Sensations, Perceptions And Concentrations

The role senses or sense perception is easier to understand as the associated experience of heat, cold, light, heavy etc., can be had through direct contact with the source of heat cold etc. They arise immediately without our thinking. Sense organs are important for our material existence, but they are considered to be the lowest faculty of mind.

May 2, 2024, 8:52 a.m.

We can start this chapter by quoting Kant according to whom “sensation is unorganized stimulus, perception is organized sensation and conception is organized perception, science is organized knowledge, wisdom is organized life: each is a greater degree of order, and sequence, and unity”

The role senses or sense perception is easier to understand as the associated experience of heat, cold, light, heavy etc., can be had through direct contact with the source of heat cold etc. They arise immediately without our thinking. Sense organs are important for our material existence, but they are considered to be the lowest faculty of mind. They immediately recognize their object through forms, sounds, smell, tastes etc. But there are elements in sensation, which being direct and seemingly self-obvious, do not stimulate the intelligence to make further inquiries. For example, judgment of pleasant and warm sensation in a sunny winter day is self obvious, but we tend to remain confined within their limits. But sense perceptions, when they are properly integrated, may also reveal the existence and the nature of things which so far remained unknown. Sense perceptions are not the simplest instinctive reactions to the outer environment. Perception is not mere organization of sense experiences; it originates from within, and Nyaya-Vaisesika even speaks about the “principle of extraordinary universal perception” which represents the direct illuminating perception. Perhaps it can best be represented by the perception of beauty, but it is through perception that we may know the deeper aspects of life i.e. the truth of life, the beauty of life and the unity of life; the beauty of a flower as well as the universal beauty of all flowers, - the beauty of a sunset or a beauty of a new born puppy.

Perceptions contain elements of intuition and disposition, and so they are of subtler nature compared to sense perceptions. They can rise above organized sensations. Therefore, knowledge based on sense-perceptions may not be complete, for example, when we perceive perceptions through impressions i.e. shape, size, color etc. All these are relative terms, and the associated experiences are also relative and differ from person to person. But one can also interpret perception in stages i.e. in an ascending order i.e. starting from sense perception at its lowest level, and reaching direct perception at its highest level. The progression from the one to the other is not simple, but first we shall follow the approach generally adopted in the West. Of the three terms, sensations are related to sense organs. Sensations are simply the reaction of our sense organs to the environment. They are unorganized stimuli. Different sense organs reveal different aspects of the object of study, but cannot provide the right perception of that object unless integrated properly. We can say that an orange is orange when we combine individual sense perception gathered through eyes, nose, ear, teeth, touching. The mere data or sensations are converted into meaningful perceptive knowledge, but this perception is still based on outer data. Isolated sensations meet, compare or contrast with one another, combine themselves, and thus form a kind of unity of experience of something which transcends organized sensations. That something is often called perception which is not a simple amalgamation of sensations but a synthetic combination/organization of sense perceptions which are based on our outer experiences, but there are subtler levels of perception that transcend normal experiences.

According to Western line of thinking, perceptions are of higher order compared to sensations, but conceptions are still higher in their scope and depth i.e. sensations, perceptions and conceptions are interpreted in this order of the degree of complexity, but the eastern interpretation is different from this line of thinking. In all perceptions, there are elements which are not contributed by the senses, and sometimes a distinction is made between normal perceptions as generally understood and direct perceptions which are of higher order, Direct perceptions have their source in the Reality, in the Presence itself, and do not depend on any outer conditionings of mind.

Philosophically speaking, concepts mean a set of interconnected ideas expressed in meaningful and unbiased ways. But in reality, it is more difficult to understand conception than perception because while concepts are abstract, perceptions have elements that are related to our inner disposition or to our psychological content which we recognize more easily. Conceptions are purely philosophical. They deal with thoughts or different arrangements of thoughts including abstract ideas about something. Conceptions use reason to express the general idea about something, but if we reflect on the content of that idea of conception, we see that concept defines that something, and limits its scope by shrinking it within the boundary of that definition. Conceptions entrap themselves by a maze of thoughts when everything is labeled. Concepts are mediated and do not flow from within; they are not obvious and immediate as may be the case with perception. Obviously, a concept, being a definition, is something fixed. It is very difficult to break the long established walls created by conceptual habits of thought. If we try to conceptualize God, God becomes a closed concept. We can never be at one with God through our concept of God as concept can only represent the reality; it is not the reality itself. Conception involves abstraction, but abstraction is not given immediately as it is always mediated. Although it indicates at direct truth, it cannot be demonstrated or brought down to the language of common understanding, neither can it be intuited.

