Is there order in the cosmos independent of what the mind puts there? Could the universe be radically different from how we perceive it? This article will focus on these two questions starting with major contributors to theories of perception, both historical and present day. Although each philosopher in history has contributed something to the ideas of perception of note are Kant, Bergson, Berkeley, and Newton. This presentation will begin with these four and move to the IT philosophy of Edward Fredkin. Finally, an examination of the Buddhist perspective on perception will be presented to tie all ideas of perception together. The philosophers of history had outstanding ideas about perception especially considering the limited scientific knowledge at their times in history. The question comes to mind as to how different those ideas would have been if the writers had access to the information of the Hubble telescope or the studies of Einstein and Stephen Hawking. Perhaps the truth of perception has digressed rather than through synergy become increasingly clearer. This presenter does not believe this to be true but does hold the universe holds secrets that we have only begun to perceive.
“Perception is based both upon experience of external objects and a priori knowledge”
Immanuel Kant’s philosophy would take a sizeable book to explain in depth. Therefore, this article will focus on Kant’s theory of perception well defined by Kant’s 1781 work “The Critique of Pure Reason.”
Understanding Kant’s theory first requires a look at Kant’s view of analytic and synthetic propositions. His distinction between the two is as follows:
Analytic proposition: a proposition whose predicate concept is contained in its subject concept; e.g., “All bachelors are unmarried,” or, “All bodies take up space.”
Synthetic proposition: a proposition whose predicate concept is not contained in its subject concept ; e.g., “All bachelors are happy,” or, “All bodies have mass.”
(Wikipedia, Immanuel Kant, 2007)
Although, it is an oversimplification… an analytic proposition is one that requires no proof and can be understood if one has a good understanding of the language used. Synthetic propositions go beyond the language used and before Kant’s Critique of Reason, the empiricists and rationalists thought that a requirement of understanding synthetic propositions would be experience. Kant gave the proposition that this was not always true, that instead it was possible to know of something without empirical experience. Kant’s belief was that the world’s form changes to our understanding of it rather than the world having certain intrinsic characteristics that could be understood by all. His argument was that experience depends on priori forms his name for certain conditions that must exist for experience to happen. He also put forth that this was true for the universe. Kant gave the example of Space and Time as conditions, which are requirements for experience. (Wikipedia, Immanuel Kant, 2007)
This speaker’s opinion is that Kant’s premise is valid but for reasons that Kant did not have the priori knowledge to understand. His argument is for what in today’s terminology we would call DNA wisdom or DNA memory (if we require a physical explanation of the why of it). The French philosopher Henri Bergson also gives support to this with his view of ” the job of perception is not to give us knowledge but the conditions required for action”. Bergson also postulated that perception is a physical action of the brain linked with memory. Kant’s argument that perception conforms to our understanding of it rather than the converse is proof of the Buddhist concept of Karma. Later in this presentation Karma will receive an in depth explanation but in short Karma deals with unconscious interaction with the perceived universe. This Karmic theory lends proof to both Kant and Bergson’s theories but in means neither of them understood (this will be further explained later in the presentation). The speaker believes a more appropriate wording of Bergson’s quote above might be “perception is our karmic interaction with the environment which produces unconscious action or inaction… unless enlightened to the nature of the action.”
(Wikipedia, Henri Bergson, 2007)
Berkeley was an empirist whose theory was that the only knowledge of any object was the perception itself. He believed that without a mind there was no perception. He also, believed that objects did not really exist that instead their beingness was an idea or perception. Berkeley thought that since humans experience other humans through speaking to each other and through this speech find out that their view of the world is the same then the world is the same for everyone. (Wikipedia, George Berkeley 2007)
Berkeley’s ideas are far too simple. There have been many arguments that philosophy should be useful to humankind….that it should serve to help humans evolve upwards. Berkeley’s ideas are hardly useful and hardly explain the fact that if objects are merely ideas then we should be able to change the nature of anything quite easily. In example, if pollution is only an idea then we can all decide not to believe in it and it will go away. Berkeley also maintained that God was the background originator of all ideas through humans. If this were true then it would refute the idea of free will and remove any particular purpose to life except the amusement of God. (Wikipedia, George Berkeley 2007)
Newton was a scientist but also a Christian. This tie to Christianity was fundamental in his approach to perception and the universe. The influence he had on religious belief was substantial and this was very much due to his great advances and successes in science. Newton believed that God was the only explanation for the universe mainly because as a scientist he could not come up with any other explanation. However, despite this religious belief Newton continued to look for other explanations and to test religious doctrine. There is some speculation and proof that Newton also studied the occult. The theme of this presentation is not the existence of God and so this speaker will go no further on the subject except to say one of Newton’s great contribution to universal perception would be combining religious theory with scientific theory. (Wikipedia, Isaac Newton 2007)
The foremost discoveries of Newton’s were his laws of motion stated as follows:
Newton’s First Law (also known as the Law of Inertia) states that an object at rest tends to stay at rest and that an object in uniform motion tends to stay in uniform motion unless acted upon by a net external force.
