To Trust Our Eyes

Last night I tried to write about the people amidst the paranormal field and their intentions, trying to get a feel for the direction the field is moving – it was an utter failure.

Today on Twitter, @Koogiemyster asked my opinion on reality and people’s perspective. This is a good question, albeit broad, and addresses a really fascinating blend of religion, philosophy, and science all amidst the supernatural.

Reality is defined as the world around us, occurrences that are fact and not simply perception. In philosophy, “existence that is absolute, self-sufficient, or objective, and not subject to human decisions or conventions.” It’s the world beyond our eyes, not necessarily what we see.

Human perception of the world is awfully fragile. Most of our looking at what around us is in memory. The “present” moment of perception is instantaneous. The moment that you read this for the first time, it is gone as quickly as it came. We view the world, as clearly as we ever will, for an instant, and we analyze through memory alone.

Memory is something you can’t trust as far as you can throw. It’s fact that memories are moldable and subject to manipulation, though many don’t think so, trusting inherently. In crime, while witnesses can be the best leads on a case to point the police in the right direction, their testimony is weak in a court of law. All too often two witnesses of one instance will report different memories. The color of the suspect’s shirt, the kind of car he drove. My psychology teacher in high school recounted a memory of his childhood – one of his earliest. He vividly remembered riding his tricycle down a very steep driveway in front of his house in Germany, but later, when he finally got a chance to see pictures of the house, the driveway was flat. Did he make it up? Consciously? No. But the brain constantly does this.

Perhaps most clear of the brain’s inability to clearly handle memory is on a Paranormal Investigation. You’re in a dark room, you hear a strange sound in the hallway adjacent. As soon as the sound goes, your brain fumbles around the memory of it, what exactly did it sound like? Sometimes, by the time you get back to your evidence and hear it again, it may sound completely different from your memory.

Matrixing puts what we know to unknown or jumbled sounds, making noises sound like words. Our brain is an interpreting device. Even direct vision is largely extrapolation, the brain studying the points of light around blind spots and assuming what fits best in between.

So can we trust our memories of what’s happening around us? To a degree, of course. Depending on our focus, our brain records these images and sounds with more detail. Repetition builds stronger memories, molding with more force.

As for the actual nature of reality and our perception of it – the whole concept is a can of worms. In Philosophy it’s called Phenomenology, it touches on Epistemology, it’s an important element of Psychology. I took an intense class on Religious Experience a year ago, studying each of these philosophies in turn and how they relate to the supernatural – at least in terms of religious experience.

It’s a raging debate. You can run in circles all day at the finest phenomenological approach, that we can never trust what we see because everything we experience is experienced through our senses. We have a tree, we see the tree, we interpret the seeing of the tree as seeing a tree. We touch it to verify the tree, but we must first feel the tree, interpret our sense of feeling, and decide that the tree exists.

You can never validate reality by sense because your mind can lie with your senses. The world around us could be an elaborate fraud designed by our brain and our consciousness.

To make progress at all, many in the philosophical community and the scientific community have to put aside a few exceptions. We must assume that we experience the world directly, and we must assume that others also experience the world as directly. Then we seek validation of experience by comparison and documentation.

It cannot be taken completely at face value that we perceive directly, or that we see in the same way that a camera can see. Science has focused rather exclusively on the trusting of our five senses, that our way of perceiving the world through each of these five is the only way in which we can experience. Philosopher William Alston wrote a book called Perceiving God, in which he addresses Mystical Perception versus Direct Perception, how we cannot look at the two in the same way, how our experiences build to beliefs, epistemology, and how with those beliefs we form Doxastic Practices. The practices and beliefs of our day to day lives are built on our senses, and we cannot compare the extra-sensory to basic sensory because the two are radically different and have conflicting belief systems.

