Saturday, September 3, 2016

Another Perspective On Perception

I have discussed perception a lot in these messages. I do that, in part, because it is so central to A Course In Miracles (ACIM). In fact, ACIM defines our change in perception as our Atonement. It is effected by the Holy Spirit – not by an act of willpower on our part – only when we are truly open and willing to see things, events and people differently. Perception is also very central to recovery and the achievement of serenity in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Members of the AA Fellowship will not talk about how you go about changing your old-thinking perceptions. Rather, they will tell you, as they told me, to focus only on today – don’t drink, go to a meeting, share openly and honestly, talk to your sponsor, work the steps, pray to your Higher Power, and the rest of your life is none of your business. Doing this earnestly, you will come to discover that your compulsion to drink has melted away, serenity and joy have begun creeping into your life, and your perception of the world is changing.
In a small book given to me by a friend [What Color Socks Does God Wear, Doug Bennett, 2015] the author discusses, among other things, how we developed our perceptions and why they are so difficult to change. He comes at this from the perspective of science and logic. It was very interesting reading.
How do we learn from our reality? Isn’t reality just what is ‘out there,’ the stuff that we walk around in and bump into once in a while? Let’s look at how that works.
“We perceive our environment, what we think of as reality, with our senses. [Karl Pribram, eminent neuroscientist, psychologist and philosopher, who postulated that we humans think in holograms] proposed that the process we … use to perceive things involves memory of learned experience. In Pribram’s model we take in information from our environment through our senses and convert it to holograms. Those little holograms are taken to our memory, where we retrieve something from our memory that matches the input information. That retrieved information is projected back out of the receiving sensory organ and forms what we see or otherwise perceive.
“This means that everything we perceive is learned,” [p. 35]
So, what if I haven’t learned it yet? Does that mean I wouldn’t “see” anything? The answer is “yes!”  I remember reading of the Spanish explorer’s conquest of the Aztecs of Central America, who maintained constant “watchers” for potential enemies. Why didn’t they “see” or report the square-rigged sailing ships of the 16th century Spanish ships as they moved close to shore? The Aztec watchers had no frame of reference for these massive forms “floating” on the sea. Early reports indicated they had reported large, slow-moving clouds floating above the ocean. That’s all. When they began to see men disembark, they thought they were gods who came from the clouds. The watchers simply didn’t see “traditional” enemies. There was nothing alarming to report.
We know what eventually happened.
Bennett goes on to describe how, as we learned these initial experiences, it wasn’t just the physical perception that we learned. Each physical perception was accompanied by meaning and feeling reactions, as well. When we “see” something, the meaning and feeling reactions occur at the very same time as the physical perception. When you see a snake out of the corner of your eye, the registering of the sight of the snake, the fear we learned from that initial experience, and the jumping-out-of-the-way all occur simultaneously. They were all learned together. In Bennett’s words, they form a perception packet of information – the object itself, the feelings, and the associated physical reaction. It is this “packet” we recognize, project outward, and then respond to.
“There are several apparently different aspects to our learned responses. To give them all a convenient handle I have invented something I call a perception packet. I am not proposing that such things really exist. This is just a way to explain the process. Imagine that for each situation in our life we have a little packet, a perception packet. Every time we encounter that situation or that person or thing, we look up the packet for that situation, open it up and it tells us what we have encountered, how to feel, and what to do in that situation.” [p. 38]
ACIM and AA alike teach what I see reflects primarily only who I think I am. If I am essentially angry, I will perceive anger in almost every situation or person. I will be wary, fearful, untrusting, or tentative. If I am essentially open-minded and trusting, that’s what I will perceive. If I’m on the lookout for a quick mark, I will see everyone else looking to take advantage of me. ACIM states what we perceive is merely a reflection of our own thoughts. AA says it much more simply: If you spot it you got it.

#1 Sep 2016

Copyright 2016

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