“The intellectual life of man consists almost wholly in his substitution of a conceptual order for the perceptual order in which his experience originally comes.” This is William James at the beginning of the 20th century. He was ruminating on the relationship between language and perception because he was trying to figure out how to convince people accustomed to a large amount of metaphysics in their lives that “pure experience” was much better. Radical Empiricism was his answer to long-winded perorations like Schopenhauer’s The World As Will. There is no need to posit an abstract entity beneath the world that we perceive. The directly apprehended universe is substantial enough. It does not need extraneous support.
If James thought perception was getting sabotaged by metaphysics in 1912, he should try living in a financialized economy in 2022.
The urge to revere intellectual entities like profit over direct contact with the planet? Chomsky thinks concepts that merge grew fully-formed in the mind then moved from functional reference to symbolic reference through feedback processes inside the brain. They were then used for communication. This was too nerdy for Derek Bickerton, who argued that the beginning of language probably started with the discovery by one individual who figured out how to connect entities with behaviours in the course of recruiting other people for big-game hunting. Initially, signals about quarry would have been iconic messages — a pantomime of the animal’s looks or a vocal imitation of the noise it made. Eventually, however, signs became words, and words became concepts when people referred to something that had already happened or was about to happen. With the help of syntax, humans broke through the strictures embedded in animal communication when they figured out how to make plans without pointing.
The key to language is displacement. Displacement is when you refer to something that is not immediately present. Symbols let us break out of the prison that other animals are locked inside — the here and now. Humans can travel across space and time in their heads. 
Animals have concepts but theirs do not merge because they do not have grammatical items. They speak in complete utterances rather than with single words that are combined. They can convey whole chunks of information in one utterance like “I am angry” or “You may mate with me” whereas to make a statement like that with language we must link separate units together. Animal statements are holistic appeals for help or love whereas we speak about entities and things predicated about entities. Once we acquire a list of entities, we then attribute states or actions to them.
“The subject-predicate distinction in language is so fundamental, and so much taken for granted, that it is perhaps worth emphasizing that it corresponds to nothing in nature.” Everything in nature is whole, and if language simply mirrored nature it would mirror this also. Instead, it divides things up. Linguists think that concepts of species evolved earlier than concepts of behaviours. Behaviours are more abstract than entities because they can be predicated about more than one species. The ability to identify different kinds of movement is useful if you are trying to understand physical structure of the world.
So how does this work? Children inherit a conceptual analysis of nature. They draw inferences from it about classes of objects and absent individuals. They organize the inferences into arguments. Argument structure is based on the three types of roles found in the conceptual analysis — you do something to me, or I do something to you, or you are the something that is done. Agent, Patient or Goal. Language sees the world predominantly from an Agent’s viewpoint. Arguments are usually about Agents doing something divisive to someone else. 
Dis-placement. Humans think with a representational system that takes them away from where they actually are.
Given its importance to epistemology, you would expect the study of perception to be a focal philosophical topic. However, Western philosophers did not think it was important to investigate how perception works until very recently. I guess if you enjoy explaining things with language, you see no need to study a mode of thinking that perceives wholes. Early Greek thinkers did not clearly distinguish perception from cognition. Aristotle thought that when we see a jar, for example, its sensory form makes contact with our eyes which are just sockets waiting to be imprinted and have no power on their own. Plato thought that all perception carried propositional content, and, like philosophy, could be true or false. Since the senses are not reliable, all we have is the knowing mind. Kepler taught psychologists that we do not have direct contact with the planet. The lens of the eye refractively focuses all the light rays arriving from any given external location onto a single place: an image on the retina. This image is what we directly see not the external world. To grasp where we are, we have to supplement the message given to us by sensory receptors with inferences from other sources.
It was soldiers with head injuries during the Russo-Japanese war and the first World War who prompted researchers to look at how vision is affected by lesions to the occipital cortex. (Riddoch Syndrome.) Later on, brain imaging with electro-magnetic radiation showed that humans do not receive information through receptors. Discriminatory and selective capacities in the brain perceive individuated mind-independent particulars and actively sort them. Perception is not dependent on other cognitive systems to operate. It is its own form of consciousness. “We literally and directly see objects, faces, places, and shapes; we hear melodies, voices, and phonemes, once again directly and not by painstakingly piecing them together by the use of learned experiential associations.” We perceive the world non-conceptually, at first. That means we have access to truth outside of representations.
The question then becomes what happens when humans move from perception to cognition? How much of what we perceive is actual content and how much is the format we apply to the content? Where does the format for perception come from in the first place?
