PERCEPTION AND REALITY

Our shared physical reality is the most common state of reality we experience, but it certainly isn’t the only one. Our nighttime dreams are another state, as are astral experiences, near-death experiences, and out-of-body experiences.

I regard these different levels of reality as being at different frequencies or energy levels. It’s like tuning into different TV channels. Physical reality seems slower, denser, and less malleable than the other levels.

Astral projection, out-of-body experiences, and near-death experiences could be said to occur at other frequencies than the physical universe. And within those there are a variety of sub-levels. People who are skilled at astral projection, for example, can visit different astral realms with unique properties. Some astral locales seem like close approximations of the physical world, while others are so different from physical reality they’re nearly impossible to describe.

Perhaps the best analogy I can use to describe these different realities is to compare them to states of matter. You’re intimately familiar with solid, liquid, and gas, since you interact with matter in those states every day. But did you know there are a lot more states of matter, including Bose-Einstein condensates, fermionic condensates, strange matter, degenerate matter, quark-gluon plasma, superfluids, supersolids, and possibly others? How much time do you spend interacting with those? Are they as real as solid, liquid, and gas, or some delusional physicists just make them up to convince someone to fund more of their expensive toys?

Just as there are different states of matter, there are different levels of reality. Every state of matter has unique physical and energetic properties, as do all the realms of reality your consciousness can perceive. Your inability to access all these states or realms at will is a limitation of your perceptual abilities.

I imagine you spend most of your time interacting with solids, liquids, and gases, but it’s believed that most of the matter in the visible universe is actually in the plasma state. So if you were to assume that the states of matter you interact with personally are the only ones that exist, you’d be very wrong. You’d also be wrong if you assumed those states were the most common. With respect to the vastness of the physical universe, your personal experience of matter is rather atypical. You’re basically living in a bubble.

Similarly, I think it would be just as big a mistake to assume that this physical reality is the only reality there is. I suspect this realm is only one among many, and I doubt it’s the most popular hangout for conscious beings. Some people have written fascinating books about their astral explorations, like Robert Monroe’s Far Journeys, and some astral realms appear to be rather crowded.

It’s common to deny the existence of what we haven’t personally experienced, but such behavior is rather limiting. I think a better attitude is to be an explorer. If you don’t know what’s out there, and you’re curious about it, go take a look around. You can use the maps created by others as a guide — at least to the extent you find them helpful. That’s a better approach than summarily claiming, “There be dragons.”

Opening ourselves up to what may exist but which hasn’t yet been observed is how we invite new experiences into our reality. This is not merely wishful thinking or open-mindedness. It is the process by which we creatively sculpt reality itself.

What is reality but a concept unique to each of us? Can anything be classed as real when our perceptions differ greatly on so many things? Just because we see something a particular way does not make it so. We can be so insistent sometimes that our way of seeing something is more right than someone else’s way.

Keep an open mind at all times and remember that a point of view is always valuable to each individual. I always used to class myself as someone who was ‘realistic’ but after contemplating this further I realised that the term ‘realistic’ means something very different entirely.

Putting Things Into Context

Lets take the example of war. There are some people who believe that war is necessary sometimes to get peace and then in order to keep the peace. There are other people who will believe that war is evil and should never be entered into no matter what. Who is right? Is war right or wrong? That’s just an example and I’m not here to answer that question.

I’m here to demonstrate that reality is a very fluid concept. What you see as real is only defined by your belief structure. Your version of what is real is only your perception of it; not what is so.

“We see the world, not as it is, but as we are” – Talmud

Choosing Your Perception

Here’s another example: Lets say an event occurs in your life. You have the choice about how your respond to it. Lets say you have a death in the family. (I use this example because of it’s something I’ve been through.) You can choose to see that event as something terrible and tragic to which you will respond accordingly. Or, you can choose to see that event and something that inspires you to make something more of your life; living every day as if it was the last, so to speak.

From that example you can see that you may or may not have control over the events in your life but you can certainly take control of how to respond to them. That part of life will always be within your power. This is where life gets interesting because you shape your own reality through your beliefs.

Your belief structure determines your perception which then ultimately determines how you respond to events. Going by that sequence you can then see that there is another place to start. You can choose to examine your beliefs and then choose to change them. That’s why I say that everything begins with a choice.

Skewed Perceptions

Human life is seen as very precious on Earth because people believe that humans are the top of the food chain. Other forms of life take second fiddle. It’s only a belief but the truth is many of these other life forms sustain us and were it not for them we wouldn’t be around any more. That is more a realistic than thinking that humans are superior.

There is no such thing as reality. There is only ‘your’ version of it which is essentially your perception. Remember that what you believe to be true is only as true as your worldly experience and it doesn’t go any further than that. Even many scientific theories are just that; they are theories! It doesn’t make them so.

Everyday scientists are making discoveries that are forcing them to throw out the old text books and write new ones. As much as we think we may know how life and the universe works I promise the limited knowledge will continue to re-written over the coming centuries.

