Professor Reflects on Nature of Perception

New Bern Sun-Journal
September 18, 2011 6:09 PM

Eddie Fitzgerald

A neuroscientist’s reflections on social perception and social consciousness, as well as the topics of God, the soul, mind and brain had many people entertained Sunday afternoon and left some wondering.

Michael Graziano, Ph.D associate professor and director of the sensory motion laboratory department at Princeton University spoke at First Presbyterian Church as part of the Rothermel Foundation presentations.

Graziano said there have always been battle lines drawn between science and religion over consciousness, what it is and how we have it. He said he is about 70 percent convinced that his theory on consciousness is correct.

Social perception is achieved through interaction with others and creating models from impressions. Social consciousness is awareness through knowledge.

He used his orange monkey puppet, Kevin, to demonstrate, showing people how they really wanted to perceive that the monkey was talking, yet conscientiously they knew it was Graziano doing the talking.

Although ventriloquism is an “exotic example,” Graziano said, he asked the audience how many times they have gotten mad at cars or their computers and even the coffee pot.

“It’s common,” he said. “But when you meet someone you use it (social perception) to allow for better social interaction.”

Graziano used color as another example of how our social perception differs from consciousness. All objects have reflective spectrums and we only see and recognize certain wavelengths in the color spectrum, he said.

Our perception of color is incorrect but helpful because it allows us to distinguish a difference, he said.

“We don’t experience the reality,” he said. “We experience the color.”

It is the same with the cosmic and physical world, he said, saying it’s a construct of the brain rather than reality.

“The world we experience is a world of information we have in our brains,” he said.

Graziano said he believed nonhuman animals like dogs, cats and chimps also had social perception but very little if any social consciousness. Computers in the future could also be programmed to have human-like consciousness, he predicted.

And like a computer that might have information stored on a memory card before it crashes, people have the ability to pass on their consciousness when they die, Graziano said.

“Spend time with a friend,” he said.

Graziano said his grandmother died 20 years ago and he still has a “model copy” of her consciousness and can remember her voice and traits.

“I know it is trite to say we live on in other people’s minds,” he said “But we do.”

Graziano has written numerous articles for scientific journals and has written two books: “The Intelligent Movement Machine: An Ethological Perspective on the Primate Motor System” and a popular book called “God, Soul, Mind, Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Reflection on the Spirit World.” He also has written novels and children’s books.

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