The Psychology of Communication


7.2 Perceptual And Conceptual Maps

The subjective map could be considered as composed of a perceptual map based on things in the objective world and a conceptual map based on words in the objective world. Since the speech centre is in the left hemisphere of the brain, it is a useful heuristic to associate the conceptual map with the left hemisphere. Despite the fact that I attended the university most famed for its research on perception, I still was taught that this left hemisphere was the "dominant" hemisphere. Since motor functions cross over, the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body. Most people are right-handed, right-footed, and right-eyed.3

The right hemisphere was viewed as a sort of spare in case there was damage to the dominant left hemisphere (based on the evidence that indeed if there was damage to the speech centre in early childhood, it could switch to the "submissive" right hemisphere). Now, it is clear that the right hemisphere is best considered as creating a perceptual map of the objective world.

Because of my traditional training, I strongly emphasize the conceptual over the perceptual map. An example of this is that I write directions when given them over the telephone (left side of Figure 7-2). When driving to visit my friend Sally, I had to stop a couple of times to reread my directions. In the interval between this first and a second visit, I had been thinking about my neglected right hemisphere. Hence, the next time she invited me, I drew a map as she was giving me directions (right side of Figure 7-2). This time I drove straight there, since I had a map in my mind. It is obvious to me now that nature is too parsimonious to create the most complex system in the world simply as a spare part and that the drawing of a map while getting directions clearly calls for the use of the right hemisphere.

When Barry Lucky gave me directions to his sound studio in the basement of his farm in Alexandria so that I could come to have my Siliclone pressed into a CD-ROM, I drew a map. Halfway there, I realized that I had left the map at home. My first reaction was to go back for it, but I discovered that I had the map in my head right down to the address of his farm and followed it right there.

My use of diagrams in this book - Figure 3-1 THE TRIAD MODEL, Figure 5-3 HOW THE MIND WORKS, Figure 10-1 FOUR GENERATIONS OF MEDIA and so on - further illustrates my attempt to learn to use my right hemisphere. Sometimes it is better to show than to tell. We have to learn to use our whole brain and not just the left side of its upper crust. We have to fire on all our cylinders. A picture is indeed sometimes worth a thousand words.

Another exercise to activate my dormant right hemisphere is to carry a small camera at all times. I have always carried a notebook for fishing in the stream-of-consciousness. That is, as the stream of consciousness is rushing past (or trickling past on bad days), I write down anything which is deemed interesting. My experience has been that we tend to forget even if it seems so unforgettable at the time. I'll always remember whatshername. From time to time, those notes are thrown into shoe boxes for each of the projects I'm working on. When it comes time to write that paper or give that lecture, more ideas emerge from that box than went into it. They've been breeding. Any new idea is a combination of old ideas.

Now, I carry a small camera to do the same for the perceptual map. It alerts me to interesting stills in the mind movie. My first small camera embodied the Advanced Photo System. This system has a number of features distinguishing it from the traditional 35 mm camera which has been essentially unchanged for decades. It is more compact. It uses cartridges which can be easily popped in and out of the camera. There are three optional aspect ratios - classical, hdtv, and panoramic. The photographs are returned with a colored contact sheet. You can receive the images on floppy disks or on CD-ROM disks as well as hard copies. Electronic messages keep you informed about the mode the camera is in, the number of shots remaining, and so on.

Those improvements in the design of the analogue camera are another illustration of the sailboat effect. The design of sailboats improved dramatically when the sailboat was challenged by the steamboat. The design of analogue photography improved because of the challenge from digital photography. While digital photography initially could not match the resolution of analogue photography, it was enough of a challenge to force the manufacturers of analogue cameras to finally improve them. In both cases, it was too little too late. Sailboats and traditional photography, like many obsolete technologies, shifted from tools to toys.

3   We all know whether we are left or right-handed. If you are not from a soccer-playing country, you can find out whether you are left or right-footed by having a friend push you from behind when you are standing with your feet together and noticing which foot you put forward to regain your balance. You can find out whether you are left or right-eyed by lining up your thumb with an object with both eyes open. Now close your left eye. If the thumb is still aligned, you are right-eyed. That is, you had used your dominant eye to line it up even though you had both eyes open.