“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 thru’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
-William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
In Foundations of Worldview: Elements of Construction, I began to describe the dynamic that exists between our experiences and our belief system. In other words, I referred to the relationship that allows our experiences to shape our belief system, and allows our belief system to color our experiences. The term I used for this dynamic was ‘Worldview’. After some discussion and consideration, I now feel that the term ‘Perception’ will better fit this concept. I shall not revise my previous Thought, but if you would read it now and replace the instances of ‘Worldview’(as opposed to ‘a worldview’) with the term ‘Perception’, then the whole of this series will undoubtedly flow in the manner that I intend.
In this Thought, I would like to continue the discussion of this dynamic called Perception, and briefly expound upon the ideas put forth in my previous post.
Philosophical and psychological discussions of perception are typically interested in the perceiving of an object or objects. I intend, in my discussion of Perception, to deal primarily with the Perception of experiences. This includes, but is certainly not limited to, the perception of physical objects.
“When I ‘hear a thrush singing’, I am hearing, not with my ears alone, but with all sorts of other things like mental habits, memory, imagination, feeling and(to the extent at least that the act of attention involves it) will.”
-A.O. Barfield, Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry
What I mean by Perception is the process by which we acquire meaning from, or attribute meaning to, our experiences. This process is vital and unavoidable. Without Perception, it wouldn’t matter if there was a world outside of us, or even within us. Perception is that mechanism by which we make sense of everything, including ourselves. As I stated in my previous post, the integration of the experience into our belief system then effects and shapes the experiences that we will have from that point on. Perception allows us to ‘color’ our experiences by means of our belief system, which has of course been built out of our previous experiences.
An Imaginative Fancy
Imagine, if you will, the scenario which follows*:
A child is taken at birth and is placed in an enclosed cell. No contact with the outside world is given, save for a few meals every day slipped under the door. This cell has no windows, and is quite bare. The child grows with as few influences as possible for many years. During this time the growing child undoubtedly has inexplicable experiences, such as dreams. Being as he has no framework by which to classify and categorize these experiences, he will most likely recall them only as images and sensations. Still the years pass and the child grows into a young adult.
Eventually, there comes a point when the keepers of this isolated person enter his cell. After the initial shock of ‘something other’ is overcome, they begin to teach the young man about language and about life. For the sake or argument, we will say that the keepers of the child were Arab Muslims. The language that the young man is taught is Arabic, and the worldview is Islamic. The keepers explain to the young man the miracle and the message of Qur’an, and man’s role in creation as set forth by The Prophet. Over the next few years the young man becomes firmly rooted in this Islamic worldview. His beliefs about himself and the world are shaped by these new teachings. (This is all he has ever been exposed to after all.) Undoubtedly he continues to have inexplicable experiences, such as dreams. Now however, the dreams are colored by his new found beliefs about himself and the world. Where as before he may have had a dream of a ‘great light which enveloped him, and offered feelings of comfort’, now perhaps he might have a dream of The Prophet presenting himself in a pillar of light and speaking Ayat(miracles or signs) to him which fill him with wonder at the mercy and generosity of Allah. Perhaps his new-found belief system is regressive, in that it adds color to the dreams and inexplicable experiences he had before his cell door was ever opened. Perhaps now he looks back to those experiences and interprets them in light of his new Islamic worldview.
Now what if the keepers of the child were not Arab Muslims, but Christians? Is it not reasonable that the dreams and inexplicable experiences of the young man would then be colored by this new-found Christian worldview? Is it not plausible that the dream of a ‘great light which enveloped him, and offered feelings of comfort’ might possibly then be interpreted as an appearance of Jesus, who offers salvation by the acceptance of Diving Love and forgiveness for the inherently sinful nature of the isolated child?
What’s The Point?
My intention here is not to equate all religions. Nor do I want to say that that it doesn’t matter which path the child is presented with, or which road through life he might choose to take. These things matter greatly in various ways.
I do intend to highlight the reality of ‘the experience’ however, as well as the process that I call ‘Perception’, which seems most evident to me in such an imagined scenario. That there is a dynamic process at work, even in this ‘Imaginative Fancy’, should be quite obvious. It is this process that I treat of. This relationship between experience and belief, and the self-constructing structure of ‘I’ which grows and develops as a result of it.
“What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what sort of person you are.”
-C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew
* I am not aware of such an experiment ever taking place along these lines; thus I use such expressions as: ‘It seems plausible…’, ‘is it not reasonable?…’, and ‘perhaps he might…’ which I hope convey the humility with which I propose such an ‘Imaginative Fancy’.