Newton’s Second Law states that an applied force, F, on an object equals the time rate of change of its momentum
Newton’s Third Law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction (Wikipedia, Isaac Newton 2007)
In Newton’s third law, we find Buddhism. Newton did not know that the third law was the law that the entire universe revolves around. If he had known the profundity of that one law this speaker believes it would have become his life’s research. Perhaps empirists like Berkeley would have a different view if they studied Newtonian physics as an explanation of life rather than as a simple law.
Edward Fredkin (2001) defined how the universe functions, its beginning, and its composition based on the idea that Nature is Finite. Nature being finite means the universe also is finite. Fredkin’s theory is one of the most far out perception theories around and yet one that is easily as plausible as believing in divine creation. Fredkin believes that the universe is run by a computer, but not just any computer, rather it is a cellular automaton. In Fredkin’s Digital Mechanics the bottom line element of physics is a cell. A cellular automaton is a system of cells. Within this system, each cell is in a state of which there are a finite number of states. The cell moves from one state to the next dependant on the states of the cells around the cell. Since some cellular automata are universal, they have the capacity to perform any computation if there is enough volume and time. Fredkin explains that if one were able to look at a small part of space through some kind of magic microscope an area of activity would appear and seem to be moving randomly. However, the randomness would be an illusion since each cell would be reacting to those around it. Fredkin further explains that one bit of this space would be related in its activity to one-half of all of space-time history. (Fredkin 2001)
Of course, without a PHD in physics, this is quite hard to understand, but with only a minor grasp of what Fredkin is saying, we can feel a kind of beginning of the understanding of a different perception of the universe. This theory to this point still does not explain creation, but Fredkin comes up with an equally outrageous yet surprisingly plausible explanation. Accepting the idea of an always has been there concept is very difficult for the human mind because of the laws that exist in our universe. Fredkin expounds that a possible answer for this is that our universe and the control of its computer come from an alternate universe he calls “the other”. In the other the laws that spark our disbelief in an infinite universe of space and time do not exist, instead, the other is not a place of beginnings or ends since the laws of physics do not apply there. Finally, Fredkin explains that our universe exists for two possible reasons. One is that our computer universe is working on a computational problem of indefinite length. The other possibility is that our universe is some kind of artifact. (Fredkin 2001)
Fredkin’s theory may seem outlandish to some but for this speaker it seems to hold great possiblitiy. However, here again is a scientist philosopher that lacks understanding basic Buddhist concepts that would add justification to his theory or at least to his computer theory.
Buddhism would say that the cells are grouped by karmic ties and each is influenced by the karma of the others. Let us begin to see each of the philosophers’ theories through the Buddhist perspective.
Kant, Berkeley, Newton, and Fredkin through Buddhism
What is Perception in Buddhism ?
“It is the acceptance of whatever there is…the imprinting of the object deep in the mind.” Daisaku Ikeda
Kant, Berkeley, Newton, and Fredkin have one idea that has a common note. Kant believed humans shape the world around them through their understanding of it. Berkeley believed nothing exists without the idea of it and Fredkin believes cells move from one state to the next dependant on the cells around them.
How does Buddhism say all of this with much more clarity? The answer to this is through the idea of Karma. Karma sounds eastern and mystically metaphysical and yet each culture and religion on the earth believes in this same concept to some extent. A good example of this is Christian adages such as “what goes around comes around” or “the sins of the father are visited upon the children”. What separates the depth of understanding of Karma between Buddhism and other religions is that Buddhism does not have the impedance of a one-life concept.
