By Douglas Gabriel
Perception is the key to your personal experience of heaven or hell in the here and now.
Each individual is responsible for creating his own world by bringing what is inside of him (his combined world of concepts) to the perception of what is outside of him, and then determining his relationship to those perceptions for good or ill. Finding the bridge between the inner world of a thinker and the outer world of perception is the key to philosophy and the science of knowing. Perception gives us a chance to “know” something about the world and our relationship to it. But the real question is: What cans the observer know?
Is the outer world of perception a dream as some philosophies believe?
Are we sure that we can actually “know” our personal self or the outer world?
What is the relationship of human thinking to the outer world of perception?
Can we change the perception of the outside world through our own personal thinking?
Do we project our personal world of concepts, memories, expectations and thinking upon the world and thereby color our perception or even change it altogether?
Modern science or philosophy will not help us much with the questions above. Scientists who study perception offer little help in finding answers to the big questions of: What is perception? What is matter? What is thought and how is it produced? What does thinking have to do with perception?
The study of perception is broken down by modern scientists into organization, identification, interpretation, nerve impulses, chemical stimulation, pressure waves, learning, memory, expectation, attention, sensory input, object recognition, concepts, knowledge, selective mechanisms, conscious awareness, experimental psychology, psychophysics, sensory neuroscience, sensory brain mechanisms, computational perceptual systems, philosophy of cognition, objective reality, illusions, ambigous images, making sense of perceptual input, modular brain processing, and sensory mapping, among others. In the end, science does not actually address the question of what “stands behind” perception. The philosophical question of what exactly sense perception offers to knowing is also left unanswered. The human being’s relationship to the object of perception remains a mystery, and science seems to focus only on the mechanisms of perception, forgetting that the seminal question of “What is matter?” is glaringly left unaddressed.
Science will take us through all of the details of perception except for the first question of philosophy: “Does the ‘thing in itself’ have independent existence outside of human perception?”
Modern materialistic science seldom answers these questions and leads the thinker to believe such a thing as a “percept” exists as information coming from the outside that somehow changes the perceiver through the action of perception. Science gives no independent “life” or “existence” to the object of perception. Science tries to convince us, by avoiding philosophy altogether, that percepts are real and independent components of perception, not seeming to notice that the thinking used to ask the question was left out of the equation. This “percept” of science comes into the observer through physical mechanisms of nerves, sense organs and brain functions that correlate with concepts that might bring knowledge to the observer through referencing other concepts that have already been formed. In the science of perception, the inherent independent beingness of the perceived object, known as the “thing in itself,” doesn’t exist for a modern materialistic scientist. Thinking, also, is an unnoticed aspect of perception for modern scientists.
Modern scientific approaches to perception are often unfulfilling because they do not relate to reality. Much like particle physics, perception is simply theoretical to a scientist as the object being perceived can change because the observer is observing. Thus, light can be seen as a particle or a wave, depending on who is observing. Scientists leave the nebulous world of perception and knowing to the psychologists. Science knows that optical illusions, ambiguous imagining, perception confusion and distortion happen frequently and cannot be explained by their mechanisms of sense perception. Science will often defer to religion on issues of human perception because scientific mechanisms only work in limited situations.
The human being seems to be able to perceive more than the limited five senses that materialistic science recognizes. Religion insinuates that there is something behind sense perception that can help the observer transcend the physical and find the living beings who create matter. Religion finds the commonality of beingness in both the object and subject of perception. In fact, some religions say that object and subject are made of the same substances and that human beings look out upon the world to “find themselves” looking back. The divine is within and the divine is without.
Other religions indicate that when the observer looks out upon the world he sees only illusion, maya, delusion and the source of suffering. Only suffering comes from the outside world in some Eastern beliefs. It is, in fact, the job of aspiring spiritual students to renounce the outside world of sensory delusion and find the sources of perception within the human being’s soul and spirit. For other spiritual aspirants, it is thinking itself that is the bridge that can span the abyss between the inner world of the human being and the outer world of sense perception. Some religions, in whole or part, deny the outer world, while other religions totally embrace it and try to perfect the aspirant by transforming the world.
Meditation is often cited by scientists and spiritual aspirants as a way to “change” the observer’s perspective of what she is perceiving from the outside world. By focusing on inner perception of human consciousness, the meditator somehow changes herself and thereby also changes her relationship to sense perception of the outside world. A spiritual aspirant might suffer great austerities to bring about a change of consciousness that might ultimately change what the aspirant “perceives” in the outside world. No longer did desires of the outside world affect the peaceful inner world of the aspirant who had renounced outer pleasure. The outside world changes dramatically as it no longer has the same effects of “luring” the aspirant into indulgences of the material world.
Aspirants go through renunciations and purifications from sense perceptible pleasures to hopefully gain wisdom and insight from both the inner and outer worlds. Great sacrifices are made by these aspirants in search of wisdom and spiritual experience. The author is reminded of the words of William Blake (or contemporarily known through the lyrics of Van Morrison) who spoke of the sacrifices one must make to gain wisdom and experience in his poem, The Four Zoas:
“What is the price of Experience? Do men buy it for a song?
Or wisdom for a dance in the street? No, it is bought with the price
Of all that a man hath, his house, his wife, his children
Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy
And in the wither’d field where the farmer ploughs for bread in vain.”
The pursuit of wisdom is a common theme in religion and philosophy. Wisdom, often pictured as a woman, is sought in the outside world and seldom found. Wisdom is seen as the being behind Mother Nature who reveals Her hidden ways to the aspirant who has searched long and hard to hear the words of the Mother of Creation. Every religion and tradition has a name for Wisdom and usually the mission is to love Her with all your heart and then She shows you the paths of Wisdom which lead to spiritual development and fulfillment – enlightenment, if you will. The sum total of sense perception is seen as the “cloak” of the being of Wisdom. She is sometimes called Isis, of whom the aspirant is told: “Isis is the past, the present and the future. No one has lifted Her veil and lived.”
This veil is the mysterious divide between observer and observed, perceiver and perceived. It is the Wisdom behind Nature that is found when the aspirant is successful at lifting the veil, the cloak. But there still looms a threshold between the physical and spiritual worlds that stands between the aspirant and the embrace of the Being of Wisdom. This goal and revelation is a common thread that is found throughout the world religions and among other aspirants seeking truth and sound spiritual training.
Let us look at what some of the great thinkers have said about perception and see if we can find a common thread that runs through their ideas……………..
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