Wednesday, November 07, 2007

to foveate or not to foveate?

"Humans do not stare at scenes. They foveate. Their eyes dart about the scene at locations of interest during the analysis of the scene. Except for special cases, humans tend to focus on corners and edges of important objects of the scene." Jason Kinser, Institute for BioScience, Bionformatics, Biotechnology

We don't process everything we see. And that's not surprising really since we wouldn't get anywhere or do anything if we were constantly processing everything that's round about us. However that can sometimes result in confusion and/or misinterpretation. I did a presentation on how this kind of misintepretation manifests itself in language illusions on Friday. Let me demonstrate.

How many did each kind of animal did Moses put on the ark?

Did you get it? Did you say two? Or did you see the anomaly? If so, nice work because most people don't and this is known as the Moses Illusion and it's an example of "shallow processing" (what linguists call foveation). So why am I waffling about this other than to fulfil my geeky inclinations? Well today I was thinking about how much of a conscious foveator I am. How I so often only critically evaluate what I find relatively easy to understand because I am scared of the stuff I find more difficult to understand. How I so often see what I want to see and not what I'd prefer not to see. And that applies to everything, from bits of the bible I can't get my head around and would prefer to avoid, to things going on in another part of the world or even part of my city I prefer to remain blissfully unware of. But I specifically want to talk about the way in which I read the bible.
In order to avoid misinterpretation surely we need the full picture. So many mistakes have been made in the past, and we are still unclear on things because we are unware of the full context of a statement within the bible and in the era it was written in. Shouldn't we need to at least be aware of all these things so that we might understand the bible more fully?

But where does the balance lie between, one the one hand, questioning things, finding reason and understanding behind what we believe and on the other hand, knowing that God is God, that His wisdom is far above and beyond us and that we won't have all the answers in this lifetime? It's one of those "to what extent" questions that seem to crop all the time. I think it's easy to lean either too much to one side or the other. I definitely lean in the foveating direction i.e "I don't have all the answers so why bother too much about it?" but it isn't enough. Especially when I get interrogatively questioned about my faith.
I've leaned the other way in the past too; trying to process too much at once and as a result getting tied up and confused with trivial issues. To the point where it has gotten in the way of my ability to see and do and think straight in other areas of life. I think experiences like that may have scared me off deeply questioning things... but then maybe I've been questioning in the wrong way before.
I've been reading this passage over and over again the last few days, and something is starting to click in my head. We have God's Spirit in us, He gives us understanding, He gives us knowledge and the Spirit is key to that. But what kind of knowledge is that? I do know He enables to know Jesus and that He enables to understand God's plan for salvation so we can accept it and communicate it to others. I do know that He helps us grapple with the kind of knowledge that results in us having everything we need for life and godliness and that knowledge for the sake of knowledge is futile. But is that knowledge and understanding of the more difficult concepts, having a grip on prophecies that scholars have studied for years? Or is it just a grasp on concepts such as grace (not that those are especially simple)? Does the Spirit help us gain academic knowledge; the kind of apologetics that go way over my head or knowledge as in knowing God as a father, lord and friend? Should we as Christians know the bible inside out from cover to cover, or is it ok to skim the bits that we "may never understand" like certain prophecies or parts of Revelation?

That's a lot of questions and this probably makes for muddy reading. But if you do get through this I would appreciate any thoughts you might have on the matter. I'm kinda unsure...

Apologies for lack of bullet points in this post


andy said...

Are there any parts that we 'may never understand'? I think we probably should strive to understand the whole bible but obviously we can't do that all in one go. Instead we have to break it up into more manageable sections. Ya there's huge parts that I can't even begin to understand but that's because He's still teaching me more basic things that are necessary to know first (1 Corinthians 3:2). I guess it'd be like trying to read a book when you've only learnt half the alphabet.
Also, i think it's probably a matter of balances and not being overly reliant on one thing. Academic knowledge is very necessary for much of evangelism but also helps in fighting temptation (check out Matthew 4: 1-11). It also helps us know more about the Father and to deepen our relationship with him, which is probably our most important goal. For anything to become 'heart' knowledge, it must have been at some point 'head' knowledge.
On the issue of how to question things, I think you're right to point to the Spirit. I've always found it very easy to try to understand things by myself or get caught up on things that dissagree with my own views. But what's the point in asking questions if you don't listen to the answer. Hope that makes sense.

nealb said...

Had a quick read of the Moses sentence and then confidently assured myself that I already knew the answer to this one.. "of course Moses put the animal _in_ the ark.. not on it.. thats too easy.. none of this foviation for me.."

hah... :o)

these came to mind when I was reading..
(just the post.. haven't read the book)
(the most head-frying book I've ever read..!)

Cal Bar said...

How chuffed am I :)