Ikeda, Kawada and Kitagawa (1973) agreed Kant’s idea that reality forms from one’s understanding is exactly like the Buddhist concept of the “Oneness of Life and Environment”. This concept further explains that the condition of one’s life, because of ones Karma, is reflected in the people and things in ones immediate physical area. Kant would have been clearer had he said ones perception changes the role of the object viewed. The object’s role is the action taken from the affect of the perception
The quote given by Bergson earlier is again stated here: “the job of perception is not to give us knowledge but the conditions required for action” This statement is very true!
Buddhism explains this again in the phrase, “The Oneness of Life and Environment”
A location in space and time in Buddhism is not a random occurrence. A series of cause and
effects have lead to the place and time. In that location, then, there is a Karmic connection. If in this time and place there is the meeting of two humans, the encounter will be influenced by the Karma of each person. In another view, the perception each has will depend on each person’s Karma. This can be explained in a very simple way that any culture or religion will understand. Suppose in one’s youth one has an abusive parent named Mike. Because of this Karmic influence, anyone with the name of Mike may trigger a feeling of distrust. In like manner, a facial characteristic can trigger a good or bad response. If ones first love is a brown-haired person, one may be forever in search of brown-haired people or influenced differently by them.
Ikeda et al. (1973) wrote that Newton’s third law “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” is an accepted theory. Of course, Newton is merely talking about moving objects and laws of physics. Which by the way do not apply to elementary particles if we are to believe the work of Werner Heisenberg who is famous for his uncertainty principal (the movement of elementary particles are only traceable by probability and statistics). If we take Newton’s simple law and change it to cause and effect, it becomes incredibly profound. A good example of the cause and effect is in Freudian Psychology. Freud proposed that below the conscious mind is the subconscious mind and in the subconscious mind sexual energy is produced which produces action at some point. Buddhism describes cause and effect as having different forms, which are inherent cause, external cause, latent effect and manifest effect. Explained as follows:
Inherent Cause: is cause that is in us at the present moment in a latent stage. Even though cause and effect are simultaneous, the effect or result takes a finite amount of time to become visible.
External Cause: is the cause outside us that triggers an inherent cause within ourselves. External Causes have two functions: one is to influence human life and the other is to become part of the life force of a human being.
Latent Effect: A latent effect is an effect in a potential state. Buddhism calls this state “Ku”. However, again it should be noted that cause and effect occur at the same time and that the effect is within the cause. A very difficult and profound point is that visible phenomena are caused by the latent effect within humans.
Manifest Effect: this is the physical perception of an effect. The cause and effects happen in this order: Inherent cause is triggered by external cause, which makes an inherent effect, which is followed by a Manifest Effect. (Ikeda et al. 1973)
Although, this speaker was perhaps harsh in the criticism of the honorable philosophers within this presentation most assuredly they deserve the utmost respect as pioneers in this field. Interpreting their ideas through Buddhism was not an attempt to ridicule but to show the profundity of their discoveries in a light of which they themselves were unaware. Certainly, the common note of Kant, Berkeley, Bergson, Newton and Buddhism is that perception is in the eye of the beholder. Buddhism’s role is to explain the why of that difference. In this, it fulfills the true role of Philosophy….to be of use to humankind in the pursuit of the truth or more aptly put… the state of enlightenment.
Fredkin E. (2001) Digital philosophy, a new cosmogony, Retrieved March 2, 2007 from http://www.digitalphilosophy.org/new_cosmogony.htm sites/emc2/tl/philosophy/dice.cfmAdditional references.
Ikeda, D., Kawada Y., Kitagawa M.,(1973) Dialogue on life, Buddhist perspectives on the eternity of life, Nichiren Shoshu International Center
Wikipedia (2007) Wikipedia the free encyclopedia, Isaac Newton, Sir Isaac Newton,
Retrieved March 9, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Newton#
Wikipedia (2007) Wikipedia the free encyclopedia, George Berkeley Retrieved March 9, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Berkeley
Wikipedia (2007) Wikipedia the free encyclopedia, Immanuel kant, Retrieved March 9, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immanuel_Kant
Wikipedia (2007) Wikipedia the free encyclopedia, Henri bergson, Retrieved March 9, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Bergson