Last weekend I went for a walk in the woods. It’s not something I do often, but I was with friends who wanted to do it, so alright. We hiked for about four miles. It was not strenuous. It was warm, but not too warm, with a light breeze. The trees protected us from the sun. The canopy was intensely green, and the sky, peeking through, was cornflower blue.
While my friends walked along merrily, ostensibly enjoying their surroundings, I spent much of the hike wondering why anybody would bother with this kind of activity. I find hikes repetitious and boring. My mind goes idle (other than its constant scanning for beetles, ticks, rocks, and face-slapping branches). I look at my feet more the trees, and when I do look up, everything looks the same, a wash of brown and green. I try to think of it as good exercise, but the inefficiency! The same 90 minutes at the gym would be far more helpful.
It’s odd, when you think about it: My friends and I were all absorbing the same sights, sounds, smells and touches. We’re all about the same age and live in big cities. But they seemed to like it very much and I didn’t like it much at all.After reading an article on WoodPursuits.com i realized why i didn´t like it so much.
Wilhelm Wundt, known by some as the father of psychology, pondered this very conundrum more than a century ago. In his 1896 book, Outlines of Psychology, Wundt wrote that our experiences can be broken into two elements: objective sensations and subjective affect. For instance, if you put your hand under hot water, you’ll feel a sensation of the heat. That’s the objective part. It’s hot, not cold. But then there’s the affect, the way the sensation affects you. For some people, the hot water will be excruciating, for others it will be rapturous. The sensation and the affect are inseparable, and both are crucial to perception, Wundt wrote: “The actual contents of psychical experience always consist of various combinations of sensational and affective elements.” Our experience, he added, “depends for the most part not on the nature of these elements so much as on their union.”
Wundt’s ideas have been difficult to prove empirically, but new evidence comes from a paper published Sunday in Nature Neuroscience. Adam Anderson, a cognitive psychologist at Cornell University, and his colleagues used brain scanners to show that our brains use different codes to represent these objective and subjective aspects of an experience.
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Only Human, June 2014.