Conceptions cannot avoid being abstract. This constitutes a serious limitation of concepts and, in fact, of philosophy, but then conceptions also help us in correlating our experience to knowledge though in abstract terms. It is through abstract conceptions that we wean ourselves from sense perceptions and see the world from a different perspective. They do help us to gain the knowledge of relationships, sequences and the underlying laws in terms of logical or verbal understanding of Truth. They may not help us directly to enter into our inner recess, but they can lead to the very gate of our inner existence. When we move in abstract thoughts, in the ideas of ideas we move ahead logically, rationally even wisely, but we are always separated from what is, from oneself because mere abstraction cannot lead to oneself. Truth is non-conceptual and so we cannot know the Truth using conceptual framework only, but we can still use the conceptual framework to plan our actions and to pursue scientific investigations. The transition into the inner existence occurs firstly through psychological transformation of our mind particularly through refined perception or even through direct perception which leads us directly to the Truth.

Perceptions and conceptions are subjective in their content, but while perceptions are more heart oriented or intuitive, conceptions are more intellectual. Concepts and perceptions represent two different classes of ideas. We can think about concepts but concepts cannot be expressed through perceptions as perceptions, like intuition, can exist apart from experience. Perception is more an opening of your heart to reality; it is being aware of reality. For some, perception may be limited to organized sensual experiences while for some others perceptions may be direct perceptions. We may also quote Bergson:“By direct perception we feel the presence of mind; by intellectual circumlocution we arrive at the notion of that thought is a dance of molecules in the brain. Is there any doubt that intuition here beholds more truly the heart of life?”- Durant Will. Direct perception can also be understood as immediate perception or awareness of the truth “which is an act in which the empirical subject-object relationship is transcended and the pure consciousness, the power behind the mind, rests in itself”, - Jung (from G. Feuerstein and J. Miller.

Direct perceptions mean inner perceptions which are qualitatively different from sense perceptions. While sense perceptions give us only the perceptual knowledge of things direct perceptions give us final knowledge without going through the complexities of conceptual ideas. While we can touch the reality in the first case, we can only think about it in the second case. The fact that concepts and perceptions are qualitatively two different things becomes clear when we realize that concepts can only be thought not perceived. Conceptual knowledge is abstract, discursive and cannot be verified through lived experience, but perception has an element that can not only be conceived but also be felt and experienced. Perception then becomes inner.

Our philosophical understanding or knowledge-forming process starts with normal perceptions of the world, but does not end with perceptual understanding of reality. The reality can be perceived only through direct perception. Sense perceptions only indicate at the reality, they cannot provide a solid ground for understanding the reality. Perceptions can then be understood as the simplest mode of understanding the outer world. While sensations are passive reactions registered by our sense organs, and so constitute only mere data, perceptions are self-searching, can organize sensations for the acquisition of knowledge. Here it is opportune to distinguish between the perceptual knowledge of things and direct perception of reality where the latter can be called inner perception. We can have perceptual knowledge of orange, but this type of perception does not provide the whole truth unless aided by intuition and conceptions. It is through direct perception that we understand the inner quality of perception. This is the type of inner perception when we are in communion with the source of creation when the mind merges willingly into the source of creation.

