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Antonio Palomo-Lamarca

The Relation between Perception and Reality in Science

To negate the real existence of everything and
To say that nothing exists is a great error.
Negating too little is called the positive extreme,
Negating too much, the negative extreme.
-- Geshe Rabten

We are what we think.
All that we are arises from our thoughts.
With our thoughts, we make our world.
-- Historical Buddha

1. ^

The Jivaro people think conventional life and the world others see is not real, but only a reflection from the other world. The other world is the world of visions and dreams. In order to reach that world one has to drink the natem, this is an hallucinogenic beverage that transports people into the realm of real beings.

In general science, the better application of the above fact is to wonder what science is in relation to the concept of experience. One has to connect this concept of experience with the question of reality. The principal obstacle with science is that it makes assumptions that our world is valid and tangible. This belief leads to hypotheses and theories in which clarity is not complete. Einstein said the world is perceived as something perfectly comprehensible, when in fact it is complex. The mystery of the world is not its comprehensibility, but in its somewhat chaotic complex nature that is not understood. The concept of reality in science is like a buffet and like an announcement which says: "All you can see" instead of "All you can eat". This "all you can see is true", means "all you can see is true if -- and only if -- we the scientific community decide it is true". So, the concept of astronomical movement in Aristarcus' philosophy during the Medieval ages is not only false, but also an heresy. Nowadays, Paracelsus is perceived as a sorcerer, a big fake with shallow beliefs, yet three hundreds years ago his works were more read than the Copernican corpus. Therefore, in the XVII century who was the real witch, Copernicus or Paracelsus?

It is easy to build up the presumption, like the standard view of science used to do, that science is a regular, linear and cumulative process. From this assumption one could easily forget a whole set of historical data and its consequences. This is like playing guitar without chords only making sounds from the mouth. They wonder what is true, and what must be accepted as true. The major message conveyed in this section will be to emphasize that every culture has its own concept of reality, and thus science can not and must not refuse those concepts as products of our imagination and as fakes.

The model I pursue is art and poetry, both connected with the world of hallucinations. For instance, our cultural background does not support any scheme of hallucinations, from which we could make other theories that are different from the current imposed system of values. This system of values, which I consider dangerous, is built on the pillar of morality and politics beyond the mask of "reason"; the former in the sense of religiosity and worship, the later in the sense of asserting control. Both are interdependent. Is it "acceptable" to apply other concepts of reality to our current science? For example, in the XVIII century, the aether theory was accepted. This theory concerned and involved mysticism and metaphysics. Newton himself addressed it like a Sensorium Dei. In the beginning of the XX century, the aether theory was not recognized and few people gave it credit.1 If I took this concept of aether, as not a physical or material thing, but a metaphysical entity which one could only handle from some other reality different to this: where is the problem now? Science should assume that Newtonian concepts like Absolute Space and Absolute Time do not belong to our common world, such as it is seen by us. In fact, they are much more Platonic than Newtonian. In many ways, I am inclined to believe that modern science (from XVIth to XXth) has its own and peculiar mythology. Words like atom, aether, gravitation, force, electron, vacuum, quarks, gen, oncogen, DNA, etc, etc, are simply mythological concepts, but with a disguised function within the current structure of our deluded mind and culture.

This means two things: first, the culture makes the mind and its perception of the reality. Second, this reality is based upon our communal view of the world. This last point is very important because, I said "communal" and not "personal". It is the community that accepts or does not accept the main items and its structure in science: concepts are accepted as hypotheses or as theories, indistinctly, depending upon a system of construction proceeding from our mind. This system of construction I re-denominate it Mythology. There is not any difference, perceptual difference, that is between the old Greek mythology, and the History of Time of S. Hawkings. It is only the reference system, the perceptor, who changes the perception of the world, but the essence of the real perception continues being the same: the inner expression of our mind. The big-bang theory is not much more complex than the concept of chaos in the old Greek philosophy. The perception is the same, but the perceptor has changed the view. In brief, we are fighting and discussing a problem about language, and this was already pointed out by D'Alembert with regard to the issue of the elasticity of bodies during the XVIII century.

2. ^

Considering carefully this theme, perception and interpretation go together. Nonetheless, the perceptor takes the perception as knowledge, and she/he translates this knowledge as experience.

I am going to explain this account with the following example: A is a person in our common world or daily life B. This common world which all we share, is accepted as true, that is, it is reality. Thus, A accepts B without any problem. Meanwhile, A develops her/his ideas within B, and this development is called "experience", that is C.

