The Red Blossoms

Summer road-tripping, mid 1960’s.   

The Red Blossoms were visible as soon as we crested a rolling hill in the North Dakota countryside.  A summer road trip meandering cross country after visiting a Hesseltine in-law at her retirement home in the Black Hills. 

I was not driving and in a meditative mood, watching the rolling landscape pass by. As is often my habit I took off my glasses, creating an impressionistic view of the landscape as we sailed through.

I watched the beautiful countryside slightly unfocused.  Then the blossoms!  A few hundred yards ahead on a hillside on my right, gorgeous bright red spots scattered about.  What a joy! The sharp points contrasting with the mellow embracing patchwork of many shades of greens was very affecting.   

I slipped my glasses on as we got closer … what were these? poppies?  anemones?  Coca Cola cans!   My joy began wrestling with my indignation then yielded to amusement.  But what I learned about myself and the power of incomplete perception–the phenomenologically ambiguous–that was gorgeous.     



How do expectations shape perception?

FP De LangeM HeilbronP Kok – Trends in cognitive sciences, 2018 – Elsevier. Perception and perceptual decision-making are strongly facilitated by prior knowledge about the probabilistic structure of the world. While the computational benefits of using prior expectation in perception are clear, there are myriad ways in which this computation can be realized. We review here recent advances in our understanding of the neural sources and targets of expectations in perception. Furthermore, we discuss Bayesian theories of perception that prescribe how an agent should integrate prior knowledge and sensory … [PDF] ucl.ac.uk



“… human experience does not arise solely on the basis of bottom-up processes [sensory input] but also according to top-down factors [such as learned associations, memories, meanings, and attitudes that may influence how individuals interpret and experience the world]. The constructivist perspective considers these deliberations, assuming that individuals make sense of their experiences and interactions with the world by creating conceptual schemas that organize ideas and experiences (Myers, 2012). The constructivist view stresses the physical features of nature less and instead focuses on the interpretation that the human brain makes of natural signals” (adapted from Koivisto et al. 2022)[i]







[i] Mika Koivisto, Enni Jalava, Lina Kuusisto, Henry Railo, Simone Grassini (2022) Top-Down Processing and Nature Connectedness Predict Psychological and Physiological Effects of Nature. Environment and Behavior.  https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/00139165221107535 (cut and paste URL into Browser)


Professor Emeritus, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville.