Perception Is Everything
Recently a model of human perception has occurred to me. Perception is like that “screen” of appearance before us in our waking hours that is turned off when we are asleep. Yet, it appears to us it does not really turn off during slumber when we remember dreams we have had before we awoke. The moments just before we “nod off” or just as we awake seem as times when perception is “half-way” turned on. The “fuzziness” of this “half-way switch” is clearly apparent in those mornings we awake and momentarily do not know the location of exactly where we slept.
Say I am sitting in an enclosed room with a large card painted uniformly with a bright red color. Focusing upon only my visual sensation, suppressing the facts I am also sensing the tactile signals of sitting in a chair with my feet on the floor as well as peripherally seeing “in the corner of my eye” the walls and other features of the room, I am only visually observing the color “red,” all for simplicity. Light from the card enters my eyes and is photo-electrically and electro-chemically processed into visual signals down my optic nerve to the parts of my brain responsible for my vision. The result of this process is the perception of the color “red” on the “screen” of my perception. If I were to describe this perception to myself I would simply imagine the word “red” in my head (or the word “red” in some other language if my “normal” spoken language was not English); were I to describe this perception to someone else in the room, say, a friend standing behind me, I would say, “I am seeing the color red,” again in the appropriate language.
Yet, if my friend could somehow see into my head and observe my brain as I claimed to be seeing red, that person would not experience my sensation or perception of “red.” He/she would see, perhaps with the help of medical instrumentation, biochemical reactions and signals on and in my brain cells. Presumably when I perceive red at a different moment in time later on, the observer of my brain would see the same pattern of chemical reactions and bio-electrical signals.
On the “screen” of my perception, I do NOT see the biochemistry of my brain responsible for my perception of red; were I to observe inside the head of my friend in the room while he/she was also focusing on the red card, I would NOT see his/her “screen” of perception, but only the biochemical and bio-electrical activity of his/her brain. It is IMPOSSIBLE to experience (to perceive) both the subjective perception of red and observe the biochemistry responsible for the same subjective perception within the same person. We can hook up electrodes to our own head to a monitor which we observe at the same time we look at red, but we would only be seeing just another representation of the biochemistry forming our perception, not the biochemistry itself, as well as perceiving the red perception. I call this impossibility “the subjective trap.”
And yet, my friend and I make sense of each of our very individual impossibilities, of each of our very personal subjective traps, by behaving as if the other perceives red subjectively exactly the same, and as if our biochemical patterns in our respective brains are exactly the same. We are ASSUMING these subjective and biochemical correlations are the same, but we could never show this is the case; we cannot prove our individual perceptions in our own head are the same perceptions in other heads; we cannot ever know that we perceive the same things that others around us perceive, even if focusing upon the exact same observation. The very weak justification of this assumption is that we call our parallel perceptions, in this scenario, “red.” But this is merely the learning of linguistic labels. What if I were raised in complete isolation and was told that the card was “green?” I would say “green” when describing the card while my friend, raised “normally” would say “red.” (Note I’m stipulating neither of us is color blind.) Such is the nature of the subjective trap.
[If one or both of us in the room were color-blind, comparison of visual perceptions in the context of our subjective traps would be meaningless — nothing to compare or assume. In this scenario, another sensation both of us could equally perceive, like touching the surface of a piece of carpet or rubbing the fur of a cute puppy in the room with us, would be substituted for seeing the color red.]
The subjective trap suggests the dichotomy of “objective” and “subjective.” What we perceive “objectively” and what we perceive “subjectively” do not seem to overlap (though they seem related and linked), leading to a separation of the two adjectives in our culture, which has a checkered history. Using crude stereotypes, the sciences claim objectivity is good while subjectivity is suspect, while the liberal arts (humanities) claim subjectivity is good while objectivity is ignorable. Even schools, colleges, and universities are physically laid out with the science (including mathematics and engineering) buildings on one end of the campus and the liberal arts (including social studies and psychology) buildings on the other. This is the “set-up” for the “two cultures'” “war of words.” I remember as an undergraduate physics major debating an undergraduate political science major as we walked across campus which has had the greatest impact upon civilization, science or politics? We soon came to an impasse, an impasse that possibly could be blamed, in retrospect over the years, on the subjective trap. Ideas about the world outside us seemed at odds with ideas about our self-perception; where we see ourselves seemed very different from whom we see ourselves; what we are is different from whom we are.
Yet, despite being a physics major and coming down “hard” on the “science side” of the argument, I understood where the “subjective side” was coming from, as I was in the midst of attaining, in addition to my math minor, minors in philosophy and English; I was a physics major who really “dug” my course in existentialism. It was as if I “naturally” never accepted the “two cultures” divide; it was as if I somehow “knew” both the objective and the subjective had to co-exist to adequately describe human experience, to define the sequence of perception that defines a human’s lifespan. And, in this sense, if one’s lifespan can be seen as a spectrum of perception from birth to death of that individual, then, to that individual, perception IS everything.