A and C, are variables, but B is considered eternal and stable. A could be A1, A2, A3...An; C is considered variable too: C1, C2 ... Cn. As An as Cn could be different and comprehensible, that is different persons with different experiences about the reality B.

The biggest obstacle now is B. This reality B is considered guaranteed and true without any suspicion. Therefore, any possible question about the entrustment of B could be interpreted as a product of madness or pseudo-science. It is the imposed reality, which is considered as true and unique. A1 could have an experience C1, but it must be within the unique reality B. This reality never changes and always is the same, its validity depends upon all you can see... I can see it too. Thereby, there is not any room for creativity and different versions about B. So, B is the fascist governor that manipulates and lashes as A and C. From this, we have a perceptor is manipulated by her/his perception. Consequently, the interpretation could be mistaken.

Arenas like poetry and painting have sponsored the belief in the other realities. For those fields, the concept of experience and reality is quite different, and so B and C have a peculiar role. I think surrealism, for instance, has defined pretty well its concept of reality within the arts. In the standard view of science, C1, C2 ... Cn is always based on a standard perception, that is if A1 sees x, and therefore gets a C1 experience, this kind of experience must be accessible to A2, A3, A4 ... An namely everyone must-can have access to that experience. In poetry and in painting, B and C play a wider role. A1 could have a C1 within a B1 reality. In the shamanic view on the world, we have the same thing: if I am a poet, a shaman, a painter I can see my reality and, this dies not means that you can access to it.

3. ^

Obviously, my perception of how this world is does not have to coincide with yours. Perhaps, it is different, but it does not make me mad or schizophrenic! Let's see this quotation from Monet:

"While you seek the world-in-itself in philosophy..., I simply turn my energies to the greatest number of phenomena possible, since these are in strict correlation with the unknown realities. When one is one the plane of harmonious phenomena, one cannot be far from reality, or at least from what we can know of reality...Is that nothing? Your error is to seek to reduce the world to your size, whereas the greater your understanding of things, the better your understanding of yourself."2

I think that this kind of conclusion can only be reached from what I call Pre-Altered State of Consciousness (PSC) . For example, because of the use of hallucinogenic plants, man can see visions and enter into other realms of reality. This is reached through what has been already called Altered States of Consciousness (ASC) . My thesis is to support the idea that in philosophy, science, music and general art, many people have experienced such states. Some of them a ASC, some others a PSC. Many people have used "hallucinogens" like LSD or mescaline, or even DMT in order to grasp a mystic or artistic experience.3 This means that even some scientists believe in the power of mind to go into other realities different from this one we all perceive. The more common way is using "hallucinogens", but in some other ways, some people have glimpsed a similar state without such hallucinogenic use. Perception datas are not here, obviously the that science usually offers us. I believe the History of science and general Philosophy have ignored this fact, which is easy to find in science, philosophy, music and art. To illustrate what I mean I quote the following paragraph from Rudolf Carnap, who is supposed to be the most representative philosopher on neo-positivism:

After thinking about these problems for several years, the whole theory of language structure and its possible applications in philosophy came to me like a vision during sleepless night in January 1931, when I was ill. On the following day, still in bed with fever, I wrote down my ideas on forty-four pages under the title "Attempt at a metalogic". These short hand notes were the first version of my book Logical Syntax of Language.4

This is a good pattern of what Pre-Altered State of Consciousness (PSC) means. I assume the same kinds of episodes have been already discussed on Neurology and Psychophysiology. In fact, I am sure that science is full of these source of experiences. Copernican astronomy has much about this state, which has been ignored or even deformed. The perception is not the same within the Ptolemaic system as within the Copernican system. Each one belongs to a different experience produced by a different state of consciousness that is product of a hidden and subconscious mind. Now the problem is to determine whether or not that state of consciousness was induced by any "hallucinogen". Also, a second problem would be to set up if such a state of consciousness was an altered characteristic or pre-altered ones.

In few words, science should re-define what "experience" means, and what "reality" means too. For "primitive" cultures, hallucinations and dreams posses a special identity. It is a matter of fact that shamans see the other reality that is, maybe the "thing-in-itself" as Kant called it. Shamans cure illnesses handling that other reality: no scientific explanation, by now. Modern medicine, based on the above explained concepts of experience and reality, does not accept this fact, and so it is called pseudo-science. This side of science as pseudo-science has been already discussed by people like Popper or Feyerabend. The first, under his falsificationism, and the later with an anarchism touch. My focus is in the path of Feyerabend.

