"Religion is the idea which is raising the brute unto man, and man unto God." - Swami Vivekananda












PRABUDDHA BHARATAPrabuddha Bharata | December 2006  







Fallacy of Perception



Dr. Rebanta Bandyopadhyay




     Now 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:

     Great 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 gone.

     It 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.

     Can 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.

     Hence, 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!

     As 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.

     The 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.


     Reason, 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.

International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015






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