruelly stamped upon and undermined by poverty, ignorance, and propaganda may be the ultimate source of doom for the human race long before the sun explodes to burn up the solar system. The dream of creating "One World," though an admirable concept, in this day and age of mankind's incapabilities seems to be mere fantasy.

The Singularity Underlying the Three Perceptual Contexts

The major property engaging each of these three contexts has been misunderstood by the overly analytic and technologized Western mind. This property is their interpenetrability. This unusual quality of an integrating synthesis and interdependency generates the intellectual base on which humanity has moved forward in the civilizing process. An individual's growing experience from birth utilizes the influence of this synthesis of contexts in the development of the SELF. This absorption of concrete information and use of language to register ideas and to communicate all contribute to make the body of a growing intellect and the direction of behaviors.

By means of their mutualism, interpenetration, and essentially cooperative integrative efforts, the details of local environments are made sensible. The action of these creative and informative agencies moved humanity forward engendering complexities that were not always transparent. Unintended negative consequences often accrued, as well as great advances such as in governance by the political development of democracy and the processes necessary to its survival.

Each of these contexts influences each other and the characteristics each displays. This has made them so difficult to disentangle. These contexts represent another way the unity of the objective world can be described. The growing unity of the subjective self attempts to fathom this concretely and symbolically by means of the integrations, information, and explanations generated by the sciences.

The processes connecting these contexts are not yet empirically understood. But the recent illumination and understanding of the plasticity of brain systems are encouraging. Particularly interesting is the operation of the synapse. Its role is to electrochemically enliven the work of neurons whose constant organizing and reorganizing of different cell assemblies activate conscious displays of reportable, meaningful relationships. This bioelectrochemical activity among myriads of neurons fosters innumerable patterned connections springing initially from subjective, sensorial, emotional, and ideational experiences.

Contextual Perception

Arising consciously in the individual, perception first differentiates the properties of physical reality and then moves inwardly to inform the major goals of thinking, comprehending, and imagining. Thus is achieved insight and Contextual Perceiving (CP). In this way, consciousness and the unconscious of the developing SELF guide the neuronal processes to analyze and synthesize human experience and produce a person who is a unique individual with a personality.

Earlier, I called attention to the anthropological term "enculturation." This is an important process directly concerned with creating a bounded human experience. But what is it exactly? It is a cognetic process. Its role is to make connections. It is a comprehensive process enshrining the culture of a specific society--from the anointing of an arrow with poison taken from the skin of a beautiful tropical frog, to reading and writing, and to booting up Google on a lap-top.

Enculturation is accomplished by the world-wide superprocess we call EDUCATION. But humankind takes its diverse educating systems for granted. They are presumed to be working to preserve and advance the continuity of all historical and current teaching/learning goals.

Education constructs the content of the Universal Context. It produces and utilizes subject matters used by the brain to learn why some of the local contexts are more important than others. Learning the main facts of the multiple levels of the Proximity Context makes the SELF a competent comprehending individual whose ultimate potential and successful future is dependent upon fitting into its local culture.

Mastering the integration and synthesis of the knowledge provided by the three perceptual contexts is a life's work. The creation of this knowledge by the absorption of authentic concrete information and the informed use of ideas to make sense of personal experience becomes goals of an education. And the complexity of this knowledge is what makes concern with contexts so important. None of the facts introduced by today's multidisciplined curricula stand alone. Facts are the guts of a field of knowledge. But they are not useful to the minding process until they are giving their force as names to recognize and to identify what they denote as part of a context. There is more to know about things and processes than just learning their names. What is needed also to truly understand the function of these items of knowledge is to know how they came to be what they demonstrably are--and how they came to relate to each other to make meaningful their relationship to their field and to other related fields--in other words, the totality of their surrounding contexts.

What is meant by "Contextual Perceiving" must be made clear to supervisors, teachers, and curriculum designers. The major point being emphasized herein is the need to broaden the focus of the act of teaching as it affects the content of what is to be learned. John Dewey claimed that every act of teaching to be considered successful must display "connection and continuity."

