Antarctica: Exploration, Perception, and Metaphor

Antarctica: Exploration, Perception, and Metaphor

Antarctica: Exploration, Perception, and Metaphor

Antarctica: Exploration, Perception, and Metaphor

Synopsis

"A scene so wildly and awfully desolate... it cannot fail to impress me with gloomy thoughts" so Robert F. Scott perceived the stark Antarctic in 1905. Yet the environment is more than its physical appearance expectation and subjective response, as much as direct stimuli, play a part in perceptions. Antarcticatraces images of the continent from early invented maps up to Roald Amundsen's arrival. Paul Simpson-Housley approaches Antarctica from the perspective of both sea and land explorers, describing their differing perceptions as created by error and desire. Explorers returned with images of both beauty and terror. Simpson-Housley analyzes their writings in diaries, books and poetry. Developing this theme, and focusing on the realist paintings of Edward Wilson and the symbolic poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he discusses how artistic images were created from first-hand experience of the landscape, as well as contemporary reports and literature.

Excerpt

When Shakespeare affirmed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream that ‘Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind’ (I, i, 234) he unintentionally made a statement that is in some ways akin to modern ideas on perception. If the word ‘love’ were changed to ‘a person’, we have a phrase which encapsulates a fundamental idea on perceptual theory. Perception is a learned process, and not simply a response to a stimulus. People often see in an object what they anticipate rather than what is actually there. It is not so much that seeing is believing but rather that believing is seeing. Memory and experience condition what we see in a stimulus. Our aim is not to negate the importance of the stimulus but simply to place it in perspective: it is important but not necessarily more so than the perceived perceptual filter which evaluates and organizes sensory inputs. Perhaps the philosopher Whitehead (1949) was correct when he affirmed that we are not comparing a given world with given perceptions of it since both are to some extent deduced concepts.

It is possible to distinguish between perceptions and attitudes. the former require a specific stimulus and are a response to that stimulus, while the latter do not require a stimulus at the moment under consideration and are general responses to phenomena. Thus, we may say that a seashore dweller has a perception of a particular marine flood when he/she moves temporarily to higher land to avoid the consequences of a flood that is currently taking place. If, however, the individual moves permanently to a home further inland, it is because of an attitude to marine inundation in general.

Perceptions and attitudes have cognitive and affective components. We have knowledge about objects, places and people, and we may either like or dislike them. Sometimes the cognitive and affective components clash. We may be aware that coal fires are a pollution hazard yet at the same time we may like their warm colourful glow. Here the term ‘perception’ is used as a generic term, and certainly it will encompass a whole range of environmental, imaginative, and aesthetic attitudes. the term ‘perception’ is chosen because its general meaning is understood, and thus there is no need to create a new term.

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