The Internal Model of Perception

Inner science is a non-religious investigation of the science of perception. It has to be ‘non-religious’ because it follows the ‘no hypothesis’ methodology associated with modern scientific enquiry. This approach is not in itself a judgement against religion, or the religious mind-set. On the contrary, it is the acknowledgement that religious methodology follows the ‘yes hypothesis’ and is the exact opposite of the scientific mind-set. Theology presents an already ‘complete’ vision of the universe, where it is assumed that theism is correct (and self-evident), and that all humanity has to do – from generation to generation – is simply to study this body of theological knowledge, conform to its strictures, and apply those strictures to everyday life. There is no questioning of the root validity of theistic thinking, and no comprehension that it has been a human mind that has ‘assumed’ theological thinking into being. This is because all theology is believed to have originated not from the human mind that first conceived it, but has rather ‘manifested’ from the divine-will of a primarily ‘unseen’ theistic entity. If people find comfort in this type of thinking, that is their right – just as it is an equal right (I would hope) not to find solace in such an approach to understanding reality. From a scientific position, it seems a matter of where one places their conscious awareness – whereas from a religious position, it is a matter of ‘belief’ or ‘non-belief’, ‘theism’ or ‘atheism’, etc.

The above programme is not religious, but entirely scientific in nature (exploring the ‘internal model’ narrative). It investigates the human brain, the human mind, perception and reality. It does this from the study of reality in the form of organic and inorganic matter. The brain is an isolated organ that exists in the skull, which is entirely cut-off from the outside world. It does not directly sense anything in and of itself, and possesses no ability to sense any stimulus in and of itself. The brain communicates with the outside world through bioelectrical impulses that are received from the senses which mediate with the external world. However, all the sensed data, regardless of its nature, be it sight, noise, smell or touch, etc, arrives at the different filtering parts of the brain in exactly the same format – namely that of bio-electrical impulses. In a process that is still not entirely understood, the brain converts these impulses into what might be called the recognisable and tangible senses. All this data serves to form an all-round image of the outer world – an outer world that the brain never directly perceives – but which is assumed to exist in the manner through which it is perceived. This situation is historical and directly related to the requirements of human survival as manifest in evolutionary development. Human beings perceive exactly as much of the physical environment that they need to survive, and nothing more. This would suggest that despite a working model of the external world that all human beings share, we cannot be exactly sure what the external world is really like in all its aspects. We may assume that the external world exists independent of the mind that perceives it, simply because the human brain from which the mind emerges, is itself composed of a material substance. Human perception constructs an image of the outer world that is functional for human survival, but which is probably incomplete in its ability to ‘sense’.

Although a working reality is generated in the human mind by the human brain, this does not mean that the outer world is an illusion that is generated from within the mind. Internal perception should not be conflated with the processes of ‘creating’ the world that is being ‘perceived’. The world exists independently of the brain and mind that perceives it, and remains unchanged in its deepest aspects by the act of general human perception. Here, a distinction must be drawn between general human ‘perception’ (which is instantaneous), and ‘observation’ (which is deliberate and in the case of science, governed by strict laws of conduct). This is despite the fact that a ‘vision’ of the outer world is generated within the brain and mind, and that it is difficult to ascertain the exact accuracy of this construction. This is probably the original meaning behind the Yogacara School of Buddhism which has been generally misconstrued as assuming that all that exists, is the inner world of ideas. The inner world of ideas definitely exists, but it is a product of a physical body that interfaces with an independently existing external environment. This is important research, but my personal opinion is that there must be a correlation between inner perception and the outer world that is sensed, and that the traps of ‘idealism’ ‘psychologism’ must be avoided to retain scientific objectivity. I suspect that human perception of the environment is ‘correct’ and ‘accurate’ – even though it might be incomplete. This is because it is unlikely humanity would have survived if its perception of the material universe was fatally flawed.

 