4. ^

On the other hand, I want to focus my attention on the fact of hallucinations. How science or philosophy of science could handle such issue? Here the first barrier is that Biology and Medicine reduce the account of hallucinations to biochemistry. Thus, hallucinations are seen as products of a mental disequilibrium produced by a biochemical unbalance. When A1 enters in to an altered state of consciousness the explanation is this: a big-bunch of biomolecules is explained by chemistry and physics, which is perceived as happening inside the brain. I say again: brain. Additionally, J.R. Smythies, a neurologist from the forties says:

We cannot however assume that what is real in the universe is necessarily only that which is biologically useful to man.5

It is very notable to subscribe the following quotation from this author again, in order to understand my position:

But, in another aspect of the concept of order, the mescaline phenomena posses a much higher degree of order than does the every-day visual field, for they are much more beautiful than anything we ever see when have not taken mescaline.6

Or this other:

In any event it is not of fundamental epistemological importance whether we call hallucinatory sense-experience real or unreal. To ask if an hallucination is real or unreal is to ask what are the criteria which we have laid down to govern the use of the word "real" in our epistemological system...I noticed on the two occasions that I took mescaline seemed to be the best merit the description of spatial (and colored) entities...Which of these orders we choose to call real depends very much upon the orientation of our particular culture into which we have been born...This similitude is largely determined by cultural factors.7

I think science should change its concept of experience, or at least should open its eyes to different and wider concepts of experience-reality, based mainly on such cases as above described. Hence, some items in pseudo-science would become science due to that modification. The new dilemma will be how to do it. One approach is made in philosophy of science namely examining the binomy science-language, or better to say between perception and language. The Vienna Circle tried to answer the question: what is the relation between science, language and reality? One of the best answers, but not the only one, was given by Rudolf Carnap with regard to physical entities and language. His idea was to reduce every scientific postulate or sentence into a mathematical syntax, which essence followed a logical structure. This proposal was called physicalism. Yet, I consider this approach as empty and full of gibberish.

The first impediment was in relation to the concept of experience. To answer questions like "what is white", it consisted in comparing the definition of "white" with that we are perceiving. If both coincided, the knowledge would be guaranteed. Carnarp's example: "Snow is white if an only if it is white" means, snow is white if and only if there is a general consensus about this "whiteness". But if an artist writes poetry about "golden snow flakes" , this would entail a logical incongruence. Therefore, it is considered a non-logical statement, and an invalid argument.

If we put this into an experimental context, that is A1 has seen "golden snow" (C1) it is understood as a non-sense because C1 has not any room within the common reality B. The experience is invalid and false. Therefore, science always wins. It is ironic to say how Carnap tried to see within a "real world" a "logical system" that had been see by himself from the border of the other world, such as he suggests from his "vision" because of a hectic state.

5. ^

My new overture consists in emphasizing the Hegelian fact "Man is Spirit", and so a son of the mother Freedom and father Feeling. The inner space and the adventure of spirit is only comparable with the infiniteness of the Universe and its own chaos. Some people, like Niels Bohr have compared this datum to the chaotic behavior of the atom. Again, science should open its doors to a broader position and to realize that the concept of reality can be different in different worlds. I assume this is a hard task, but on the other side I think it is necessary. Terence McKenna has an interesting view that could help us to understand my perspective:

I believe that this work must be done using hallucinogens. Traditionally it has been thought that there were many paths to spiritual advancement. In this matter I must fall back on personal experience. I have not had good results with any other techniques.8

Personally, I do not support the use of hallucinogens to any great scale. I understand it is an exciting experience from which one could learn more about oneself and about our social medium, but it is a risk to give the opportunity to everybody to use LSD, for example. In the other reality, perception turns out to be very different from our common use of the same perceptual system, and of course the perceived things posses a distinct grade of peculiarity. Now I realize and understand much better what Descartes means when he used the words "clear and distinct" with regard to his world conception.