How can the impossibility of the subjective trap be modeled? How can objectivity and subjectivity be seen as a symbiotic, rather than as an antagonistic, relationship within the human brain? Attempted answers to these questions constitute recent occurrences inside my brain.
Figure 1 is a schematic model of perception seen objectively – a schematic of the human brain and its interaction with sensory data, both from the world “outside” and from the mind “inside.” The center of the model is the “world display screen,” the result of a two-way flow of data, empirical (or “real world” or veridical) data from the left and subjective (or “imaginative” or non-veridical) data from the right. (Excellent analogies to the veridical/non-veridical definitions are the real image/virtual image definitions in optics; real images are those formed by actual rays of light and virtual images are those of appearance, only indirectly formed by light rays due to the way the human brain geometrically interprets signals from the optic nerves.) [For an extensive definition of veridical and non-veridical, see At Last, A Probable Jesus [August, 2015]] Entering the screen from the left is the result of empirical data processed by the body’s sense organs and nervous system, and entering the screen from the right is the result of imaginative concepts, subjective interpretations, and ideas processed by the brain. The “screen” or world display is perception emerging to the “mind’s eye” (shown on the right “inside the brain”) created by the interaction of this two-way flow.
Figure 1 is how others would view my brain functioning to produce my perception; Figure 1 is how I would view the brains of others functioning to produce their perceptions. This figure helps define the subjective trap in that I cannot see my own brain as it perceives; all I can “see” is my world display screen. Nor can I see the world display screens of others; I can only view the brains of others (outside opening up their heads) as some schematic model like Figure 1. In fact, Figure 1 is a schematic representation of what I see if I were to peer inside the skull of someone else. (Obviously, it is grossly schematic, bearing no resemblance to brain, nervous system, and sense organ physiology. Perhaps many far more proficient in neuro-brain function than I, and surely such individuals in future, can and will correlate those terms on the right side of Figure 1 with actual parts of the brain.)
Outside data collectively is labeled “INPUT” on the far left of Figure 1, bombarding all the body’s senses — sight, sound, smell and taste, heat, and touch. Data that stimulates the senses is labeled “PERCEPTIVE” and either triggers the autonomic nervous system to the muscles for immediate reaction (sticking your fingers into a flame) necessarily not requiring any processing or thinking, or, goes on to be processed as possible veridical data for the world display. However, note that some inputs for processing “bounce off” and never reach the world display; if we processed the entirety of our data input, our brains would “overload,” using up all brain function for storage and having none for consideration of the data “let in.” This overloading could be considered a model for so-called “idiot savants” who perceive and remember so much more than the “average” person (“perfect memories”), yet have subnormal abilities for rational thought and consideration. Just how some data is ignored and some is processed is not yet understood, but I would guess that it is a process that differs in every developing brain, resulting in no two brains, even those of twins, accepting and rejecting data EXACTLY alike. What is for sure is that we have evolved “selective” data perception over hundreds of thousands of years that has assured our survival as a species.
The accepted, processed data that enter our world display in the center of Figure 1 as veridical data from the outside world makes up the “picture” we “see” on our “screen” at any given moment, a picture dominated by the visual images of the objects we have before us, near and far, but also supplemented by sound, smell, tactile information from our skin, etc. (This subjective “picture” is illustrated in Figure 2.) The “pixels” of our screen, if you please, enter the subjective world of our brain shown on the right of Figure 1 in four categories – memory loops, ideas, self-perception, and concepts – as shown by the double-headed, broad, and straight arrows penetrating the boundary of the world display with the four categories. The four categories “mix and grind” this newly-entered data with previous data in all four categories (shown by crossed and looped broad, double-headed arrows) to produced imagined and/or reasoned data results back upon the same world display as the moment’s “picture” – non-veridical data moving from the four categories back into the display (thus, the “double-headedness” of the arrows). Thusly can we imagine things before us that are not really there at the moment; we can, for instance, imagine a Platonic “perfect circle” (non-veridical) not really there upon a page of circles actually “out there” drawn upon a geometry textbook’s page (veridical) at which we are staring. In fact, the Platonic “perfect circle” is an example of a “type” or “algorithmic” or symbolic representation for ALL circles created by our subjective imagination so we do not have to “keep up” will all the individual circles we have seen in our lifetime. Algorithms and symbols represent the avoidance of brain overload.
From some considered input into our four categories of the brain come “commands” to the muscles and nervous system to create OUTPUT and FEEDBACK into the world outside us in addition to the autonomic nerve commands mentioned above, like the command to turn the page of the geometry text at which we are looking. Through reactive and reflexive actions, bodily communication (e.g. talking), and environmental manipulation (like using tools), resulting from these feedback outputs into the real world (shown at bottom left of Figure 1), we act and behave just as if there had been an autonomic reaction, only this time the action or behavior is the result of “thinking” or “consideration.” (The curved arrow labeled “Considered” leading to the muscles in Figure 1.)