It’s important to note that how you choose to perceive things is how they come across to you. Am I being a hypocrite in stating this? Is this just my reality? I guess in some ways yes I am being a bit of hypocrite but this in my theory on and universal principles. I believe that your power to choose how to perceive things makes them appear that way to you.

What is it that we perceive? What is the relationship among things-in-themselves, our sensation of them, and our understanding? Is understanding nothing more than the ideas generated by our sensations, as Locke believed? Or are there distinct Cartesian realms of thought and sense? And is there an external reality apart from our sensations?
Philosophers have troubled over such questions, for engaging them is to wrestle with the fundamentals of our ontologies and epistemologies. Until recent times, however, philosophers have had to deal with such questions without the help of any systematic psychological or relevant physiological knowledge. The philosopher was left largely to his own good sense, thought, and intuition. Now physiological and especially neurological knowledge, psychological laboratory research, and empirical analyses by Gestalt, field, and personality theorists, and psychoanalytic experience have given us a solid base for our understanding of perception. Rather than review the fascinating philosophical views of perception and their relationship to thought and reality, I will move directly to a rough sketch of the perceptual field and only allude to some of the more pertinent philosophical ideas in the process.

STIMULI AND PERCEPTIBLE

Perception is a dynamic conflict between the attempts of an outer world to impose an actuality on us and our efforts to transform this actuality into a self-centered perspective. Perception is a confrontation between an inward directed vector of external reality compelling awareness and an outward-directed vector of physiological, cultural, and psychological transformation. Where these vectors clash, where they balance each other, is what we perceive. This in sum is my view of perception.

To begin with, initially assume a reality outside our minds and bodies containing potentials and dispositions. Any aspect of this realm with the power to stimulate our senses (for example, sounds, heat, color, motion) may be called a determinable.

The determinable tries to become determinate or manifest as stimuli that strike our sensory receptors through a medium, as sound waves are carried by an atmosphere, or heat by a solid. What is a stimulus and what is a carrier or medium varies from sensation to sensation. Stimuli and carriers may be interchanged from one instant to another, the relative role depending on the perceptual focus and the determinable. The atmosphere may carry one stimulus and then generate stimuli itself (such as wind); the movement of a solid body may be stimulus to the eye, then the body itself may carry heat to our touch.

Once a stimulus is carried from the determinable to our sensory receptors, it then is altered and interpreted electrically by the body’s neurological system. Complex neural paths transmit the result from the receptors to somewhere in the brain. Let me call the resulting deposit in the brain the perceptible, and the neurological transmission system between receptors and perceptible the physiological medium.

Clearly what is directed toward us as a stimulus may differ from what is received as a perceptible. The external medium may alter the stimulus (as water does sound), or there may be no medium present to convey it (voices cannot be heard through a vacuum). Moreover, what is transmitted to our sensory receptors cannot be carried with fidelity to the brain. We can receive only a limited range of sounds, smells, and radiant energy; and what is within receivable range is altered physically in transmission to the brain. Thus, for example, the impulse frequency conveyed from the basilar membrane of the cochlea in the inner ear is not the same frequency as that of the impinging sound.

Animals clearly differ in their limitations for physiologically transmitting stimuli carried to their receptors. Each selectively interprets external reality physiologically within its own sensory sphere. There is a sensory sphere for us, a different one for dogs, another for cats, and so on. The fact that we have developed tools for extending our receptors (x-rays for example), and thus our sensory-sphere, does not alter the biological fact that the everyday external world we know through our perceptibles is but a transformation of stimuli of external reality.

The two different media which carry stimuli from the determinable to the brain. The movement from stimulus (the determinable) to medium to receptors to neural transmission to perceptible is a chain with each, event” in the chain being necessary but not sufficient for the one following it. The nature of this transformal chain and the existence of different sensory spheres for each animal argue against many varieties of realism and for some kind of dualism or perspectivism. Various forms of direct realism, such as naive realism–the view that there is what we sense–are untenable. What reaches our brain is not directly what is out there in its totality, although the perceptibles may be more or less patterned after external reality or comprise aspects or facets of realities as a landscape painting more or less copies the real terrain.

PERCEPTION AND CULTURE

 Perceptibles are what reach the brain, but they are not what may be perceived. Rather, perceptibles reach intuitive awareness through the cultural schema and the cultural system of meanings-values. The schema consists of the fundamental culture-given categories for making the perceptibles intelligible and the cultural framework for their interpretation. Cause and effect, relation, space, and time are such categories, as are, more specifically, up-down, right-left, and north-south. The schema provides orientation toward the perceptibles. The cultural system of meanings-values gives the perceptibles their significance, invests them with meaningfulness for us, informs them with design, assigns them purpose, and bestows them with value. The perceptibles are given their interpretative importance through the meanings-values system and oriented through the schema for our practical judgment and behavior. shows a perceptible passing through this entirely mental orientational and significance adding investiture, this cultural matrix, to become a percept. It is a percept which we apprehend, of which we are aware, of which we are conscious.
Some examples of perceptibles and percepts may clarify their difference. Now, what reaches the brain as perceptibles are nerve impulses that communicate a complex amorphous aggregation of color patches, motions, odors, sounds, and so on. A perceptible may be a particular sound or color patch or form. It has no identity as girl, knife, cloth, or John, for example, until it is mentally invested with these interpretations. For purposes of clarification, however, let me impose these elementary names on the perceptibles and put them in quotation marks to show that I have already imposed a primitive interpretation.