I can answer that one. Most of the time we perceive through language. Given overpopulated cities, the media, the emphasis on literacy in public schools, family life, etc, sanctuaries from speech and print are extremely rare, if they exist at all. Free speech is a public good. Children are encouraged to express themselves and learn how to read. Print is everywhere. The subject-predicate distinction, the division into binary oppositions, intransigent grammatical rules, plus the sheer gluttony of over-interpretation are constants wherever humans outnumber other species which is now pretty much the whole planet. Only in places where the human-nature balance is less lopsided does perception get to emerge from hiding, and even then it has to push back against the memory of past linguistic interpretations before it can move freely into the centre stage of human consciousness. Most of the time it never makes it. Language is so strong it immediately snuffs out all competition.
The reason why capitalism was so hard to up-end is not because owners crushed workers, though they did. It’s because language has us by the throat. It extracts essences out of everything. Now techno-feudalism will eat our corpses. The new dominant class — the vectoralists — “extracts surplus information from workers and consumers in order to build predictive models which subordinate all activity to the same information political economy.”
Techno-feudalism is language on steroids. The New Economy, marked by globalization, information, the multiplication of securities markets, the dismantling of the welfare state and the reflux of capital towards the West, took over so quickly, workers never had a chance.“The private has become public and the public has become economic.” Post-Ford work consists of simulating ideas which computerized automatons then transfer onto material. A.I. is replacing workers with simulations. A Western élite that adores talking elevated white people into glittering cities that suck the nutrients out of the surrounding land and spews toxic emissions into the atmosphere in a way that tips the climate. The ecology that produces life could dissolve at any moment, but capital goes where returns are greatest i.e. the United States. Any attempt at achieving economic autonomy by the rest of the world is resisted with Western economic terrorism.
It is hard to get a grip on how this happened because the very tool we use to understand things is the root of the problem. Left unchecked by perception, language is a virus. We need it to communicate with each other and survive, but its basic design is faulty because it is not tethered to the planet. “Language is not just unique. It is unnatural.” It allows Agents to dominate Patients. It “misvalues” the planet on which we depend. It turns everything physical into something very different from what it actually is. Could anything be more insidious?
Someone please show capitalists and vectoralists where they actually are! Earth is surrounded by lifeless matter in a space where the nearest stars are trillions of miles away. Even if we could reach one of them, we would need just the right temperature, just the right orbit around a sun, and water. We cannot survive without water. A few individuals might be able to leave Earth, but the rest of us are “stuck” here whether we like or not, more or less conscious in a universe that is not friendly. The trees and brick walls we see every day hide a deep chasm between life and non-life that takes a 4 million pound rocket to breach, and then it is death everywhere.
Paradise is exactly like
Where you are right now
Only much much better
Showing vectoralists where to find ladybugs would give them something new to think about for maybe two seconds. To achieve real change i.e. “a bio politics from below,” workers and Indigenous people need to become the Agents of sentences. Both groups are less smitten by language than the vectoralists are, especially Indigenous people, so they have more common sense. I would also give everyone a crash course in perception (maybe not Indigenous people.) Show them how to get control over what language does to them by facing up to the death club outside our atmosphere. Make the dangerous space we live in a permanent fixture in their thinking. Find the presence of the universe here on Earth. Climb down from language edifices like universities. Rewire corporations to focus on planet restoration and protection. Teach common sense in schools not just literacy. Study how other animals live. Make Agents whoever finds us a path to safety.
1. McDermott, J. J. (1977) “Percept And Concept — The Import Of Concepts” The Writings of William James. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 234.
2. Chomsky, N. (2016) Why Only Us? Cambridge: The MIT Press.
3. Bickerton, D. (2009) Adam’s Tongue. New York: Hill and Wang, 215.
4. Ibid., 43-7.
5. Ibid., 216-18.
6. Ibid., 188-9.
7. Bickerton, D. (1990) Language And Species. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 39.
8. Ibid., 66-8.
9. Matthen, M. (2015) Introduction. Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Perception. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 4.
10. Schellenberg, S. (2017) Perceptual Consciousness as Mental Activity. https://philosophy.ucsc.edu/news-events/colloquia-conferences/Schellenberg-MentalActivism.pdf.
11. Block, N. (2022). An empirical argument that perception is non-conceptual. Talk. Ashoka University, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzfe-oJcDnM.
12. Matthen, M. op. cit., 14.
13. Brogaard, B. (2014) Does Perception Have Content? Oxford: Oxford University Press.
14. Wark, M. (2019) capital is dead is this something worse? London: Verso, 11.
15. Ibid., 27.
16. Marazzi, C. (2008) Capital And Language. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e) 44.
17. Bickerton (2009) 144.
18. Marazzi, 157
19. Thompson, L.C. The Set-Up. Unpublished manuscript.