Note how Figure 1 places epistemological and existential terms like CONSCIOUSNESS, Imagination, Knowing, Intention & Free Will, and Reason in place on the schematic, along with areas of the philosophy of epistemology, like Empiricism, Rationalism, and Existentialism (at the top of Figure 1). These placements are my own philosophical interpretations and are subject to change and placement alteration indicated by a consensus of professional and amateur philosophers, in conjunction with consensus from psychologists and brain physiologists, world-wide.
Figure 2 is a schematic of the “screen” of subjective perception that confronts us at every moment we see, hear, smell, taste, and/or touch. Figure 2 is again crudely schematic (like Figure 1), in this case devoid of the richness of the signals of our senses processed and displayed to our “mind’s eye.” Broad dashed arrows at the four corners of the figure represent the input to the screen from the four categories on the right of Figure 1 – memory loops, ideas, perception, and concepts. Solid illustrated objects on Figure 2 represent processed, veridical, and empirical results flowing to the screen from the left in Figure 1, and dashed illustrated objects on Figure 2 represent subjective, non-veridical, type, and algorithmic results flowing to the screen from the right in Figure 1. Thus Figure 2 defines the screen of our perception as a result of the simultaneous flow of both veridical and non-veridical making up every waking moment.
(Mathematical equations cannot be printed in dashed format, so the solid equations and words, like History, FUTURE, Faith, and PRESENT, represent both veridical and non-veridical forms; note I was able to represent the veridical and non-veridical forms of single numbers, like “8” and certain symbols, like X, equals, and does not equal.) Thus, the solid lightning bolt, for example, represents an actual observed bolt in a thunderstorm and the dashed lightning bolt represents the “idea” of all lightning bolts observed in the past.
The “subjective trap” previously introduced above is defined and represented by the rule that nothing of Figure 1 can be seen on Figure 2, and vice-versa. In my “show-and-tell” presentation of this perception model encapsulated in both figures, I present the figures standing on end at right angles to each other, so that one figure’s area does not project upon the area of the other – two sheets slit half-height so that one sheet slides into the other. Again, a) Figure 2 represents my own individual subjective screen of perception no one else can see or experience; b) Figure 1 represents the only way I can describe someone else allegedly perceiving as I. I cannot prove a) and b) are true, nor can anyone else. I can only state with reasonable certainty that both someone else and I BEHAVE as if a) and b) are true. In other words, thanks to the common cultural experience of the same language, my non-color-blind friend and I in the room observing the red-painted card agree the card “is red.” To doubt our agreement that it is red would stretch both our limits of credulity into absurdity.
The model described above and schematically illustrated in Figures 1 and 2 can be seen as one way of describing the ontology of human beings, of describing human existence. Looking at Figure 1, anything to the left of the world display screen is the only way we know anything outside our brain exists and anything to the right of the world display screen is the only way we know we as “I’s” exist in a Cartesian sense; anything to the right is what we call our “mind,” and we assume we think with our mind; in the words of Descartes, “I think, therefore I am.” We see our mind as part of the universe being “bombarded” from the left, so we think of ourselves as part of the universe. Modern science has over the centuries given us some incredible ontological insights, such as all physical existence is made up of atoms and molecules and elementary particles; we can objectively or “scientifically” describe our existence, but we do so, as we describe anything else, with our subjective mind; we, as self-conscious beings, describe the veridical in the only way we possibly can – non-veridically. Thus, the model suggests the incredible statement made by scientists and philosophers of science lately. Recalling that atoms are created in the interior of stars (“cooked,” if you please, by nuclear fusion inside stars of various sizes and temperatures) that have long since “died” and spewed out their atoms in
contribution to the formation of our own solar system around 13.5 billion earth years ago, and recalling our bodies, including our brains, are made of molecules made from the atoms from dead and gone stars, the statement “We are ‘star-stuff’ in self-contemplation” makes, simultaneously, objective and subjective, or scientific and artistic, “spiritual sense.”
We can veridically “take in,” “observe,” “experience,” or “contemplate” anything from the vast universe outside our body as well as the vast universe inside our body outside our brain while at the same time we can imagine non-veridically limitless ways of “making sense” of all this veridical data by filing it, storing it, mixing it, and thinking about it, all within our brain. We are limitless minds making up part of a limitless universe.
As if that was not enough, each of us, as a veridical/non-veridical “package of perception,” is unique. Every human has a unique Figure 1 and a unique Figure 2. Our existence rests upon the common human genome of our species, the genetic “blueprint” that specifies the details of our biological existence. Yet, every individual’s genome is different from every other (even if only by .1% or by a factor of .001), just considering that mutations even for identical twins make their two “blueprints” slightly different once the two organisms exist as separated zygotes in the womb. Moreover, how we behave, and, therefore, how we respond non-veridically to the veridical data we receive individually, even from the same environment shared by others, is mitigated by the unique series of experiences each of us has had in our past. Hence, each person is a unique individual genome subjected to unique environmental experiences, the exact copy of which cannot possibly statistically exist.
