Fallacy of Perception
Dr. Rebanta Bandyopadhyay
and then, I like to visit a website run by the Ramakrishna
Vedanta Society of Boston: www.vivekananda
.org. The adages quoted from various lectures and writings
of Vivekananda serve as extraordinarily refreshing nourishment
amidst the daily routine of life. The carefully selected excerpts
call for reflection and thought. It was on one of these routine
visits that I ventured a page further, wandered through the
archives of lectures from the swami, and stumbled upon a few
discourses on Jnana Yoga, delivered by Swami Vivekananda in
London on 21 June 1896:
is the tenacity with which man clings to the senses. Yet,
however substantial he may think the external world in which
he lives and moves, there comes a time in the lives of individuals
and of races when, involuntarily, they ask, 'Is this real?'
To the person who never finds a moment to question the credentials
of his senses, whose every moment is occupied with some
sort of sense-enjoyment - even to him death comes, and he
also is compelled to ask, 'Is this real?' … So long as there
is death, the question must come again and again, 'Is death
the end of all these things to which we are clinging, as
if they were the most real of all realities, the most substantial
of all substances?' The world vanishes in a moment and is
is indeed fascinating to ponder over the experience that is
life and question the reality of our existence. Not so long
ago, a very dear colleague - a well acclaimed scientist in
his own right - expressed his willingness to accept only that
which has been proven by 'science'. It is not uncommon to
come across others who subscribe to such extreme views, swayed
by either blind faith or the strictest practice of science.
While blind faith robs one of the joys of creative exploration,
it is unfortunate that 'scientific proof' is severely constrained
by the boundaries of science itself. Science, as we practise
it, is limited by the tools and means of the practitioner,
just as expression of feeling is limited by the linguistic
skills of the one expressing it. Emotions seen in expressive
faces can rarely be put into words - as the saying goes, a
picture is worth a thousand words. And there again, the pictures
are only as good as the resolution of the projection, photograph,
computer monitor, or eyesight of the observer, whichever the
case may be. A magnified look can easily expose the distinct
spots making up the image. But this view blurs the nuances
of the whole. The stars and planets in the sky appear tiny
to the eye, but we have come to know that they are not so!
Trees at a distance, and hills and mountains that appear to
be molehills, are larger than the eye would lead us to believe.
In fact, whatever we see, touch, hear, taste, and smell -
everything that we experience in our lives - is 'cooked',
'garnished', and served just right by (and for) our senses.
For people like me, the senses are the tools to interact with
the world outside. The sights that we see, the music that
we hear, the food we taste, the cool refreshing breeze that
soothes us in summer, are all experiences 'presented' to us.
They 'appear' real but could well be otherwise.
you imagine losing your ability to taste sweetness? Delicious
rasgullas would taste like bland spongy balls of cheese. Yet,
we cannot attribute the quality of 'sweetness' to the rasgulla
alone. Sweet taste is a culmination of the interaction between
the syrup in the rasgulla and the taste buds on the tongue.
If one of these is missing, there will not be any sweet rasgulla.
Likewise, an animal whose eyes are capable of receiving and
responding only to X-rays, and not to the frequencies of light
visible to most of us, would see the rest of the animal kingdom
as walking skeletons that have come alive by some strange
magic. Before the invention of microscopes, the existence
of microscopic unicellular organisms could not be verified
with certainty. Yet, suppose some perceivers were only capable
of seeing at an atomic resolution: they would barely notice
the ordered teams of atoms that we call molecules. Molecules
again combine to function as tissues and organs of an almost
infinitely larger organism: the billions and trillions of
molecules that flock together as gases, liquids, and solid
bodies of matter, and that respond to stimuli like light,
electricity, and magnetism, would be but figments of the imagination
for such perceivers.
this world as we experience it is only as much real as our
senses allow it to be. The truth, as we experience it through
our senses, is but the truth contained within the narrow boundaries
that are defined by these very same senses. A green outside
is real to the kid wearing glasses with green lenses, while
it is equally unreal to those that observe with their bare
eyes. The creation, this life, and all that we experience
in it are but something 'outside', seen through coloured lenses.
It presents itself in as many colours as you could make lenses:
a multidimensional puzzle, a medley of 'real illusions' viewed
with multi-coloured lenses!
we start to come to terms with the fallacies of perception,
our views about life tend to change. All attributes, relationships,
boundaries are shaken to their foundations and begin to melt
away. Blood relations are meaningless without the concept
of blood. Beautiful scenery is meaningless if there is no
scene to consider. Right and wrong are sundered perspectives
of one and the same thing. Alas - for most of us the senses
are still the limits of perception. It is not inconceivable
that the limits of perception could be stretched by rejuvenating
a dormant sense organ, at least by the few who appear to understand
more than the rest of us about such things. The five senses
are, unfortunately, designed to function in such a way that
only relative differences in stimuli can be perceived. Take
the case of touch. We tend not to realize that our body is
constantly touch with a gaseous atmosphere till there is a
'change' in air pressure - the wind blows, and we feel the
breeze. The same applies to vision, smell, taste, and sound.
It is only the relative difference in stimuli that can be
perceived. An absolute homogenous infinite that is changeless
would not be perceived by these senses. In fact, the dimension
of time, which is no more than an index for change, would
cease to exist where there is no change.
presence of an absolute is not implicit in our discussions
about the relative and the bounded. We cannot, of course,
deny it either. If attributes, boundaries, constraints that
define distinct phases of matter exist and are true only because
of perception, then one could presume that an absolute homogeneity
exists beyond perception. Since, by definition, the perception
(or measurement and detection) of the absolute cannot be undertaken
in relative terms, most human beings are incapable of perceiving
the absolute. To perceive any timeless, changeless,
homogenous absolute one has to reach beyond the set of tools
available to the average human. In fact, the only way to verify
the presence of the absolute is by identifying oneself with
the absolute. In absolute terms, where differences cease to
exist, there can be no subject and object. It is all one and
the same. Aham asmi.
perhaps, will have to stop here. Such cut-and-dry observations
of the world and contemplation of what is beyond do not necessarily
invoke the concept of a loving, caring Absolute. Neither do
they provide for the existence of a benevolent benefactor,
a leader, the overseer of this creation-a God, as most of
us wish Him (or Her or It) to be.