This view seriously condemns the current analytic approach of curriculum designers. They separate and reduce the knowledge to be taught about as it appears in standard subject matter textbooks. This style of curricula development has depended upon the isolation and highlighting of the so-called "known" facts discovered by the separate disciplines. There is little if any emphasis given to their interdependence and connections to each other. This is a great limitation to the understanding of how Nature has organized its diverse forms. These characteristic forms exist as parts of the integration of the levels of natural systems. Their continuities of growth and development are the heart and soul of Nature.

It is the role of the sciences and our intellect to discover, isolate, and describe these characteristic forms in their linear evolutionary development. But it is not the role of the educator to present this information in this way. Traditional education follows the analytic model to the detriment of understanding human experience in a richer way. This knowledge of humankind's ways to understand this knowledge has to be refashioned by the educator to show connections among the disciplines they depend upon for their own functioning, for example, the dependence of biological knowledge on chemistry, and chemical knowledge on physics, and physics upon mathematics. Only upon the understanding of the deep but visible interrelationships among factual subject matters by perceiving contextually, as I am describing it, can a modernized educational system enhance individual and social critical decision making and behaviors.

But the basic substance of Contextual Perceiving is not a program. It is a method, it is a teaching process having a new focus. It offers a new sense of what the goal of educating is following Dewey's admonition to create interactions and show continuities.

Its strength lies in the stimulating of curiosity rather than inhibiting it, as often takes place in traditional classrooms where keeping order is the rule.

The request to become aware of the contribution of a fact's context becomes the bedrock for establishing knowledge of its history and validity, and makes for a deeper comprehension of any fact, concept, and feeling about it.

CP supports the imagination's endeavor to use natural curiosity to make relevant connections. These are not only the connections of linear style but also broader connections drawn from memory images or new relationships sought by curiosity. This sort of effort fuels the imagination to establish a new view of a fact by connecting it to a heretofore unknown relationship. This creates a background to establish the contextual continuity of new knowledge never before known by teacher or student.

But it is not the role of the educator to create new, original knowledge as the sciences do, but to help introduce what is new knowledge into the minding processes of students. This, traditionally, is predigested knowledge organized into curricula. This involves a shift in methodology.

The Methodology to Create Contextual Perceiving

Espousing the methodology of CP is a strategy that calls for the focusing acts of instruction so that the student develops a new perceptual set. The student is urged to observe no thing or contemplate no idea or fact without remaining curious about the conditions that historically created them--the contexts that currently affect them and that they affect. This mode of learning to seek connections involves the search for larger integrative relationships, such as the environmental contexts the anthropologists call for (Orr, 1994). For example, how the rising of the level of the Pacific's waters because of global warming would cause the submergence and disappearance of some of the lower lying Marshall Islands.

CP is a conscious process to motivate looking for significant connections that will improve understanding of them, whether it be spatial, historical, genetic development, or conceptual facts. It is knowing beforehand that contextual backgrounds exist and can be sought to make learning more meaningful.

CP is a self-imposed skill for students as a process to engage their curiosity purposefully. It can be explained to be a process that enriches learning capacity and expands their perceptual grasp. CP has nothing to do with being more or less intelligent. It is an interactive mental process offering teachers new opportunities to use the Socratic method to provoke and challenge a student's curiosity and interests.

This is a mode of learning that can improve anyone's ability to acquire new and relevant knowledge. It is a new manner of paying attention. It becomes a search for relationships that may not be immediately evident. CP can build a deeper sense of how elements, systems, and hierarchies relate to each other. It is a perceptual process with which significant knowledge is increased. CP is a point-of-view that cherishes an expansive rather than a narrow focus. It cultivates the holistic skill with which to look for critical connections not only among the obvious ones but also connections that could turn out to be surprising ones.

To espouse, the process of CP is to fight the fragmentation of knowledge. In a real sense, it is a form of "ecological perception" whose physiological parameters have been explored and described by Gibson (1966). It offers elevation of rich contexts provided by the mind's use of new imageries. As the psychologist Akhter Ahsen (1968) has demonstrated, the emotional impact of strong or weak imageries can be explored and affected, as well as the significance of the context to the individual that may have caused positive or negative behavioral responses.

Ultimately, CP can result in the use of more effective language because it could give a new depth to intentionality, to thinking more accurately about things. It can provide a new power to find reasons to express thoughts logically and coherently particularly when writing about significant topics. CP would reinforce the use of specifically relevant information. The use of CP would permit the enhancement of sensible conclusions as lewly informative facts are uncovered that answer nagging questions, and even discover appropriate facts that could put to rest previously unanswerable questions.

