Perception “A single unified meaning obtained from sensory processes while a stimulus is present.”
Definition from the American College Dictionary
Perception “How I see, what I see, when I see it.”
Definition of perception by the “Average Joe”
To our human senses some things just seem concrete. Take the color red for example; unless one were clinically color blind, he would not argue that blue was red or vice versa. So it would seem that the color red is concrete to our human senses. Red is always red, no matter who happens to be looking at it, and to argue the point would either gain you the label of “fool” or a trip to the optometrist. But is red really “red” to everyone? In the sense of sight it would seem to be so, but other senses come into play as well.
Red has connotations to one person that it may not have to another. To one person the color red brings back memories of cool autumn days, bonfires, and hayrides, in essence red has become a feeling of happiness and contentment for this particular person. But to another person red is a warning. Red is the memory of a nightmare car wreck that took this person’s mobility and claimed the life of a family member. Red is fear, sadness and depression for this person. The two people would not “perceive” red as being “red” because to each person it is a wholly different thing. From this we can ascertain that perception is made up of more than what the physical senses perceive, but also is the inclusion of the non-physical senses of experience, and intuition.
Plato supposed that the highest good for all men was that good which benefited all. Plato implied that this good was devoid of freedom, but enslaved to the needs of the whole. Kierkegaard retaliated that the highest good for any person is to find an occupation in which that person was impassioned. That the highest good was for each person to rely on personal experience and free choice to become what ever they might choose. In this way strengthening the ideals of all people and assuming that the individual choices would all meld together in a greater good for all. But both fail to continue the question to the next logical level. What exactly is the greater good, and assuming that we might learn what it is, how then might every man, no matter his place in life, seek to meet the demands of such good for his brethren?
This is the crux of perception, the very nail that separates a dream of a concrete and absolute reality from the truth of subjectivity. Mankind yearns for the truth. The human organism as a unit has spent the greater part of its existence asking the question “why?” and receiving for its efforts very little in the way of “concrete” answers. Every form and style of philosophy seems to promote its way of thinking as being the most accurate and useful way of finding the concrete truth, or at the very least finding a suitable, attainable simulacrum of such. The art of philosophy has become choked by so many “perceptions” of reality that many would-be students become overwhelmed with the immensity of it, that they give up before they ever really begin to study.
For example think about climbing to the summit of a great hill. Once there, you are promised a view of the whole truth, so you become excited at the prospect of finally knowing the answer to the “big” question. Only when you get to the summit, and stand at its edge, you can only see a small portion of the answer itself. To see more of the answer you must walk to a different viewpoint. Suddenly you begin to make a realization; the truth is so much larger than the hilltop itself, that no matter where you happen to be standing on the hilltop, you can never see more than a small portion of the truth. This is the problem of perception, and its component part; perspective.
Perspective “The appearance of objects with reference to relative position, distance, etc.”
Definition from the American College Dictionary
Perspective “How I see, what I see, when I see it.”
Definition of perspective by the “Average Joe”
Our perspective often colors our perception of a particular thing or event. Perspective gives one the sense of positioning in a physical state, but can also be applied to a deeper sense of mental or spiritual positioning as well. With the barriers of perspective and perception in the way of our discovering the truth, how can we ever hope to see beyond to a more “concrete” understanding of events?
The answer to the question is, “we cannot”, nor is it necessary to do so. Alfred North Whitehead, an eminent philosopher in the school of “process thought’ says that “things” do not exist in a concrete form at any particular point in time, but instead are in “process” of becoming a true “thing”. To go back to our example of the hilltop, picture the “answer” as not being fully formed yet, but still being worked on. So even if you were at some point able to elevate yourself enough to see the entire “answer” you would still not see the whole thing because it is not finished yet. Nor could you wait for it to be finished, because at every turn, your perception of the answer would change because of the internal changes going on within your own existence, and the answer itself would be changed as each new aspect was added to it. At every instance a “new” perspective would be formed and the “answer” would change for you. This happens because every new instance changes the structure of the perceived moment. Every time a person (a particular instance), comes into contact with another particular instance (another person, change of view, a book being read, etc) both instances become new. The person is never the same after having read the book, and the book is never again the same after having been read. The person has gained new information and memories causing a novel change in that person’s perception. The book has been touched, pages have been bent, the binding has been weakened, so the book has also passed through a novel change and become altered. At this point we must ask the obvious question; if this is true, then is there no concrete answer to be had?
In essence there is no concrete reality, only the illusion of such because humans only perceive the moment. The depth of the situation in which all humanity finds itself is that in no way can we be elevated to a position of seeing the entire truth. Even if such where possible the intricate play of perception and novel change would constantly alter the answer for which we sought. The idea of absolute concreteness is illusion, brought about by the interplay of sensual perception, reflective memory and personal conviction. It seems to be that these very components constitute our humanity but at the same moment prevent us from answering the most human of questions; “Why do we exist?”
