Thingspace

When we analyze our perception of the world from the most unprejudiced point of view, we find that the notion of category melts away and we’re left with an undifferentiated and undelineated continuum of subjective experience. It’s only once we add the concept of purpose that we’re able to take the unbroken continuity of sensory experience and bundle various aspects of the perceptual landscape into categories (more precisely, indifference groupings) Two subjective experiences present as the same category when they both fulfill the same function in our mind. For example, if you take a pair of sunglasses and vary the tint of the glass on a smooth continuum, the moment they lose their claim to the category we verbalize as “sunglasses” in English is when the tint is such that you can no longer see out of them or you can still see out of them but they’re too lightly tinted that the painful sensation of bright sun is no longer tempered to a tolerable degree. To a being unaware of the experience of being human, and equipped with a non-optimal mechanism of perceiving 3D objects, fundamentally speaking there would be no way for them to look at a pile of reading glasses, sunglasses, protective glasses, and so forth, and differentiate them into proper human categories; they would merely see a heap of objects of similar physical dimensions, in a position to perceive only an unbroken continuum of changes in thickness, width, etc.

The thingspace delineation with which a person views the world, then, is the whole picture of how they break the originally undifferentiated continuum of their subjective perception into a system of discrete categories. It’s how their mind transforms the seamless flow of sensation into a categorical structure. For instance, as someone who has only passing familiarly with various martial arts, when I watch MMA fights I’m able to perceive a reasonable amount of the action, but I’m surely missing a world world of categorization of positions and movements that an excellent fighter, coach, or commentator would have in their mind. I’m able to tell the difference between a triangle choke, a rear-naked choke, and so on, but I don’t have a categorization framework for the deeper nuance in grappling. Perhaps there’s a particular ground position that two fighters can be in where if the fighter on top puts one of their hands in a certain position it translated into a smooth submission for the other fighter. For me I may not even notice that they put their hand there, any more than I would notice if they rotated their foot one centimeter to the left for no reason at all or if a faint flash of light happened in an obscure section of the audience in the background; and as a result the seamless roll into a submission might come as a sudden and indecipherable surprise to me, whereas for a knowledgeable spectator the mistake may even have a conventional description: “Damn, why did he [category X] his hand when his position was [category Y]?”

To be more precise, I should say that the originally undelineated expanse of perception is carved into a set of discrete categories by the interplay between feelings of value on one hand, and knowledge of cause and effect on the other.

That is, we may take all of the possible perceptual states that humans can experience, and place them into three distinct groups: directly painful or pleasurable sensationsindirectly painful or pleasurable sensations, and neutral sensations. For example, eating a certain food may be directly pleasurable (by the stimulation of your taste buds among other factors), focusing for an hour on researching recipes might be indirectly pleasurable (because you associate it with achieving the directly pleasurable end of eating good food), and various perceptions that you tend to ignore are neutral (such as the perception of a certain pattern on the wall in your kitchen that you’ve never really given any thought to but does in fact present on your visual field while you’re cooking). Ultimate value, then, could be defined as the set of directly painful or pleasurable sensations, and casual understanding can be seen as what propagates these feelings of pain or pleasure from originally neutral sensations to now-indirectly-painful-or-pleasurable sensations. Since we draw categories on lines of utility (where e.g. sunglasses are glasses that remove the pain of bright sun while still allowing us to see well enough), the thingspace demarcation in an individual’s head is based on their ultimate values along with their derivative values (those values which are created via the interplay between their ultimate values and their understanding of what causes those ultimately valued states).

We may call this backward value imputation. For a human unacquainted with cooking, for instance, or indeed for a human so foreign to us that they don’t even know what cooking is (since they e.g. always just get their food straight off the tree), there would be no perception of utility in reading a recipe book; they would find reading something about how to arrange various pieces of food in various configurations about as boring as we’d find a book about how to arrange tables in an order corresponding to the number by which we may describe their exact hue in certain programming languages. But for a human who’s internalized the casual connection between [read a recipe book] and [eat delicious food], going through a recipe book could be an exciting experience. The former individual hasn’t done value imputation from consuming excellent food (the future result) backward to reading a recipe book (the present action), while the former has. The category recipe book has been created because it’s a range of perceptions that have no direct value-related bearing on our life but do all have a casual connection with at least one member of a particular other range of perceptions that does have value-related relevance to us (delicious food).

Thus, the thingspace delineation that exists in a person’s head is an ever-changing categorization of phenomena that’s based on their ultimate values and their knowledge of cause and effect. For instance, when Western people come to Japan, they’re often blown away by how excited a lot of Japanese people are to talk to them. They talk to strangers, and the strangers act in a way that pattern-matches to being very excited to get to know them. But after a few months, they realize that a lot of the Japanese people who seemed so excited to talk to them never responded to their messages. They started out with a causal understanding informed by their past experience in their home country, where [excitement to talk to them] -> [high likelihood of wanting to meet up later and get to know them]; but then later on they discover that this isn’t correct, and that there’s actually fake excitement and real excitement. They find that certain ways of acting excited don’t have a causal connection with the individual actually being interested in further interaction, whereas others do. And thus what was once one undifferentiated range of experience (excitement) is broken up into two (fake excitement and real excitement), and now certain excited replies from Japanese people that they used to experience as so enjoyable have now become grating (since the channel of value imputation from certain ways of acting to imagining that the person likes you has been destroyed).