The world display screen of an individual in any given moment has never been perceived before, nor will it ever be perceived again, as in the next moment the screen is modified by the dual flux of the veridical flux from the left and the non-veridical flux from the right in Figure 1. The life of an individual is a series of receiving this ever-changing dual flux and thinking or acting in the real world upon the basis of this dual flux; it is a series of two-way perceptions. The life of an individual is observed by another individual as a series of perceived behaviors assumed, but never proven, to be generated in the same way as those of the observer. All in the span of a human life is perception; to an individual human being, perception has to be everything.
This model suggests to me the absurdity of having objectivity and subjectivity irreconcilably separate; it suggests, rather, that they are inseparable; they go together like, in the words of the song, “horse and carriage” or “love and marriage.” The blending of objective data and imaginative concepts in our brain makes our perception, our conscious “everything,” or existence as a self-conscious being, if you please, possible. What we are is the veridical of our screen of perception; who we are is the non-veridical of the screen. In other words, the scientist is as potentially subjective as the poet, and the poet is as potentially objective as the scientist; they differ only in the emphases on the contents of their respective screens of perception. For the “two sides” of campuses of higher learning to be at “war” over the minds of mankind is absurd – as absurd as the impasse the political science major and I reached in conversation so many years ago.
If the above was all the model and its two figures did, its conjuring would have been well worth it, I think, but the above is just the tip of the iceberg of how the model can be applied to human experience. Knowing how prone we are to hyperbole when talking about our “brain children,” I nonetheless feel compelled to suggest this model of conception can be intriguingly applied to almost any concept or idea the human brain can produce – in the sense of alternatively defining the concept using “both worlds,” both the objective and the subjective, instead of using one much more than the other. In other words, we can define with this model almost anything more “humanly” than before; we can define and understand almost anything with “more” of ourselves than we’ve done in the past.
Take the concept of the human “soul” for example. It seems to me possible that cultures that use the concept of soul, whether in a sacred or secular sense, whether in the context of religion or psychology, they are close to using the concept of the “mind’s eye” illustrated in Figure 1 of the model. The “mind’s eye” is the subjective “I,” the subjective observer of the screen, the “see-er,” the “smell-er,” the “taste-er,” the “hear-er,” the “touch-er,” the “feel-er” of perception; the soul is the active perceiver of subjective human experience. The soul defines self-consciousness; it is synonymous with the ego. This view is consistent with the soul being defined as the essence of being alive, of being that which “leaves” the body upon death. Objectively, we would say that death marks the ceasing of processing veridical data; subjectively, we would say that death marks the ceasing of producing non-veridical data and the closing of the “mind’s eye.”
Yet the soul is a product of the same physiology as the pre-conscious “body” of our evolutionary ancestors. In other words, the soul “stands upon the shoulders” of the id, our collection of instincts hewn over millions of years. So, in addition, we would objectively say that death also marks the ceasing of “following” our instincts physically and mentally; our unique, individual genome stops defining our biological limitations and potentialities. The elements of our body, including our brain, eventually blend to join the elements of our environment. Objectively, we would say death marks our ceasing to exist as a living being. The concept of the soul allows death to be seen as the “exiting” or “leaving” of that necessary to be called “alive.”
So, the concept of the soul could be discussed as the same or similar to the concept of the ego, and issues such as when does a developing human fetus (or proto-baby) develop or “receive” a soul/ego, which in turn has everything to do with the issue of abortion, can be discussed without necessarily coming to impasses. (See my The ‘A’ Word – Don’t Get Angry, Calm Down, and Let Us Talk, [April, 2013] and my The ‘A’ Word Revisited (Because of Gov. Rick Perry of Texas), or A Word on Bad Eggs [July, 2013]) I said “could be,” not “will be” discussed without possibly coming to impasses. Impasses between the objective and subjective seem more the norm than the exception, unfortunately; the “two cultures war” appears ingrained. Why?
Earlier, I mentioned causally the answer the model provides to this “Why?”. The scientist/engineer and the artist/poet differ in their emphases of either the veridical flux to the world display screen or the non-veridical flux to the same world display screen of their individual brains. By “emphasis” I merely mean assigning more importance by the individual to one flux direction or the other in his/her head. At this point, one is reminded of the “left-brain, right-brain” dichotomy dominating brain/mind modeling since the phenomenon of the bicameral mind became widely accepted. The perception model being presented here incorporates on the non-veridical side of the perception screen both analytical (left) brain activity and emotional (right) brain activity in flux to the screen from the right side of Figure 1. Just like my use of left/right in Figure 1 is not like the use of left/right in bicameral mind/brain modeling, this model of perception is not directly analogous to bicameral modeling. What the perception model suggests, in my opinion, is that the analytical/emotional chasm of the human brain is not as unbridgeable as the “left-brain-right-brain” view might suggest.
