I think I see like a bee

10.05.03

Where this train of thought began I am not positive at this moment. I was probably thinking about my personal finances. At any rate the regular thought occurred that I am middle class, middle middle class…but not so much. I am led to believe…I am given every indication that I am truly middle class. BUT, it seems as though taking a perspective view from some distance, which may or may not be an optimal view, seems to suggest that I am barely middle class…more or less in name only and as the circumstances permit. I do have some education. I have a professional job. My tastes are such. These things bespeak middle class. But my ability to be this person hinges on a salary which is adequate to maintain my current lifestyle only because it can count on, at present, my good health and the opportunity to assume debt (by volition in order to increase my assets, as opposed to by necessity, as for example, great medical expenses). If this situation changes I will quickly find myself struggling to maintain my middle class lifestyle. For this reason, I have to consider myself, at least temporarily, actually lower middle class. That is, I can with reasonable assurance guarantee myself a lower middle class lifestyle under any reasonable circumstances. I cannot yet guarantee myself true middle middle class status. My parents are generally regarded as upper middle class. They earn a combined salary well over $100,000.00 (almost $200,000.00). They can afford to take on much more debt by volition, and good health, while a great advantage, is not a total necessity. The insurance they have is very good and their premiums and deductibles are not felt as excessively weighty when compared to their salaries. They have an option, they can live as upper middle class, but in a somewhat tenuous way, where any unforeseen misfortune could quickly put them in a situation where they could not maintain their lifestyle. Or they could live as middle middle class with quite a feeling of security. The point of all of this is, am I truly middle middle class or really just lower middle class? Are my parents truly upper middle class or really just middle middle class? I think that perhaps, when the increasing gap between the nation’s wealthiest few is considered, I have to think of myself as undeniably lower middle class and my parents as lower middle middle class. Perhaps someone who makes $250,000 to $500,000 is truly middle middle class. Someone who makes $500,000 to a few million is upper middle class, and the place of upper class is reserved for those making several million to several billion.

This is a thought that went rambling through my head recently while walking. The way this thought occurred is what is important. But it is not the point of this paper. It is the idea which was generated by the way in which the preceding narrative unfolded which is most of interest. But first, how was this narrative constructed? I saw in my mind two graphs. The graphs were each somewhat asymptotic in shape. The first was scene in close-up at the crux of the curve. I then zoomed out. As I did so, the legs of the curve extended long and almost straight, one almost parallel to the x-axis (horizontal, to the left), one almost parallel to the y-axis (vertical, upward). The long, almost horizontal leg I saw as representative of the vast multitude of U.S. citizens, impoverished to lower middle class. The area under the leg of the curve, very long and slender, representing their total wealth. This is not much wealth per capita. The almost vertical leg represented those few individuals with very great wealth. Again the area under the curve at this point represented total wealth for that segment of the population. The bend of the curve, where we began, curves steeply, and is proportionally not very large compared to the vast extents of the almost straight runs along either axis. This is that shrinking middle to upper middle class. Again, the area under the curve at this point represents the wealth of this segment of the populace. The second graph was also asymptotic. It too, represented the total populace as well as the total wealth of the populace. However, the entire curve seemed as the crux of the first curve. This is a curve of wealth distribution for U.S. citizens of one hundred and fifty years ago, maybe. It is an evenly divided distribution of wealth. The area under the curve represents the same amount of wealth as the area under the first curve just distributed differently. All of this is based on a tidbit of knowledge I acquired from some NPR program or other. Said program reported a statistic. Apparently, at the turn of the last century, the average company owner earned six times the income of that company’s average-salary employee. At present, the average CEO of a U.S. business earns several hundred times the salary of the company’s average-salary employee. The development of these illustrative graphs continued. In actuality, the processes which these graphs represent are not static. As such, I added characteristics to them to imagine them in a way which I thought illustrated how they existed in a continuum. Each graph began to vacillate as the values represented by the original graphs were understood to be merely averages for given periods of time during which there was much activity. This vacillation occurred in all three dimensions. Furthermore, the intensity and solidity of the graph varied, flickering or fading even, as the legitimacy of the construct to truly represent the phenomena increased or decreased. The entire graphs moved up or down, side to side, rotated, and flexed. After all, the phenomona are prevailed upon by situations external to their systems which are continuously forcing the very nature of the constructs to adjust. Lastly, and presuming that the graphs mentioned, even when considered as the dynamic animations just described, still never entirely depict that which they portend to represent, I imagined these graphs, actually several dynamic animations of each, overlaid on each other within their respective groups, at all of the multitude of angles, intensities, rotations, velocities, frequencies possible, and a continuum of such stretching from those representing the economic distribution of the past to that of the present. I found it all beautiful…erratic, disjunctive, horrific, sublime, stable, dynamic, etc.

Getting to the point, the extend to which I constructed these animations within my mind is a very interesting topic. Each image, each animation was ephemeral. They might be more like a quick succession of individual still frames and short runs of conceptualized dynamicism overlaid and strung together. More than just internal stop-gap photography. Less than true visualization of an event played out over a time continuum. This description of my own visualization process reminded me of a particular group of articles I’ve recently read dealing with cognitive science and cognitive psychology. In particular, a specific article about bees and also an article about the potential of our increasingly facile and pervasive visualization devices. First, apparently bees visualize still frames occasionally, record in short term memory these still frames, and then map off of them later by comparing the data entering their eyes with this recorded image. For instance, they may locate a flower patch in a field by having created a still frame of the flower patch with some kind of visual marker, such as a tree, when they first discovered the patch. When they wish to return to that flower patch, to lead other bees to it, they relocate the patch by matching the data for distance and angle from the visual marker to that recorded on the previous visit. Thus they know that when the tree is at the same proportion and angle as in their still frame image they are near the patch again. Pardon the disjunction but I then jumped (in thought) to another article which detailed in part the history of diagramming and graphing and then briefly discussed the emerging roles of animation in facilitating cognitive activity. Interestingly, diagrams and graphs are very efficient, convenient, and productive means of encoding information and facilitating more efficient cognitive functioning for humans. But while animations and such do seem to facilitate the understanding of some concepts in general, such as flux and flow, they do not seem to aid cognition as much as diagrams and graphs. If anything they are distracting and provide overstimulation with too much irrelevant information. Now this may be merely because we have not yet learned to utilize animations in a way that facilitates our cognitive processes…or it may be that we now have to adjust our cognitive processes to utilize these new tools…actually, probably both need to be done. However at present, it seems that complex 3D animated visualizations are not the most robust facilitators for our cognitive processes.

What does this say about our cognitive processes, if anything? I’m not sure. But I did think that it will be interesting to explore the notion that perhaps our cognition maps abstract concepts in a similar manner to how bees map the location of objects relative to landmarks, and not in a similar manner to how we visually explore, record, and map in space. Perhaps our cognitive processes construct series and groupings of still frames from which to evaluate the endless incoming data. Perhaps other means of cognitive mapping and process are possible and even carried on, but not by humans, either because we are incapable, or because we have not yet adapted our processes. Perhaps this is why a graph is so helpful and an animation, other than while it is ongoing, is less so. Perhaps this is why I think that my mind’s eye may in fact see like a bee.

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