It is necessary to point out at this moment, the dichotomy subjective-objective, and its implications within science and testing. I said before that science should change the rigid position kept about experience and reality. Similarly science analyzes subjectivity and objectivity in a wrong and dogmatic way. Subjectivity depends on the subject, on the individual point of view. Objectivity depends on the object, that is on the experiment. Nonetheless, science does not realize that objectivity implies subjectivity too, just depending on who is interpreting who. I can say objectively: "The earth is round and it moves around the sun". This in fact does not matter. The matter is that although I can get scientific evidence (proof) about the motion of the earth, I am subjectively interpreting the data. Let's go with A1. This person A1 sees how when she/he asks for a beer in a pub the waiter brings the beer, and then when she/he says "thanks", the waiter show a splendid smile. A1 interprets this as a product of sympathy and joy, she/he thinks that when you give something the other person is going to thank you for it. One day, A1 is called to work as a waiter in Tokyo-Japan, and she/he expects the same kind of results she/he used to obtain. This is called universalism. In Japan, people do not thank anyone when she/he serves a beer, they also do not give a tip. What's up here? A1 had interpreted objectively her/his experience-data, her/his object was a waiter, and the experiment -- the courtesy. Now, after testing almost all over the world everyone says "thanks" after receiving something; but she/he realizes that in Japan things are different. Afterwards, that "objectivity" does not work now. That's not all. A1's object was in all moment interpreted subjectively. It was a subject, an individual A1 who made the assumptions about the fact. In no moment, A1 asked to the waiter about her/his feelings after having "thanks". A1 interpreted the waiter' smiles product of courtesy and joy, but A1 did not wonder if could be product of mocking, for example. After asking several people in Tokyo, A1 learns Japanese people never say "thanks" to somebody who is supposed to be fulfilling a duty. Thus, the new maxim is that depending on the circumstances and the place where you are, a system of values could be or could not be valid. Science calls this "relativism", and physics has its own banner about this item, hasn't it?

That system of values has been colored by science, and it is called a "system of reference", positions, which could be mirrored int mathematics realm. Science does not deal with waiters, but it does deal with particles, genes, equations, biological tissues, and a big large etcetera. Science interprets a biological tissue on the microscope, and then science tries to trick us with the soft tale that "it has been objective". Actually, I see this as crude and raw subjectivism disguised by the proof creeds. A person who has power to see the future, for instance, is called "fake", because science thinks that it is impossible to be a "prophet". Never the less, science used the same meaning of prophesy but without a religious connotation. Meteorologists predict the weather, and they say "they do not prophesies" about the future of the climate. The real word disguised for "prophesies" is to predict. Science does not want to mix up the "real" meaning of words. It is a problem of pride within the scientific field. Objectivity is a big tale whom inventors have been the scientists themselves.

6. ^

Finally, I wish to conclude re-writing a Spaniard joke, which could help us to understand the pivotal meaning of "objectivity" from a radical view of the philosophy of science. Enjoy it:

A scientist is making a test with a spider. The test consists in providing that the spider can listen and understand a human voice. The scientist takes the spider and places it on a table. Then, the scientist says:

-- Spider comes on!

And the spider walks.

Now, the scientist decides to take off a leg from the spider. After he did it, the scientist says:

-- Spider comes on!

And the spider walks again.

After doing that, the scientist takes off three more legs from the spider and she/he says:

-- Spider moves! Comes on!

And the spider begins to walk one more time.

After all, the scientist makes a decision consisting in taking all off the other legs from the spider. The, the scientist says:

-- Spider comes on! Moves!!!

But now, the spider does not walk at all. The spider is quiet. No motion.

After this experiment, the scientist concludes objectively that when a person takes off all the legs from a spider, the spider turns deaf!

Copyright © 2000 Antonio Palomo-Lamarca

Antonio Palomo-Lamarca. «The Relation between Perception and Reality in Science», Dialegesthai. Rivista telematica di filosofia [in linea], anno 2 (2000) [inserito il 28 settembre 2000], disponibile su World Wide Web: <https://mondodomani.org/dialegesthai/>, [29 KB], ISSN 1128-5478.

Notes

  1. It is an exception Sir Oliver Lodge, for instance. <

  2. Letter from Monet to Georges Clemenceau, in the early 20th century. <

  3. Aldoux Huxley or Terence McKenna, in literature. J.R. Smythies, or Albert Hofmann, in science. Jim Morrinson, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, in music; just for mentioning some of them. <

  4. R. Carnap: "Carnap's Intellectual Autobiography", in Paul A. Schilpp: The Philosophy of Rudolf Carnap. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1963; pg. 53. <

  5. J.R. Smythies: Analysis of Perception. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1956; pg. 93. <

  6. Ibidem, pg. 93 <

  7. Ibidem, pg. 93-94 <

  8. Terence McKenna: The Archaic Revival. Harper San Francisco, 1991; pg. 98. Italics mine. <

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