This is the fourth article of the ‘nets we cast’ series. The first, second, and third articles can be found through their respective links. We’ll continue on with an allegorical look at Luke 5:1-11 and see if a different perspective might yield some insight into the ways Christ may intercede within our lives. My apologizes if this leans a little too psychology-heavy; but there is a reason for this, and if everything goes according to plan, we will be returning soon to the humble boats on the sea of Galilee and (hopefully) tie everything together.
The previous article attempted to dip into the allegory by taking a moment to consider the perceptual nets which exist below our surface. As the world washes about us in a great sea of energy and matter, it is by virtue of these nets that we are able to apprehend certain slices of it. The first step begins with our finely attuned sense organs: we are able to see particular wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation; we are able to hear particular frequencies of compression waves; we can smell airborne molecules; taste water-soluble molecules; feel mechanical stimuli, pain, and temperature. From there, this information is converted into electrochemical signals and sent through great circuits of specialized neurons, out of which emerges our perception, representation, and complex cognition of the phenomenal world.
To make sense of our world, we must cast perceptual nets. We must catch the significant patterns out of the abundant milieu of sensory information surrounding us, and then bend them into the orbits of our subjective consciousness. This all goes on behind the scenes, however. We were simply created in this manner, and it appears as if there is little we can do to alter these nets even if we wanted. Indeed, a great many of our neurons themselves are specialized to work with these nets. For example, some of the earliest neurons in our visual system seem to be specialized to specifically detect only the orientation of edges. Other neurons further along in the stream seem to be specialized in picking up faces or familiar objects. There is a selectivity in our design. That being said, there is evidence to suggest that these nets are, in part, shaped and nurtured by our environments. There have been some fascinating cases where individuals who had been born blind were able to have their vision restored — yet it took them a significant amount of time to learn how to see (as we would define it). A great write up of one such case is given on this cool website.
Anyway, this cognitive-psychological understanding of ourselves is the trajectory with which these articles wish to take this allegory. When Moses, Gideon, Isaiah, and Simon Peter experienced the presence of God, what was it that was caught in their perceptual nets? Was it just the regular every-day stuff that somehow got intuited (or deluded) in the higher cognitive areas of the brain? Or did they really catch hold of something special existing within the sensory sea around them? Or was it both? What made the bush burn for Moses? What made the fire spring up from the rock for Gideon? What was the hot coal that touched the tongue of Isaiah? What was the abundance perceived by Peter? Indeed, Peter’s nets began to break.
Psychological nets (larger scale intro)
Perceptual nets are just one layer by which we navigate through the world sea. Where do memories come into play? What about language? Learning? Problem solving? Imagination? Creativity? Emotion? Decision making? Motor control? Consciousness? These are all faculties that cognitive psychologists attempt to map, model, and understand. We won’t be going too far in that direction, however. Were these ‘nets we cast’ articles going to attempt to explore and drape its allegory over all these areas, it would probably soon become too cumbersome and simplistic (not to mention getting its author in way over his head). Instead, what we will take on are some of the more generalized and established cognitive theories out there, and see how the images of nets hold up for those. For the rest of this article, we will very briefly introduce the topic of consciousness.
The nexus between our subjective consciousness and our organic bodies is a mystery that has riddled philosophers and scientists since antiquity. In recent times, this philosophy of mind is aided by new technologies, methodologies, and scientific theories – but it appears as if the tip of the iceberg has still barely even been scratched. Where lies the proverbial homunculus controlling our minds? Are we made up of a dualistic soul-body relationship? Or are we a monistic entity wherefrom all that we are is inextricably tied to our neurons? If so, should we view the brain though a reductionistic paradigm or that of a complex systems paradigm?
Despite all the scientific and philosophical interest, subjective consciousness is still a black box. The best thing contemporary psychologists can grasp hold of are indirect measurements of the neural correlates of thought and emotion, and theoretical models for the input-output processing of our minds. The latter will be the direction we’ll take for next time, as we attempt to extend our net allegory to the processes of knowledge categorization. It is my hope that in exploring our categorization processes, we may uncover some helpful tips in going through the world.