More specifically, the perception model suggests that the “normal” or “sane” person keeps the two fluxes to the world display screen in his/her head “in balance,” always one flux mitigating and blending with the other. It is possible “insanity” might be the domination of one flux over the other so great that the dominated flux is rendered relatively ineffective. If the veridical flux is completely dominant, the person’s mind is in perpetual overload with empirical data, impotent to sort or otherwise deal with the one-way bombardment on his/her world display screen; such a person would presumably be desperate to “turn off” the bombardment; such a person would be driven to insanity by sensation. If the non-veridical flux is completely dominant, the person’s mind is in a perpetual dream of self-induced fantasy, sensing with all senses, that which is NOT “out there;” such a person would be driven to insanity by hallucination. In this view, the infamous “acid trips” of the 1960’s induced by hallucinatory drugs such as LSD could be seen as self-induced temporary periods of time in which the non-veridical flux “got the upper hand” over the veridical flux.
This discussion of “flux balance” explains why dreams are depicted in Figure 1 as “hovering” just outside the world display screen. The perception model suggests dreams are the brain’s way of keeping the two fluxes in balance, keeping us as “sane” as possible. In fact, the need to keep the fluxes in balance, seen as the need to dream, may explain why we and other creatures with large brains apparently need to sleep. We need “time outs” from empirical data influx (not to mention “time outs” just to rest the body’s muscular system and other systems) to give dreaming the chance to balance out the empirical with the fanciful on the stage of the world display. Dreams are the mixtures of the veridical and non-veridical not needed to be stored or acted upon in order to prevent overload from the fluxes of the previous day (or night, if we are “night owls”); they play out without being perceived in our sleeping unconsciousness (except for the dreams we “remember” just before we awaken) like files in computer systems sentenced to the “trash bin” or “recycle bin” marked for deletion. Dreams can be seen as a sort of “reset” procedure that prepares the world display screen to ready for the upcoming day’s (or night’s) two-way flux flow that defines our being awake and conscious.
This model might possibly suggest new ways of defining a “scientific, analytical mind” (“left brain”) and comparing that with an “artistic, emotional mind” (“right brain”). Each could be seen as a slight imbalance (emphasis on “slight” to remain “sane”) of one flux over the other, or, better, as two possible cases of one flux mitigating the other slightly more. To think generally “scientifically,” therefore, would be when the non-veridical flux blends “head-on” upon the world display screen with the veridical flux and produces new non-veridical data that focuses primarily upon the world external to the brain; the goal of this type non-veridical focus is to create cause/effect explanations, to problem-solve, to recognize patterns, and to create non-veridically rational hypotheses, or, as I would say, “proto-theories,” or scientific theories in-the-making. Thus is knowledge about the world outside our brain increased. To think generally “artistically,” on the other hand, would be when the non-veridical flux takes on the veridical flux upon the world display screen as ancillary only, useful in focusing upon the “world” inside the brain; the goal of this type non-veridical focus is to create new ways of dealing with likes, dis-likes, and emotions, to evoke “feelings” from morbid to euphoric, and to modify and form tastes from fanciful thinking to dealing emotionally with the external world in irrational ways. Thus is knowledge about what we imagine and about what appears revealed to us inside our brain increased.
With these two new definitions, it is easy to see that we have evolved as a species capable of being simultaneously both scientific and artistic, both “left-brain” and “right-brain;” as I said earlier, the scientist is as potentially subjective as the poet, and the poet is as potentially objective as the scientist. We do ourselves a disservice when we believe we have to be one or the other; ontologically, we are both. Applying the rule of evolutionary psychology that any defining characteristic we possess as a species that we pass on to our progeny was probably necessary today and/or in our past to our survival (or, at minimum, was “neutral” in contributing to our survival), the fact we are necessarily a scientific/artistic creature was in all likelihood a major reason we evolved beyond our ancestral Homo erectus and “triumphed” over our evolutionary cousins like the Neanderthals. When we describe in our midst a “gifted scientist” or a “gifted artist” we are describing a person who, in their individual, unique existence purposely developed, probably by following their tastes (likes and dislikes), one of the two potentialities over the other. The possibility that an individual can be gifted in both ways is very clear. (My most memorable example of a “both-way” gifted person was when I, as a graduate student, looked in the orchestra pit at a production of Handel’s Messiah and saw in the first chair of the violin section one of my nuclear physics professors.) Successful people in certain vocations, in my opinion, do better because of strong development of both their “scientific” and “artistic” potentialities; those in business and in service positions need the ability to simultaneously successfully deal with problem solving and dealing with the emotions of colleagues and clientele. Finding one’s “niche” in life and in one’s culture is a matter of taste, depending on whether the individual feels more comfortable and satisfied “leaning” one way or another, or, being “well-rounded” in both ways.
Regardless of the results of individual tastes in individual circumstances, the “scientist” being at odds with the “artist” and vice-versa is always unnecessary and ludicrous; the results of one are no better or worse than those of another, as long as those results come from the individual’s volition (not imposed upon the individual by others).
From the 1960’s “acid rock, hard rock” song by Jefferson Airplane, Somebody to Love:
When the truth is found to be……lies!
And all the joy within you…..dies!
Don’t you want somebody to love?
Don’t you need somebody to love?
Wouldn’t you love somebody to love?
You better find somebody to love!
These lyrics, belted out by front woman Grace Slick, will serve as the introduction to two of the most interesting and most controversial applications of this perception theory. The first part about truth, joy, and lies I’ll designate as GS1, for “Grace Slick Point 1” and the second part about somebody to love I’ll designate as GS2.
