Nature, perception and embodiment
'Perception is the foothold of the mind to reality'
This is another statement from Whitehead's The Concept of Nature quoted from Stengers (Stengers 2011, 67). For Whitehead, nature and reality are synonyms: "We humans have direct access to nature through perception; however, it is always temporal, fragmented and partial. Description and analysis are always situated and start from an active position inside a field. There is always a particular way of knowing. We can also never know it all." (Ibid., 64.)
It follows that the ways in which we perceive a mountain depends on what we do there. The experience becomes more sensory textured and affective, more informed and conscious over time, but it will always be partial and never all-including. The good news is that what we sense is real and there is always more to discover.
In this research, the mountain experiences are both method and the ‘data’ of the exploration and the primary source of knowledge of the mountain. They happen in the direct encounter with the forces and processes of gravity, winds, water and stone and the life that dwell there. I perceive the mountain through my body and all the senses. I become affected and emotional, conscious and aware. I grasp and am grasped. Vetlesen states: " […] wild nature is heterogeneous, involving the human person as a whole person, engaging not only the mind, but the entire repertoire of faculties […]" (Vetlesen 2015, 149.)
The body, sensations and affect are at the core. The body amplifies experience. Perception is embodied, intuitive and pre-conscious. The concept of affect highlights this. Affect is experience that is not yet conscious. The body and the world are intertwined and what the body perceives is felt as affect or emotion (Massumi 2002). This is the primary form of contact between consciousness and the world. The perceiving body and the world it perceives are intertwined and mutually engaged (Merleau-Ponty 1966). However, perception is filtered in the sense that only a fraction of the embodied experience is captured and articulated. It follows that the nuances of sensory perception cannot be fully represented. There is a gap between the entire embodied experience and what I am more or less vaguely conscious of (Massumi 2002). Moreover, perception is multisensory. The senses are mutually reinforcing, even though there are distinctions between them.
The notion that experience is more than we are conscious of corresponds to Henri Bergson’s position that awareness is prior to thought. Linguistic concepts or language sort and filter away sensory experience. Language structures the experience and thereby direct access to nature is lost (Lawlor and Moulard 2016).
Experiencing the futility of words and the need for artistic expression is not new. This quote is from the explorer Amundsen on his South Pole expedition: "Good weather. Still and clear. -46˚. …It is difficult to describe the beautiful scene I saw when I came out of my dog tent this morning. Low down on the S.W. horizon was the moon – shining yellow - just over the rooftop of our hut or snow mound. In S.W. sky the Southern Lights played in many forms and colours – and high up there one sees the Southern Cross among an army of glittering, shining worlds. … If only I could paint. If only I could." From Amundsen’s diary, 22nd of May 1911 (Huntford 1987, 114).