While our perceptual consciousness or awareness begins with percepts, we add to percepts a structure, a sculptured body that enables us to cognitively deal with them and make them intelligible. This conceptual stage of perception involves our fitting percepts and language together. This is the naming level, where percepts are turned into concepts connoting specific invariant properties (dispositions). The perceived blue patch becomes sky, the red somewhat spherical percept becomes an apple, the percept of a person becomes the President. Clearly, percept turns into concept through the cultural matrix. Our cultural learning largely determines that which we are consciously aware of and how we conceptually structure that awareness.

THE PERCEPTION OF REALITY

This account of perception is uncongenial with the views of various philosophers who equated sensations with perceptibles and then argued that we were directly aware of external reality through these sensations. Hobbes, Descartes (even in his dualism), Berkeley, Hume, and Locke believed that our percepts or concepts are directly based on or directly reflect our sensations. They differed on the relation of judgment and thought to sensations; but insofar as sensations (perceptibles) were concerned, they allowed little room for cultural influences to intervene between them and ideas (percepts): they did not appreciate the extent to which cultural learning and content transforms our perception, and the degree to which conscious sensations are culturally mediated perceptions of external reality. Previously, I had noted that the route from determinables as stimulus to our receptors and from receptors to perceptibles is at best an imperfect transmission. Now we also see that the mental alteration of perceptibles into percepts is a metamorphosis–a transformation–and not a simple transmission. It is a transformal process. Thus we find that the belief in direct realism, whether that we directly perceive (consciously) what is “out there” or that we perceive a representation (like a map) of what is there, is untenable, even though widely believed today among social scientists and very much an assumption underlying various views on social conflict and war.
However, I must hasten to add that psychologists would consider the above view of perception grossly inadequate–a biocultural perceptual determinism built on only a partial view of perception. And they would be correct. For what is missing so far is our psychological, our neuroses, anxieties, abilities, motivations, intentions, memories, and temperament. Moreover, the social psychologist would correctly add that I have ignored roles and expectations and the interactive link between behavior and perception. And not to be slighted, the psychoanalyst would yell above the clamor, “id, ego, superego!”

To see why we must ultimately incorporate psychological forces, consider the glaring omission of perceptual illusions or hallucinations from my account. We sometimes perceive what does not exist in external reality, or what we do perceive is grossly distorted beyond any cultural influences. Seeing pink elephants when drunk, having double vision, hearing ghosts, or touching holy apparitions, and the like are examples. Ideologically investing perceptibles with perceptually integrated themes, like capitalist exploitation, communist conspiracy, or Catholic plots are other perhaps more common distortions or illusions.

Consequently, while stimuli are necessary and not sufficient6 for excitation of our receptors, perceptibles are neither sufficient nor necessary for perception. First, the cultural schema and meanings-values system provide a perspective within which some perceptibles are given interpretation and some are ignored. Thus, the multitude of amorphous and varied perceptibles the brain receives as a result of a glance will be reduced to the perception of, say, a lion, a tree, or a pencil. Foreground and background may be omitted and unessential perceptibles other than the focal determinable will be ignored. That the brain receives perceptibles is therefore no guarantee that they are transformed into percepts. Second, we may perceive without any associated perceptible. We may project into external reality, for example, the visions of a holy person when no corresponding perceptible is being received by the brain. Therefore, perceptibles are also not necessary for percepts.

Then, how do we form percepts? What role in perception do perceptibles play, if neither necessary nor sufficient? For answers, we must reinterpret the psychological reality. We must now consider perceptibles as entering a field of psychological forces capable of executing them, or buffeting them about until, distorted and tattered, they reach awareness–a field also capable of creating within itself, and wholly out of local field forces, perspectives and percepts. We thus would find that as we increasingly view perception as being within a psychological field, the causal chain theory of perception, even as modified, becomes more untenable. External objects, what I call determinables, may generate stimuli, which become altered and selected through our physiological medium and transformed by our cultural matrix into perceptibles, but what we are aware of, that which we perceive, may only remotely correspond to the resulting perceptibles or may be wholly psychological inventions. That is, there is an active, psychological engagement in perception, a confrontation of external reality with a psychological reality, a clash of two worlds whose battle lines comprise our perception. Therefore, while useful as an initial provisional sketch, the simple view of perception as a unidirectional process running from external object to stimuli to receptors to perceptibles to percept to concept will have to be modified in favor of a dialectical field theory of perception.

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