Perception: I/Thou

There are just two kinds of subjects of perception; the natural and the man-made. The natural is God’s Creation, the man-made, man’s creation, employing elements of Creation. The proper relationship between the perceiver and the perceived is one of subject to subject. All of experienced reality is symbolic. It is a symbol of the creative mind of the 9Creator, and/or the creative mind of Man. All conscious creatures participate in meonic Freedom which makes creativity possible. This perspective is indicated by the mystic William Blake; “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”[1] And in Auguries of Innocence, Blake wrote the lines:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 

And Eternity in an hour[2]

Max Leyf comments: Plato calls both light and vision “ἡλιοειδῆ,” or “sun-like,” and Plotinus elaborates the analogy by observing that the organ that is to perceive a phenomenon must itself participate the nature of that same phenomenon: “No eye ever saw the sun without becoming sun-like, nor can a soul see beauty without becoming beautiful.” Goethe further develops the connection to disclose a temporal or phylogenetic dimension to the ideal or metaphysical relationship: “Out of indifferent animal organs the light produces an organ to correspond to itself, and so the eye is formed by the light for the light so that the inner light might meet the outer.”

God Himself is intangible and incorporeal. Our true nature; the inner subject, has many of the same properties as God. God comes prior to Being. And then Being points back to its Creator, much as Paley’s Watch, the watch found on an otherwise deserted island indicates that humans were there, without resembling humans in any way.

Berdyaev sometimes writes that God did not create objective reality. (Let us call it “objectified reality.”) We did. Objectified reality is generated by the Fall. And the Fall is a fall of consciousness and aesthetic appreciation. The subject/object dichotomy indicates alienation. The object stands over against the subject as a thing foreign to it. Hegel suggests that beautiful things should be regarded as a person with whom one is trying to communicate. Plato described beauty as a visitor from another realm. Beautiful things pull back the curtain separating heaven and earth and give a glimpse of the divine. All of the natural landscape is beautiful. Many man-made things are not, or at least, are hard to experience as such. They used to be. Even scientific instruments like sextants were formerly engraved and embossed with decorative elements. People in Europe spent centuries constructing gorgeous cathedrals inspired by thoughts and experiences of God. People find strip malls and other ugliness alienating. We find a home in beauty. So, we should aim to make our surroundings as beautiful as possible.

Markel, the older brother of Father Zossima in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov who dies from consumption at the age of seventeen, experiences a religious conversion shortly before he dies and asks forgiveness of nature and the birds for not having properly appreciated their beauty. Berdyaev oftentimes expresses his alienation from a hostile objectified reality, to the degree that he is sometimes accused of being a Gnostic. This just means that he too is fallen, and despite being a mystic, prophet, and philosopher, he had a tendency to experience what seemed like objectified reality: a world of objects that stand against the individual. This is related to Heidegger’s complaint of the instrumental frame of mind that looks at a forest and calculates the number of planks the trees could be made into. This does not describe the world that God created.

“I am human and nothing human is foreign to me,” comes from a play by Terence and the character uttering these words is using them to justify malicious gossiping about his neighbors. But, people have found it to express a beautiful and true sentiment. So, perhaps when we see artificial things that we normally regard as ugly, we should look at them as things created by our brothers. Even an ugly building on an uninhabited foreign planet would indicate that intelligent life had been there, though perhaps morally stunted in some way, like the rest of us. Despite its apparent ugliness, we would regard it with wonder and excitement.

Creation should be regarded as a friend with whom one communes, subject to subject. Again, this is relatively easy with regard to nature and can be harder with regard to the man-made. Perhaps, the ugly and man-made can be redeemed through achieving the right state of mind. Better, however, that man-made reality be easy to regard as beautiful, rather than taking the efforts of a moral hero. We should be taught to appreciate beauty and beauty should be a common topic in the school curriculum with outstanding items of beauty being held up for contemplation, whether literary, artistic, musical, or architectural.

Perception is inherently connected to beauty. Or, at least it ought to be. Traditionally, beauty, truth, and goodness have been regarded as three aspects of the same thing. A beautiful world is a good world. And, the true world is also the beautiful and good one. Sometimes, weakness of the organism; a lack of sleep or energy, a physical pain, a passing bad mood with perhaps bodily origins, stop us from appreciating beauty and produce in perception an alienated and objectified reality. Real objective reality is one with the subject. It is one where a friendly attitude is taken to the world. The world is a symbol of the internal life of spirit expressed outwardly through nature or artificial products.

