The external world is a “rich reality” — offering a far wider menu of possibilities than most of us realize. This book examines how you filter and select among those possibilities, bringing into focus the particular world you experience, and explores the benefits of more fully understanding the collective illusion we call reality.
- The Nature of Perception
- Language as a Perceptual Process
- The Structure of Mind
- Perception and Reality
- Experiential Reality
- Science as a Form of Perception
- Different Drummers, Different Tunes
- Health and Healing
- Magic and Extrasensory Perception
- Learning and Growing
Just as a two-dimensional picture can incompletely represent but never duplicate a complex three-dimensional object, intellectual concepts can represent but never fully describe reality. And just as different viewpoints may produce quite different pictures of the same object, so may different viewpoints produce different, superficially contradictory “pictures” of reality. Understanding reality, then, requires an understanding of the perceptual mechanisms through which we experience and interact with the world around us.
The chapter on The Nature of Perception begins by examining vision, both in its own right and as a metaphor for perception more generally. What you see depends on what you expect to see and know how to see, as much as it does on what is actually “out there.” The other senses, language, and even culture operate in much the same way. A unifying perspective emerges, clarifying common principles inherent in the many diverse ways that human beings know and understand the world around them.
The core of this perspective is the concept of a perceptual process, in which images of the external world are constructed from preexisting perceptual models and cues selected from an ongoing perceptual flow. These perceptual models, reflecting past experience as well as current expectations, filter and organize current experience at the same time they are being modified and revised by that experience.
But what of the world “out there” which these perceptual processes show us? One possibility is that external reality is very much as it appears, existing separately from you and independent of your perception of it. This commonly accepted concept of objective reality plays a dominant role in contemporary western thought.
The chapter titled Perception and Reality proposes instead the concept of a rich reality — rich with latent possibilities and options from which you filter and select the one you actualize. Perception is not a passive process of imaging a fixed external world. Rather, it is an active, interactive process of choice, in which we each construct the reality we personally experience.
Just as a picture can never duplicate a three dimensional object, you can never fully grasp reality conceptually. You experience only a part of it at a time, but never the whole thing. But as you can learn more about an object from several different pictures than from any single view, you can better understand this rich reality if you allow yourself more than one perspective rather than adopting a single perspective as “correct.” This is what Don Juan meant (as described by Carlos Castaneda) when he said that neither the sorcerer’s reality nor ordinary reality actually exists, but that only by being able to switch from one to the other could the man of knowledge truly understand that.
The chapter on Experiential Reality explores your ongoing perception of the external world. Your sensory processes — vision, hearing, etc. — are not separate and distinct, but are elements of a larger integrated process. They jointly draw from and contribute to an ongoing experiential reality which gives meaning to the world around you. This is the “agreement” of which Castaneda speaks, and Joseph Pearce’s “cosmic egg.” Experiential exercises here and throughout the book help you crack the shell and experience some of the magic possibilities beyond.
We generally accept science as the most authoritative source of contemporary knowledge, yet some of these ideas seem counter to our scientific understanding. A chapter on Science as a Form of Perception addresses that contradiction, drawing on the work of philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn. The author characterizes science as a (collective) perceptual process with the same basic structure as vision and the other processes already considered. He discusses its strengths and weaknesses as a way of knowing, and assesses its limitations.
Other cultures have experienced the world in very different ways, some of which are explored in Different Drummers, Different Tunes. The western intellectual world view sees these views as superstitious and uninformed, though they are often as knowledgeable, systematic, and sophisticated as our own. They simply see things from a different perspective, bringing different aspects of the underlying rich reality into view.
The western world view sees man as apart from the world of nature and in conflict with it, for example, while others see humanity as an integral part of the natural world. Our wise men — the scientists — see themselves as observers separate from processes they seek to understand, while their counterparts in other cultures — the shamans and magicians — see themselves as direct participants. Because of that separation we have no magic in our contemporary world, while it abounds in the realities experienced by others.
The chapter on Health and Healing explores the diversity of human healing systems. Contemporary medicine sees the body as a mechanistic collection of parts, for example, while the Oriental perception is of patterns of energy flow. Yet these two very different and superficially incompatible systems are but different perspectives on the same underlying phenomena. The author describes his own view of illness as a withdrawal of awareness, and healing as a reassertion of responsibility for one’s own being. Experiential exercises continue to illustrate the concepts discussed.
The western world view sees physical matter as primary, and views consciousness as a byproduct of chemical and electrical activity in the brain. Such a world view has no need for ESP and magic. The view developed here, on the other hand, suggests that mind is primary and the apparent physical world is really a byproduct of the activity of consciousness. The chapter on Magic and Extrasensory Perception argues that paranormal abilities are part of the natural order of things, abilities we exercise on a continuing basis in order to maintain the illusion that we live in a world where such abilities do not exist.
You have the potential ability to know everything, all of the time. To avoid information overload, you need filters and barriers to limit the information you have to keep track of. ESP results from leakage past those barriers, or from having a different set of barriers than most people do, and operates according to the same perceptual principles discussed earlier. What effects you can have on the world depend on what interactions your perceptual processes will allow to take place. “Magic” results from allowing interactions that “normal” people keep blocked. Examples such as fire walking are examined, and the mechanisms behind them discussed.
This book asserts that we each individually have a great deal more responsibility for the reality we inhabit than we are usually willing to admit. The final chapter on Learning and Growth asks why we choose the way we do, and what we get out of the process.
Learning takes place in different forms, from slowly filling in details about things we already know to the instantaneous “aha!” of a level shift, which shows us the world in a whole new light. Growth involves experiencing each form of learning in turn, in never-ending movement toward fuller understanding. The world itself is a “training aid,” where all this can take place.
Growth is not always comfortable, and many people work hard to avoid it. The reasons include infatuation with where they are now, fear of the unknown, and simply not wanting to take responsibility for themselves and their actions. You can delay growth, perhaps for lifetimes, but it is as inevitable as water running downhill. There are no quick solutions, no keys to sudden enlightenment. Others can provide insights and assistance, but you are your own best teacher and guide. In the final analysis, your growth is your own responsibility. You cannot delegate that responsibility to anyone else.