Going in reverse order, GS2 to me deals with that fundamental phenomenon without which our cerebral species or any such species could not have existed – falling in love and becoming parents, or, biologically speaking, pair bonding. The universal human theme of erotic love is the basis of so much of culture’s story-telling, literature, poetry, and romantic subjects of all genres. Hardwired into our mammalian genome is the urge, upon the outset of puberty, to pair-bond with another of our species and engage, upon mutual consent, in sexual activity. If the pair is made of two different genders, such activity might fulfill the genome’s “real” intent of this often very complex and convoluted bonding – procreation of offspring; procreation keeps the genes “going;” it is easily seen as a scientific form of “immortality;” we live on in the form of our children, and in our children’s children, and so on. Even human altruism seems to emerge biologically from the urge to propagate the genes we share with our kin.
Falling in love, or pair bonding, is highly irrational, and, therefore a very non-veridical phenomenon; love is blind. When one is in love, the short comings of the beloved are ignored, because their veridical signals are probably blocked non-veridically by the “smitten;” when one is in love, and when others bring up any short comings of the beloved, they are denied by the “smitten,” often in defiance of veridical evidence. If this were not so, if pair bonding was a rational enterprise, much fewer pair bonds would occur, perhaps threatening the perpetuation of the species into another generation. [This irrationality of procreation was no better defined than in an episode of the first Star Trek TV series back in the 1960’s, wherein the half human-half alien (Vulcan) Enterprise First Science Officer Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy) horrifically went apparently berserk and crazy in order to get himself back to his home planet so he could find a mate (to the point of hijacking the starship Enterprise). I think it was the only actual moment of Spock’s life on the series in which he was irrational (in which he behaved like we – fully human.]
GS1 is to me another way of introducing our religiosity, of asking why we are as a species religious. This question jump-started me on my “long and winding road,” as I called it – a personal Christian religious journey in five titles, written in the order they need to be read: 1) Sorting Out the Apostle Paul [April, 2012], 2) Sorting Out Constantine I the Great and His Momma [Feb., 2015], 3) Sorting Out Jesus [July, 2015], 4) At Last, a Probable Jesus [August, 2015], and 5) Jesus – A Keeper [Sept., 2015]. Universal religiosity (which I take as an interpretation of GS1) is here suggested as being like the universality of the urge to procreate, though not near as ancient as GS2. As modern humans emerged and became self-conscious, they had to socially bond into small bands of hunter-gatherers to survive and protect themselves and their children, and the part of the glue holding these bands together was not only pair-bonding and its attendant primitive culture, but the development of un-evidenced beliefs – beliefs in gods and god stories – to answer the then unanswerable, like “What is lightning?” and “How will we survive the next attack from predators or the enemy over the next hill?” In other words, our non-veridical faculties in our brain dealt with the “great mysteries” of life and death by making up gods and god stories to provide assurance, unity, fear, and desperation sufficient to make survival of the group more probable. Often the gods took the shape of long-dead ancestors who “appeared” to individuals in dreams (At Last, a Probable Jesus [August, 2015]). Not that there are “religious genes” like there are “procreate genes,” but, rather, our ancestors survived partly because the genes they passed on to us tended to make them cooperative for the good of the group bound by a set of accepted beliefs – gods and god stories; that is, bound by “religion.”
The “lies” part of GS1 has to do with the epistemological toxicity of theology (the intellectual organization of the gods and god stories) – religious beliefs are faith-based, not evidence-based, a theme developed throughout the five parts of my “long and winding road.” On p. 149 of Jerry A. Coyne’s Faith vs. Fact, Why Science and Religion are Incompatible (ISBN 978-0-670-02653-1), the author characterizes this toxicity as a “metaphysical add-on….a supplement demanded not by evidence but by the emotional needs of the faithful.” Any one theology cannot be shown to be truer than any other theology; all theologies assume things unnecessary and un-evidenced; yet, all theologies declare themselves “true.” As my personal journey indicates, all theologies are exposed by this common epistemological toxicity, yet it is an exposé made possible only since the Enlightenment of Western Europe and the development of forensic history in the form of, in the case of Christianity, higher Biblical criticism. This exposé, in my experience, can keep your “joy” from dying because of “lies,” referring back to GS1.
Both GS1 and GS2 demonstrate the incredible influence of the non-veridical capabilities of the human brain. A beloved one can appear on the world display screen, can be perceived, as “the one” in the real world “out there,” and a god or the lesson of a god story can appear on the world display screen, can be perceived, as actually existing or as being actually manifest in the real world “out there.”
