The Nature Of Perception

Perception is necessarily unique and individual, because our perception is not just a shared circumstance or setting. Perception comes through the total sum of our experiences, memories, feelings, emotions, upbringings, and more. When phrased thusly, it seems an exercise in obviousness to say that our perceptions are all different. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg in thinking about the concept of perception—how we understand the world around us.

We start with the thought experiment of the Chinese room, wherein language is reduced to a series of inputs and appropriate outputs. You are sitting in a room, and you are trained to recognize Chinese characters shown to you, and then display an appropriate response. For all intents and purposes, anyone outside the room interacting with you would assume that you are a native Chinese speaker—but you’re just pushing buttons. So what is language? It’s about understanding, emotion, and empathy; yet what happens if we conceive of it as a calculator with numbers and equations? What does it mean to actually understand someone on a real level, instead of just responding to them as you think you should? For all of our best intentions, are we just simulating thinking, behavior, actions, and emotion?

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