I could go deeper but I feel that it would stray from the point. If you’re looking for further reading I highly recommend Alston’s Perceiving God, William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience, and Anthony Steinbock’s Phenomenology and Mysticism. The three deal exclusively with religious experiences, but they’re studying perception, reality, and the fringes of the sensory, horizontal world that we experience every day, which is not so different from any other border-pushing discussion for the nature of what may lie Beyond, and how we see that world.

What do I think about reality? I think I can’t know as much as I think. I think perceptions can be flawed and must be approached critically. I also think we need to trust that we see directly to the degree that we need to chase it down with documentable science, to continue pushing at that border with the technology we presently trust. But I also feel that in our pursuit toward that which rests unseen, by nature of being sometimes seen, we must consider that there are different ways of perception, that our everyday senses may not be enough or all that there is. And in this way I think it’s important to consider not only the supernatural, but reports of Religious Experience, mystical perception, and psychic phenomena.

Advice? Maintain healthy skepticism about experience, staying “scientific,” for we know our pursuits as scientists are not in vain, and do present evidence, but be sure to balance it with staying open to possibility, for there is more here than meets the eye – or for that matter, is interpreted by it.

Thanks for the topic, Koogie, it was fun and I liked the direction it went. A full one-eighty from last night.

Feel free to share comments below on your own thoughts, further questions, or field-furthering perspectives.

And if you have any other questions in mind that you’re interested in my blogging about, feel free to send them to me here, on twitter, facebook, anywhere really –


One thought on “To Trust Our Eyes

  1. Koogiemyster says:

    Thank you for using my idea thou sorry, for it not provoking many comments. I really enjoyed this blog today, and am happy with where you took the idea of reality and perception! I really think that you hit the nail on the head with stating that “Human perception of the world is a awfully fragile.” for the littlest events in ones life can change how we perceive the world and things around us, and most defiantly using all five senses. Most people confuse their perception to only being thought of as how the see the world, but only sing their sight. But your right the brain is a mighty organ which takes not only sight (visual information coming entering our eyes) as well as all other senses the theory of perception is a complicated one which can be found in many different sub-fields of psychology. I took a Cognitive psychology and Biology psychology last semester, both which had different views on how we interpret, perceive the incoming information from our senses, however we also have to look at the physiology or medical school of thought, chemicals, hormones. Our hormones also influences how we perceive things, how blue the sky is thou you and I may be looking at the same sky side by side however I can assure you that we will describe the sky differently. love that you touched on memory, and yes I completely agree with you on that memory is mailable, gullible very easily manipulated, going back to the sky example if you waited a few days to describe the sky to a friend or your mum, you or anyone in-turn will again describe it differently, its a different shade of blue, with different brightness. Something that I think you may be interested in is a theory called Confirmation Bias; while on your paranormal investigations. Stating that if the home owner tells you that in a certain room you hear a certain thing (foot steps), that when your investigating your expecting that thing to happen when you sit in the specific room, because you are expecting it, because one may want it to happen, and there for any sound turning it into a pattern like, cadence … thus walking —footsteps. I believe you called this matrixing, which is part of this. A very scary example of this is the incident of Iran Air Flight 655, July 3 1988, during the Iran-Iraq war. Where a US naval ship was guarding the waters around the countries, it was close to July 4th and they Officers were told to expect things to happen because it was the US holiday. Because of this and several other confounding factors, an officer whos' job was to watch other aircraft on the radar, mistakenly took acceding numbers as descending numbers, and thus for fear of the safety of the Ship the Commanding officer made the decision to shoot down the aircraft, which was a commercial air bus containing 290 civilians. I always love the thought that we only see blue as blue because were told, and thought as children that that color is blue. An unethical study was done with children, orphans in the early 1950's ish I am not 100% sure, but these children were told, and thought that blue was red and vise veras, other studies thought blue and red colors that we see, as the same color with the same name, and these children grew up not being able to perceive the difference between the two, other than brightness. I wish I had more information from this study but it was a spoken example in class last year. Your welcome Karl, glad to help your writers block..? sorry to have taken so long to comment.

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