Information Pickup

I was reading for exams when I came across "The Theory of Information Pickup
and Its Consequences," Ch. 14 in James Gibson’s The Ecological Approach to
Visual Perception
. Gibson writes about ecological optics; a version of his
theory of affordances appears in ch. 8. He’s a small piece of what he writes
about information pickup:

The act of picking up information, moreover, is a continuous act, an
activity that is ceaseless and unbroken. The sea of energy in which we live
flows and changes without sharp breaks. Even the tiny fraction of this energy
that affects the receptors in the eyes, ear, nose, mouth, and skin is a flux,
not a sequence. The exploring, orienting, and adjusting of organs sink to a
minimum during sleep but do not stop dead. Hence, perceiving is a stream, and
William James’ description of the stream of consciousness (1890, Ch. 9),
applies to it. Discrete percepts, like discrete ideas, are "as mythical as the
Jack of Spades." (240)

What I find interesting is how the idea of constant information pickup
helps us move toward more nuanced understandings of attention and attention
structures (more like Linda Stone’s

"continuous partial attention"
than a reductive two-type alternative: focus
and digression). Much in this
always-on "sea of
energy" will be noise. But if we accept the persistence of "exploring,
orienting, and adjusting," even during sleep, then the polar extremes of focus
and digression have a whole lot of messiness and richness going on between them.

So it is noted. And tossed into the rock polisher, set to agitate until
smooth against some other ideas about pickup, collecting: Katamari Damacy,
Benjamin’s unpacked library, Sirc’s box-logic, database v. narrative, filtering, aggregation, overload, and so on.

1 Comment

  1. More gravel for the rock polisher….

    “The physiologists are very fond of comparing the network of our cerebral nerves with a telephone system but they overlook the significant fact that a telephone system does not function until someone talks over it. The brain does not create thought (as pointed out by Sir Julian Huxley); it is an instrument which thought finds useful.”

    by Joseph Wood Krutch

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