Buddhism: Pali Bhavana and Chinese Ch’an

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In 1996, I spent a short but fruitful period studying under the Theravada Buddhist monk named Mangala Thero – who was then the Head Monk of the Ganga Ramaya Temple in Beruwela (Sri Lanka). He was not particularly interested in the Mahayana Buddhism of China (or anywhere else, for that matter), but when I explained what Chinese Ch’an (禪) was, the venerable monk thought for a moment, and then explained that he would explain this approach as an exclusive focus upon the development of ‘bhavana’ (Pali: भावना). Broadly speaking, Mangala Thero stated that ‘bhavana’ begins and ends with ‘reigning in’ the mind, so that it is nolonger ill-disciplined. When a mind is disciplined (through concentration upon the breathing, or upon generating loving kindness, etc), the habitual thoughts calm-down and eventually ‘cease’. When the mind is ‘stilled’ in this manner, the ‘thought formations’ (i.e. the fourth aggregate) nolonger arise in their delusive form and ‘pure consciousness’ (i.e. fifth aggregate) can be clearly ‘perceived’ (third aggregate) as the body continues to ‘sense’ (second aggregate) the material environment (first aggregate), and the mind is ‘aware’ of the absence of thought. After this, it is a matter of deepening and enriching the experience through further meditation practice performed within a conducive environment. When I asked my main teacher Richard Hunn (1949-2006) about ‘bhavana’, as usual, he knew the Chinese translation for this Buddhist technical term – which is ‘修習’. Chinese transliterations and translations are useful as the early Chinese scholars had to understand the Indian Pali and Sanskrit terms before they could be rendered effectively into the Chinese language. Obviously, some of the early transliteration of Indian Buddhist terms are purely ‘phonetic’ in nature and in themselves do not convey much meaning as ideograms. This represents an initial process of a slow, careful and gradual building-up of knowledge in China about a thoroughly ‘foreign’ Indian philosophy that had to develop an ‘interface’ with existing Chinese culture. As understanding grew, literal transliterations often gave way to more ‘exact’ translations and I suspect this process happened to the Pali and Sanskrit term ‘bhavana’. Today, within Chinese Buddhism, ‘bhavana’ is not a commonly used term, but it is written as ‘修習’ (xiu2 xi2). The ideogram ‘修’ (xiu2) carries the meanings of ‘repair’, ‘to mend’, ‘construct’, ‘to cultivate’, and ‘to sharpen’ – whilst the ideogram ‘習’ (xi2) carries the meanings of ‘training’, ‘habit’, ‘custom’, ‘repeat’, ‘cultivation’, ‘to follow’ and to ‘learn’. When ‘修習” (bhavana) is taken together, it does appear to be a very good Pali definition of the Ch’an (禪) method. The ideogram ‘修’ (xiu2) contains the left-hand particle ‘攸’ (you1) which depicts a person ‘expertly’ fording a river with a pole (and ‘travelling far’) – whilst the right-hand particle ‘彡’ (shan1) signifies ‘writing’ as used in the act of of committed ‘developmental study’. The ideogram ‘習’ (xi2) carries the upper particle ‘羽’ (yu3) which refers to feathered ‘wings’ that ‘uplift’ (with flying associated with ‘progression’ and ‘advancement’), and the lower particle ‘习’ (xi2) which directly refers to the act of ‘disciplined study.’ Bhavana (修習), therefore, refers to a committed and uplifting Buddhist meditational practice that requires dedication, expert guidance, repetition, and a suggestion of ‘transcendence’ if practised correctly. In other words, ‘bhavana; is a means to get ‘from here’, to ‘there’ – but these two ideograms suggest that it is not an ordinary path of ‘mind culture’. Scholarship, study and expertise are extolled activities and characteristics within Chinese culture, and ‘bhavana’ is a prime example of this activity. A bow of thanks to Mangala Thero and Richard Hunn (Upasaka Wen Shu). Finally, ‘bhavana’ (भावना)) appears to be linked to ‘भ‍वन’ (again, pronounced ‘bhavana’) which is used in the sense of ‘constructing’ a material object such as a building or a shelter, etc. In this context ‘भ‍वन’ (bhavana) suggests a very firm grounding in the material world, with the training of the mind in Buddhist though being considered a part of, or extension of that material world. The ‘mind’ within Buddhism is not a spirit that stands in opposition to the physical world – but is an integral part of it. This means that ‘भ‍वन’ (bhavana) can also be used to denote ‘physical existence’ (or its ‘arising’), with the term ‘abhava’ (अभाव) referring to the ’empty’ nature or ‘insubstantiality’ of physical existence – which is void of any permanency.

Other Dimensions (Out There)

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The main stumbling block with analysing the idea of witnessing another reality, is ensuring that what is experienced, is not a product of the malfunction of the human brain, and its ability to perceive, cognise or interpret. An individual could be suffering from any number of internally generated psychological and physiological conditions, that interfere with the usual process of sensing the material environment. Such divergence away from normal function in the brain (and body), obviously leads to an internally generated view of the physical world, that does not actually exist ‘out there’. If a group of people appear to share a ‘visionary’ experience, it cannot be rejected out of hand, that all concerned are suffering from a perceptual ailment, or that the group is engaging in a ‘cult-like’ activity involving peer pressure, mutual conditioning, and interpretive reinforcement (i.e. a group hallucination). From a scientific perspective, these issues cannot be ignored whilst attempting to establish the theoretical principle of the existence of different planes of reality. Of course, belief systems effect how the world is perceived simply because that is one of their primary functions, but ‘belief’ does not necessarily equate to correct perception or interpretation of reality. Although theoretical physics postulates that other dimensions may exist (i.e. ‘String Theory’ and ‘Quantum Theory’, etc), these realities are mathematical probabilities, and not the product of sensory observation in the usual or mundane sense. In other words, the only manner in which these realities have been understood to exist, is through the use of numbers as cognised by the human brain. This is very different to the structure of religious or spiritual visions of other realities, which always appear to be like this (mundane) reality – but ‘ideal’ in nature. This can be ‘ideally’ good or bad, depending upon belief ad circumstance, but there is no scientific reason why other dimensions should be in anyway ‘familiar’ to human beings and their cognitive sensory array (which has evolved within a particular environment), or even ‘perceptible’ to the human mind in the ordinary sense.

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