Recognition of this transformative power behind the perceptual knowledge of things can bring about changes in us that go deeper than abstract concepts. This transformation brought about by transcending the perceptual knowledge of things is something like a transformation from the outer form of a rose to its formless beauty itself – to an eternal beauty of all flowers. This is something like the beauty of a sunset. The depth or the inner quality of perception can perhaps be best revealed through the perception of beauty, the beauty that we see not only with our eyes but also with our inner being. It is the beauty which gives us a kind of bliss gained through personal encounter with the deeper meaning of life, but it is also the beauty associated with our internal design - our internal symmetry and unity i.e. when the perceiver and perception become one. This perceiver-less perception has spiritual value which is altogether different from the perceptual knowledge of things. This inner sense of revelation which this beauty brings into our life suggests that we are essentially spiritual.

In the East, perceptions are considered intuitive and so are less assertive compared to conceptions, but often connote deeper meaning. So emphasis is put on the intuitive and subjective aspects of immediate perception, which is an act in which the empirical subject-object relationship is transcended and pure consciousness or as Patanjali would express it, the power behind the mind rests in itself- Feuerstein G and Miller Jeanine. The immediate perception is then taken as the highest criterion. It is then limited neither by empirical psychology nor by intellectual reason. Intuition is an insight of the soul. When the soul takes over intuition the ensuing experience gained through direct perception is spiritual. The intuitive experience is then replaced by spiritual experience which is way above organized sensations.

Perception is generally divided into normal perception and direct perception. The former is based on sense perceptions. It is limited and so we perceive only a fraction of what is there to be perceived. In the East, this limitation of sense perception is well recognized, and so emphasis is always on the direct perception. In the West, the highest level of conception is sometimes termed as pure abstraction something like Kant’s the thing-in-itself. Whether the thing-in-itself is pure abstraction or not is a different question, but it can well be the object of thought, but it is said that “it cannot be experienced; it remains completely unknown to us what objects may be by themselves”- Radhakrishnan. So the conception of the thing-in-itself as understood in the West has not really come out of pure abstraction. Kant even thought it to be mystical. Besides, all conceptions constitute the construction of interrelated ideas, and have the limitations of logicality and so lead to a dead end when they try to connote more than the rational mind can hold. On the other hand, the thing-in-itself can be understood as the transcendental reality from the Eastern point of view.

Intellectually we can say “I am not the body” etc., but still we continue to think that it is only on the conceptual level because of the psychological imitations of our mind. The journey from the process of understanding to the object of understanding involves a qualitative change-over which cannot be achieved by the intellect. It would seem that our perceptive and conceptual identities run along parallel or dual lines, but this duality is due to our false identification with the body and conceptual thinking. But once we know the limitations of conceptual thinking or of a hiatus between intellectual understanding and to be there, we can easily part with the intellect and become aware of the higher mind, and this duality vanishes by itself. “The dual is born of and lives in the non-dual...Why should not…move from the pleasures of duality to the solemn sanctity of the non-dual way of living.” - Vimala Thakar. The fact is that while intellectual understanding is philosophizing, to be there is living. While philosophizing is conceptual, the act of living is total. However, this duality can be demolished by direct perception, because then verbal understanding through discursive concepts becomes unnecessary and even irrelevant as direct perception is immediate and obvious; it dawns upon us provided we are open to it.

Conceptions deal with more abstract mental notions that exist in our mind. They still play around the faculty of reason, but they can be used to investigate the deeper layers of understanding. There is a way of investigating conceptions through conceptions but the investigation must continue so long as we do not stop thinking or conceptualizing. The progress of conceptions through conceptions means upward movement through different levels of understanding starting from simple rational level of understanding to more and more refined and abstract levels of understanding and comprehension. Understanding then becomes the science for understanding and becomes cumulative. It is a movement from reason to knowledge “for the understanding, through the understanding and in the understanding” using Schopenhauer’s phraseology. The movement involves not only the progression from cause to effect which largely falls within the domain of concepts, but also the progression from effect to cause as is the case with intuition and perception. As mentioned above both intuition and perception exist apart from our mundane experience, and this constitutes a serious problem in understanding them, but their proper understanding reveals their inner meaning.

AB Singh Photo.jpg

Prof. Dr. Akal Bahadur Singh

Prof. Dr. Singh was one of the founding Pragya in the old pre-1990 RONAST. Recently he has been spending much of his time thinking about the relationship between science and spirituality.

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