Putting GS1 in more direct terms of the perception model represented by Figures 1 and 2, non-veridical self-consciousness desires the comfort of understandable cause and effect as it develops from infancy into adulthood; in our brains we “need” answers — sometimes any answers will do; and the answers do not necessarily have to have veridical verification. Combining the social pressure of the group for conformity and cooperation, for the common survival and well-being of the group, with this individual need for answers, the “mind,” the non-veridical, epiphenomenal companion of our complex brain, creates a personified “cause” of the mysterious and a personified “answerer” to our nagging questions about life and death in general and in particular; we create a god or gods paralleling the created god or gods in the heads of those around us who came before us (if we are not the first of the group to so create). We experience non-veridically the god or gods of our own making through dreams, hallucinations, and other visions, all seen as revelations or visitations; these visions can be as “real” as the real objects “out there” that we sense veridically. (See At Last, a Probable Jesus [August, 2015] for examples of non-veridical visions, including some of my own.) Stories made up about the gods, often created to further explain the mysteries of our existence and of our experiences personally and collectively, combine with the god or gods to form theology. Not all of theology is toxic; but its propensity to become lethally dangerous to those who created it, when it is developed in large populations into what today are called the world’s “great religions,” and fueled by a clergy of some sort into a kind of “mass hysteria” (Crusades, jihads, ethnic “cleansings,” etc.), makes practicing theology analogous to playing with fire. As I pointed out in Jesus – A Keeper [Sept., 2015], epistemologically toxic theology is dangerously flawed. Just as we have veridically created the potential of destroying ourselves by learning how to make nuclear weapons of mass destruction, we have non-veridically created reasons for one group to try and kill off another group by learning how to make theologies of mass destruction; these theologies are based upon the “authority” of the gods we have non-veridically created and non-veridically “interpreted” or “listened to.” It is good to remember Voltaire’s words, or a paraphrase thereof: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
Also remember, the condemnation of toxic theology is not the condemnation of the non-veridical; a balance of the veridical flux and the non-veridical flux was absolutely necessary in the past and absolutely necessary today for our survival as individuals, and, therefore, as a species. Toxic theology, like fantasy, is the non-veridical focused upon the non-veridical – the imagination spawning even more images without checking with the veridical from the “real world out there.” Without reference to the veridical, the non-veridical has little or no accountability toward being reliable and “true.” All forms of theology, including the toxic kind, and all forms of fantasy, therefore, have no accountability toward reality “out there” outside our brains. Harmony with the universe of which we are a part is possible only when the non-veridical focuses upon referencing the veridical, referencing the information coming through our senses from the world “out there.” This is the definition of “balance” of the two fluxes to our world display screens in our heads.
Comparing this balanced flux concept with the unbalanced one dominated by the non-veridical (remember the unbalanced flux dominated by the veridical is brain overload leading to some form of insanity), it is easy to see why biologist Richard Dawkins sees religiosity as a kind of mental disease spread like a mental virus through the social pressures of one’s sacred setting and through evangelism. Immersing one’s non-veridical efforts into theology is in my opinion this model’s way of defining Dawkins’ “religiosity.” In the sense that such immersion can often lead to toxic theology, it is easy to see the mind “sickened” by the non-veridical toxins. Whether Dawkins describes it as a mental disease, or I as an imbalance of flux dominated by the non-veridical, religiosity or toxic theology is bad for our species, and, if the ethical is defined as that which is good for our species, then toxic theology is unethical, or, even, evil.
To say that the gods and god stories, which certainly include the Judeo-Christian God and the Islamic Allah, are all imaginative, non-veridical products of the human mind/brain is not necessarily atheistic in meaning, although I can understand that many a reader would respond with “atheist!” Atheism, as developed originally in ancient Greece and further developed after the European Enlightenment in both Europe and America, can be seen as still another form of theology, though a godless one, potentially as toxic as any other toxic theology. Atheism pushing no god or gods can be as fundamentalist as any religion pushing a god or gods, complete with its dogma without evidence, creeds without justification, evangelism without consideration of the evangelized, and intolerance of those who disagree; atheism can be but another religion. Atheism in the United States has in my opinion been particularly guilty in this regard. Therefore, I prefer to call the conclusions about religion spawned by this perception model as some form of agnostic; non-veridical products of the brain’s imagination might be at their origin religious-like (lacking in veridical evidence or dream-like or revelatory or hallucinatory) but should never be seen as credible (called epistemologically “true”) and worthy of one’s faith, belief, and tastes until they are “weighed” against the veridical information coming into the world display screen; and when they can be seen by the individual as credible, then I would ask why call them “religious” at all, but, rather, call them “objective,” “scientific,” “moral,” “good,” or “common sense.” I suggest this because of the horrendous toxicity with which religions in general and religions in particular are historically shackled.
We do not have to yield to the death of GS1 (When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies!); GS2 (Love is all you need, to quote the Beatles instead of Grace Slick) can prevent that, even if our irrational love is not returned. In other words, we do not need the gods and god stories; what we need is the Golden Rule (Jesus – A Keeper [Sept., 2015]). This is my non-veridical “take” on the incredible non-veridical capabilities encapsulated in GS1 and GS2.