Let us look at another example of such interplay, this time using the most common of human activities; eating an apple. As a fellow is walking home at lunch he happens to pass a storefront window, in which sets a large basket of ripe, red apples. Being that he has had nothing to eat since early morning his sense of sight alerts his stomach and salivary glands to the presence of food. This alert causes a certain release of chemicals into his blood stream that cause him to “feel” hungry. His memory then replays several joyful times as a child when he ate apples from his grandmother’s apple tree. He is in close proximity to the food, which will relieve the distressful feeling of hunger, and he is in possession of enough funds with which to purchase the apple, so he enters the store and does so. Once back onto the street the fellow wipes the apple with his sleeve and then bites into it. Upon doing so the apple is revealed to have a worm at its core and the man has bitten off half of the loathsome creature. Spitting out the bite of apple, he then tosses the remaining apple to the birds. It can be almost certainly assumed that the next time the fellow sees an apple he will not think so highly of them, and most likely wont consider them as proper food for a hungry stomach.
In this case we see simple reactions have changed the man’s perception about the “truth” of apples. If asked before the incident with the apples whether or not he enjoyed such fruit, he most likely would have answered that he most certainly did. But after the incident we would receive an altogether different answer. Is the man lying in either case? Should we assume that this man couldn’t be trusted since he is obviously a fool who cannot make up his own mind? Of course not, it is the right of people to change their minds, particularly following such a disgusting incident. This is the contradiction, in both cases the event was real, and its outcome real. Both experiences where truth yet those truth’s where opposed, so in this we must assume that there is more than one truth, that is to say more than an absolute truth. If there is not absolute truth, then truth must be relational, and relational truth is based on the experience and choice of the observer. We have seen that all such choices are based on the three parameters of sense, memory, and conviction. If truth is then relational then it becomes subjective, and truth cannot be subjective or it is no longer truth but is manipulated by the parameters of each person to become an idea only perceptible by the one who experienced it.
At this point then, we are relegated to make the statement that absolute truth in non-existent, and secondarily that relational truth is non-existent. So then we must ask; “Does truth exist, and if so in what form does it so exist, and can this form be perceived by all or only some?”
Truth: “A verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle or the like.”
Definition from the American Collage Dictionary
Truth: “What I know that I know that I know.”
Definition of truth by “ the average Joe.”
As has been seen, the pursuit of truth has been mankind’s greatest and most prolonged activity, most likely since our very beginnings as thinking creatures. But perhaps it is in the pursuit of this enigma that we have missed it? Let us look at the definition; “verified”, this word assuming that truth is subject to observation or experimentation. “Indisputable ”, in essence this portion speaks of absolutes, that truth is a substance which cannot be muted in any way. “Fact, proposition or principle”, these three being the foundation of the progression of truth in human endeavor. A “fact” is the assumed absolute idea. A “Proposition” being the conveyance of said idea to another. A “principle” being the acceptance of said idea by another, thusly propagating the passing on of truth from one to another. So, herein we see that truth is not truth unless it can:
A. Be absolute and immutable
B. Be conveyed in an idea by a person
C. Be accepted by another person
We have seen that there can be no absolute truth, because truth is seemingly mutable by the person experiencing the events particular to that truth. Since man has no way of accurately portraying his own sensual experience or particular memories (especially those that might be unconscious), we cannot then assume that such things might be conveyed without flaw to another. So we are then left with conviction, and this in and of itself seems to be the very basis for human truth. If in a person’s own private experience that person can generate a strong personal conviction, one that seems strong enough to be shared. Then if that person should have the charisma and intellect to put forth that conviction before others in a reasoned manner. Then that conviction might become truth to those who accept it even though they have not personally experienced the novel changes that have given birth to the conviction.
We see this pattern happening continually, and it is most often given the name “tradition”. Father’s pass down the “do’s and don’ts” of manhood to their sons, and mothers pass on similar “truths” to their daughters. As a boy scout we are taught, “black and yellow, kill a fellow. Red on black, friend to Jack.” This warns us of the dangers of a certain snake species that might be encountered on a hike or camping trip.
Such traditions permeate all cultures and societies, and they are helpful and meant to teach civility, safety and prosperity. But such convictions have also produced the most horrible movements in human history. Regimes such as Hitler’s Nazi’s and the Arabic Baath party grew from such convicted individuals, as well as the practice of slavery throughout the world and down through history. Slave keepers where convicted that their slaves where less than human, not in need of the basic tenant of freedom that they themselves so enjoyed.
We must then ask another question; “If our concept of truth is simply founded on the idea of personal conviction, and the ability of the individual to pass that conviction on to others, is it no wonder that the world we inhabit is profoundly filled with pain and suffering?”