This is a new enriching educational goal to be sought by the teaching profession. It is a methodology that falls into the laps of all teachers who can use it to reinforce their efforts to improve the writing skills of students. But it can be particularly useful to language arts and English teachers whose instructional efforts focus on influencing the skill of writing explanations. This is important for one simple reason. In order to write logically and coherently about any subject, the student is forced to THINK clearly about how to express his or her viewpoint, and so such exercises also can afford practice in developing critical thinking skills.

Since all subjects have contexts, interrelationships are important. Indeed, if one does not become knowledgeable about relevant connections surrounding a subject, not only can one miss aspects of its nature but also one miss relationships significant to the subject. One cannot penetrate below the surface of appearances without further curiosity about influences; nor can one come to know how they came to be what they are; nor know the meaningfulness of the specific relations or facts that support them or that they support. Learning about contextual conditions provides new information--a new expanded awareness of the significance a subject can have in the minding process of the individual.

This brings us to another of Dewey's insights; the one that led me to the methodology I am advocating. In an early short essay pregnant with meaning, Dewey noted that one cannot understand the nature of a triangle until one learns how to put three lines together. But more importantly, he suggested also, almost in an offhand manner, that you cannot understand the nature of a maple tree, even beyond its nature as a plant--in other words, how it evolved to be a deciduous tree rather than an evergreen (Ratner and Dewey, 1963).

Now that is asking for a lot! Yet he is expressing here an important meaning. I interpret him to mean that there are two kinds of knowledge to acquire for the comprehensive understanding of a subject. We can classify them as horizontal information and vertical information. Horizontal information subsumes the current structure and environment of a subject; what attaches to it and what it attaches to--what the systematic environment is that actually establishes it for us as a recognizable entity that has a name. Vertical information about a fact deals with its evolution and tells us how it evolved to be what it is within a hierarchy of biological or ideational development.

So, as we ask students to write a descriptive essay, or an analytic one, an autobiographical piece, a composition to argue for an opinion or a deeply held point of view, or to express one's feelings, there is a lot to consider. What kind of advice or instruction can we give students? How can we facilitate their thinking? How can we stimulate their engines of personal curiosity and imagination which we know are essential to all learning?

We can ask them and show them how to pursue Contextual Perceiving. To focus on a subject yet to realize and remain aware, not only that it exists in its current environment with the particular relationships and connections affecting it, but that it also has a history of its development through time in which systematic transformations took place.

Perhaps there is another important effect that can be achieved by this attitude of automatically searching for larger or deeper contexts surrounding a fact or situation. Could not this mode of awareness foster a critical desire to understand better why humans have the need to attach either positive or negative symbolic value to such reasons and actions, for example, that caused the twin towers to be destroyed the way they were?


Ahsen, A.E. (1968). A Visual Psychology. Yonkers, NY: Eidetic Anaalysis Institute.

Dewey, J. and Bentley, A.F. (1960). Knowing and the Known. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Gibson, J.J. (1966). The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems. Boston, MA: Houghton Miflin. Gibson, J.J. (1986). The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (p. 142). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Korzypski, A. (1994). Science and Sanity, 5th ed. Englewood, NJ: Institute of General Semantics.

Orr, D.W. (1994). Ecological Literacy. Albany: State University of New York.

Ratner, J., ed., and Dewey, J. (1963). Philosophy, Psychology, and Social Practice. New York: Capricorn Books.

Reed, E.S. (1988). James J. Gibson and the Psychology of Perception. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Snow, CP. (1959). The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. Cambridge: University Press.

Hillel A. Schiller earned his MA in linguistics at the University of Chicago. He is a retired teacher and curriculum consultant, a learning therapist, and an instructional materials designer. He has taught at the New School for Social Research and was a teacher trainer at City University of New York's Baruch College. His essays and reviews have been published in Insight, Process Papers, Process Studies, and The Journal of Mental Imagery on the subjects of visual literacy, the nature of perception, and Whitehead's and Dewey's psychologies of education. Recent publications include the chapter "Toward a Process Curriculum" in The Adventure of Education (2009) and contact him at
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Author:Schiller, Hillel A.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2011
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