Aristotle writes that light is a precondition for visual perception. Plato’s Socrates in the Theatetus, speaks of whiteness11 being generated by the seeing eye and the object. But, this kind of description of perception is an abstraction – taking “whiteness” in isolation – and takes a proto-scientific attitude to the topic. It is reminiscent of scientistic theologians who are determined to discover of what things are made. Is the true substrate from which things are constructed physical, or actually spiritual? Some of them then claim that quantum mechanics proves they are spiritual. But, it does not matter from what substrate your friend is made – whether that friend is nature, man-made items, or another person. What matters is how he is experienced and with what frame of mind he is approached. Subject to subject is the realm of truth, goodness, and beauty. Socrates describes the experience of an object of perception as involving an agent and patient. The appropriate phrase that should be used in that context is an “object of perception.” The object is described by Socrates as being a patient, not a friend. And not a visitor from another divine realm. It is not a symbol of the divine inner life of God or man. Socrates gets closer to a more satisfactory viewpoint when he emphasizes that perception should primarily be thought of as a product of mind. We see through the eyes, with the eyes being a mere instrument of perception. We see with our minds. Experience is part of the mystery of consciousness. And our minds can look at a red Jazzmaster guitar and a Fender Twin Reverb amplifier and see or feel the mind of its designer and maker.

It was Kepler who introduced an intromission only theory of perception. Instead of communion, there is a one-way stream of “information.” Light comes in through our eyes, creates an inverted image on our retinas, and sight is generated. Except, he was entirely silent about how these upside down images on our retinas – two of them – are converted into vision in the mind. In effect, mind was banished from the description, just as behaviorists did in the twentieth century. Galileo then divided the world into primary and secondary qualities. Locke described the primary qualities as solidity, figure, motion, extension, and number. Only these were regarded as real because measurable. Secondary qualities are derived from the senses and include color, sound, feeling, smell, and touch. These are all regarded as nonexistent since they exist only in minds, it was claimed, not in the objects themselves. This banishes minds from that which is thought to exist, which happens to be a usefully instrumental pretense in scientific endeavors. Ignore the subjective and the subject, and focus on objects – those things alienated from the subject-to-subject paradigm. There can be no remotely satisfactory scientific theory of perception because perception exists in the mind which is inaccessible to science.

12Kepler’s and Galileo’s innovations have an additionally horrifying consequence. As well as denuding the world of things like color and sound, and equating color merely with frequencies of light – a mere precondition for color – they introduced a kind of solipsism; a prison of the mind. The intromission only theory is of a piece with the representational theory of perception. The intromission only theory of perception involves a gross redundancy. The intromission only theory of perception claims that when we look at the world outside us, we see nothing. There is absolutely nothing there. The world outside us is a completely unknowable enigma that we never ever experience. You think your wife is sitting there on your porch, eating and drinking with you, in a very pleasant Oswego, New York, summer. But, she is not. She is a little doll. And she lives in your head. Only you can see her. She is trapped in there. As far as you are concerned, she has never left the confines of your skull. You have never actually seen her, and she has yet to meet you. Not only is she trapped in there, but all the world that you are aware of is too. Your brain is so all powerful, that it has recreated brick by brick your entire reality and constructed it to live inside you. You have never seen anything at all. At least, not any real objects or people. Instead of looking at your wife, or husband, you make a little model in your head and look at that. That is the representational theory of perception. The world presents itself to you and then you re-present it. When your loved one gazes into your eyes, she is actually looking at the little model of you trapped in her skull, never to get out, perhaps scared of the dark. She only looks inward. She would not recognize you if she saw the real you. She has never seen the real you. Only her model. She is, in effect, blind. Or perhaps, mad; living in a phantom world.

According to the intromission only theory of perception, when you look at the sky, you are not looking at the sky. You are looking at a representation of the sky inside your brain which is inside your skull. When you see star light coming from the other side of the universe – perhaps with a telescope – from far back in time, that light is not in fact coming from the other side of the universe. Not the light you are looking at. You are looking at a little replica of that star light. On the other side of the sky – the sky that extends up, up, up in endless blue, fading into black where the SR-71 Blackbird flew – is your own skull.[3] But, you have never actually seen your own skull or the top of your own head. What you think is your skull, is actually an image inside your skull. You have not seen it. No one will ever see it. Because no one has ever seen anything that actually exists out there in the world.

The intromission theory of perception is the Matrix. The alternative is that people, plants, man-made items, are just where you think they are. Your wife or husband is sitting there eating, drinking, smiling, and you are looking at them and listening to them. You are not looking at a model or representation of them. You are looking at them and they look back. If you are concerned that there is some illusion, reach out and touch them to reassure yourself.

Our brains are energy hungry entities. They consume 20% of all our calories despite being maybe 2% of our body weight. Why would it bother to recreate all of reality when all of reality is sitting right there? The recreation is redundant and unnecessary.  I do not need to go away and make a replica of my wife; a little doll of her. I can just look at her. I look at stars too and perhaps they look back. The sun is far more complicated than a mere brain. It is fun to imagine that it might be conscious.[4] The electro-magnetic aspects of the brain exist within the electro-magnetic field of the sun. Perhaps it knows what you are thinking.


Thanks to Thomas F. Bertonneau and Max Leyf for their correspondence and suggestions on this topic. Tom reminded me of the connection between beauty and perception that I have liked in the past, but had forgotten about in this context.

[1] The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

[2] In a letter addressed to John Trusler, dated August 23, 1799, Blake wrote: And I know that this world is a world of imagination and vision. I see every thing I paint in this world, but everybody does not see alike. To the eyes of a miser a guinea is far more beautiful than the Sun, and a bag worn with the use of money has more beautiful proportions than a vine filled with grapes. The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity, and by these I shall not regulate my proportions; and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. As a man is, so he sees.