Western culture has historically entangled theology and ethics (No better case in point than about half of the Ten Commandments have to do with God and the other half have to do with our relationship to each other.) This entanglement makes the condemnation of theology suggested by this perception model of human ontology an uncomfortable consideration for many. Disentanglement would relieve this mental discomfort. Christianity is a good example of entangled theology and ethics, and I have suggested in Jesus – A Keeper [Sept., 2015] how to disentangle the two and avoid the “dark side” of Christian theology and theology in general.
Ethics, centered around the Golden Rule, or the Principle of Reciprocity, is clearly a product of non-veridical activity, but ethics, unlike theology and fantasy, is balanced with the veridical, in that our ethical behavior is measured through veridical feedback from others like us “out there.” We became ethical beings similarly to our becoming religious beings – by responding to human needs. Coyne’s book Faith vs. Fact, Why Science and Religion are Incompatible points out that in addition to our genetic tendency (our “nature”) to behave altruistically, recognize taboos, favor our kin, condemn forms of violence like murder and rape, favor the Golden Rule, and develop the idea of fairness, we have culturally developed (our “nurture”) moral values such as group loyalty, bravery, respect, recognition of property rights, and other moral sentiments we define as “recognizing right from wrong.” Other values culturally developed and often not considered “moral” but considered at least “good” are friendship and senses of humor, both of which also seem present in other mammalian species, suggesting they are more genetic (nature) than cultural (nurture). Other culture values (mentioned, in fact, in the letters of the “Apostle” Paul are faith, hope, and charity, but none of these three need have anything to do with the gods and god stories, as Paul would have us believe. Still others are love of learning, generosity (individual charity), philanthropy (social charity), artistic expression of an ever-increasing number of forms, long childhoods filled with play, volunteerism, respect for others, loyalty, trust, research, individual work ethic, individual responsibility, and courtesy. The reader can doubtless add to this list. Behaving as suggested by these ideas and values (non-veridical products) produce veridical feedback from those around us that render these ideas accountable and measurable (It is good to do X, or it is bad to do X.) What is good and what is bad is veridically verified, so that moral consensus in most of the groups of our species evolves into rules, laws, and sophisticated jurisprudence (e.g. the Code of Hammurabi and the latter half of the Ten Commandments). The group becomes a society that is stable, self-protecting, self-propagating, and a responsible steward of the environment upon which the existence of the group depends; the group has used its nature to nurture a human ethical set of rules that answers the call of our genes and grows beyond this call through cultural evolution. The irony of this scenario of the origin of ethics is that humans non-veridically mixed in gods and god stories (perhaps necessarily to get people to respond by fear and respect for authority for survival’s sake), and thereby risked infection of human ethics by toxic theology. Today, there is no need of such mixing; in fact, the future of human culture may well hinge upon our ability to separate, once and for all, ethics from theology.
A final example of applying the perception model illustrated by Figures 1 and 2 for this writing is the definition of mathematics. Mathematics is clearly a non-veridical, imaginative product of the human brian/mind; this is why all the equations in Figure 2 need a “dashed” version in addition to the “solid,” as I was able to do for the single numbers like “8.” But why is math the language of science? Why is something so imaginative so empirically veridical? In other words, why does math describe how the world works, or, why does the world behave mathematically?
Math is the quintessential example of non-veridical ideas rigidly fixed by logic and consistent patterns; math cannot deviate from its own set of rules. What “fixes” the rules is its applicability to the veridical data bombarding the world display screen from the “real” world “out there.” If math did not have its utility in the real world (from counting livestock at the end of the day to predicting how the next generation of computers can be designed) it would be a silly game lodged within the memory loops of the brain only. But, the brain is part of the star-stuff contemplating all the other star-stuff, including itself; it makes cosmological “sense” that star-stuff can communicate with itself; the language of that communication is math. Mathematics is an evolutionary product of evolutionary complexity of the human brain; it is the ultimate non-veridical focus upon the veridical. Mathematics is the “poster child” of the balance of the two fluxes upon the world display screen of every human brain/mind. No wonder the philosopher Spinoza is said to have had a “religious, emotional” experience gazing at a mathematical equation on paper! No wonder we should teach little children numbers at least as early as (or earlier than) we teach them the alphabet of their native culture!
Further applications of the perception model suggest themselves. Understanding politics, economics, education, and early individual human development are but four.
I understand the philosophical problem of a theory that explains everything might very well explain nothing. But this perception model is an ontological theory, which necessarily must explain some form of existence, which, in turn, entails “everything.” I think the problem is avoided by imagining some aspect of human nature and culture the model cannot explain. For instance, my simplistic explanation of insanity as a flux imbalance may be for those who study extreme forms of human psychosis woefully inadequate. Artists who see their imaginations more veridically driven than I may have suggested might find the model in need of much “tuning,” if not abandonment. I have found the model personally useful in piecing together basic, separate parts of human experience into a much-more-coherent and logically unified puzzle. To find a harmony between the objective and the subjective of human existence is to me very objective (intellectually satisfying) and subjective (simultaneously comforting and exciting). The problem of explaining nothing is non-existent if other harmonies can be conjured by others. Part of my mental comfort comes from developing an appreciation for, rather than a frustration with, the “subjective trap,” the idea introduced at the beginning.
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