[3] Stephen Lehar points this out. The trouble is, he believes it.

[4] The topic of intromission has been adapted from a chapter called “Are Minds in Brains?” in Rupert Sheldrake’s book: Science Set Free.

12 thoughts on “Perception: I/Thou

    • Thank you, kennethlafave1. Actually, Facebook has banned all posts from the Orthosphere, no matter how innocuous. I have no idea what got them to this decision, since they won’t tell us, or anyone. You would think we were too eggheady, but apparently not. A lot of my posts end up on Voegelinview within a month or so, as they have yet to be prohibited.

  1. In Olaf Stapledon’s novel Star Maker (1937), suns turn out to be cerebral; they are, indeed, ensouled. Neither party (the suns nor the animalia of the universe) suspected that the other party harbored intelligence. The discovery elevates spirit to a new level of cosmic cooperation.

    • That’s very nice. I started reading a woman remarking on the intelligence of plants, but it turned into an anti-human scapegoating exercise, instead of “mind and intelligence are more pervasive than we normally think,” which is my preferred attitude on the topic.

    • Thanks, pbw. She doesn’t normally read my stuff. She’s a linguist, not a philosopher, but I think the photo motivated her to ask me to send it to her.

  2. I copied and pasted the article to my facebook feed, with attribution of course, along with the Newton illustration. If I include the url, they flag it, so i encode it with ‘dot’ instead of ‘.’. Why they consider Orthosphere spam is just ludicrous of course.

  3. Thank you, Richard, for another lucid and refreshing essay.

    I think a fundamental source of confusion for modern people is the manner in which scientific thinking conditions us to think of light as a physical object or substance or particle, on the one hand, and to pretend that we do not exist, on the other. Reification and nihilism, the two horns of Ahriman, as it were. The metaphors of the physicists serve to inform their own conceptions in ways they probably do not understand. A traditionally philosophical view of light sees it not as a wave or a particle, or anything else, but as the condition of visibility. It is on the threshold between the latent and the manifest, the potential and the actual. Hence, as Aristotle says, light makes potential colours into actual ones. This was also Goethe’s view and behind his polemics against Newton and the Newtonian theory of optics. From this perspective, it is self-evident that extramission is correct and no verification through scientific instruments is necessary to prove this. Instead, the proof is contained in the experience of vision and intelligibility. The fact that we can make sense of external events implies that, whatever else is happening, vision is extending beyond the physical organs of vision. Otherwise I would be trying to make sense of phenomena that did not contain their own cause since they would be mere internal representations of real phenomena.

    It can be demonstrated that the interior of the eye is illuminated in favorable external conditions and that this illumination serves to stimulate various nerves in the retinae, optic nerves, and visual cortices, etc. But, as you indicated, nothing in this picture establishes that these physical and physiological phenomena have anything to do with vision other than the fact that if they are damaged or altered, that a correlative effect in vision is ordinarily observed. But it begs the very question that is at issue to imply that this correlation proves the intromission theory because the effect may just as well be the result of having tampered with the physical organs of extramission.

    Finally, any argument against extramission tacitly affirms it because if intromission alone were correct, then each of us could only dispute his own private representations. What does it mean that this often seems to be the case? I don’t think it disproves extramission because if only intromission were true, it would be impossible to notice.

    • Thanks, Max! That all sounds good. You are better versed in this than me. We would be stuck at the incontrovertibility of “It seem to me that…” with intromission only. It would always be true, and there would be no disputing it. You can’t see my internal image/model to argue with it, and I can’t see yours. Well known illusions and tromp l’oeil would not be a thing without extramission. “Yes, I know it looks 3-D, but it’s not. See?”

      I like Aristotle’s idea about light making potential colors actual. I didn’t know about that.

      Intromission is impossibly solipsistic. The Matrix and brains in vats, but Morpheus can’t come and rescue us because he lives inside our heads too.

      • Just for reference, here is Plato:

        “Apply this to sense:—When the eye and the appropriate object meet together and give birth to whiteness and the sensation connatural with it, which could not have been given by either of them going elsewhere, then, while the sight is flowing from the eye, whiteness proceeds from the object which combines in producing the colour; and so the eye is fulfilled with sight, and really sees, and becomes, not sight, but a seeing eye; and the object which combined to form the colour is fulfilled with whiteness, and becomes not whiteness but a white thing, whether wood or stone or whatever the object may be which happens to be coloured white1. And this is true of all sensible objects, hard, warm, and the like, which are similarly to be regarded, as I was saying before, not as having any absolute existence, but as being all of them of whatever kind generated by motion in their intercourse with one another; for of the agent and patient, as existing in separation, no trustworthy conception, as they say, can be formed, for the agent has no existence until united with the patient, and the patient has no existence until united with the agent; and that which by uniting with something becomes an agent, by meeting with some other thing is converted into a patient.”

        —Plato, Theatetus

  4. Pingback: Perception: rewrite – The Orthosphere


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