Robert C. Priddy

Writings on diverse themes from philosophy, psychology to literature and criticism

  • Robert Priddy


    In this blog I post information and critical views concerning ideologies, belief systems and related scientific materials etc. I am a retired philosophy lecturer and researcher, born 1936.

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Perception And Reality, Fiction and Fact in religion

Posted by robertpriddy on February 5, 2011

It is something of a fad among surfers to say that “everything is perception” and that there is “no truth and no reality”. This standpoint obviously falls on the grounds that it is merely a perception, not truth. However, the idea persists that there is nothing that can be called reality other than perception. This is the most elementary logical and factual error one can make – it is pre-philosophical: The earliest philosophical thinkers already distinguished between perception and reality – the stick that is perceived as bent in water is ‘in reality’ straight. You could discover the reality of the situation you experienced only when you investigate so as to test the perceptions.

The same basic assumption underpins all religious beliefs – that is, the acceptance of perceptions (in the broad sense) as fact, when they may just as well be fiction.  There is a very widespread ethos saying ‘People must be allowed to believe what they want’. The fact is that one cannot stop people believing what they want. So the ethos aims instead at those who wish to question beliefs, examine them, put them to the test and debate them openly… as if they should stop their activities out of ‘respect’ for other people’s beliefs.

The biologist Lewis Wolpert seeks to examine the penchant for faith in a book whose title derives from an exchange between Alice and the Red Queen, in which the latter points out that “sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Wolpert describes and interprets various widespread logical fallacies, examining their diverse origins in brain pathology, neuro-chemical impacts, and other cognitive limitations, in seeking to understand why so many people, in the words of H.L. Mencken, “believe passionately in the palpably not true.” His book is a useful compendium of hallucinations, confabulations, and other self-delusions, with the intriguing added thesis that much science is itself counterintuitive (the earth’s going around the sun, the mutability of species, quantum “weirdness,” and so on).

Truthfulness and/or factual truth: There can be a major difference between telling facts truthfully and knowing what is true. A witness who has been unknowingly misled – or who eagerly trusted and believed may tell experience most honestly, but this may well still misrepresent actual states of affairs. Someone can be truthful about their subjective experiences, while these experiences may remain very far from penetrating to the truth of things. Not only may the experience be the result of framed and mind-distorted perceptions but it may conflict with the evidence both of systematic investigation, collective experience, factual knowledge and reason.

To be truthful may lead to revealing a more comprehensive or hidden truth, but what one tells can be distorted by one’s subjective interpretations combined with what one thinks and believes in general, all bending one’s perceptions. When one has developed a mindset which is largely organized by some doctrine or faith, the truth of any matter is always more or less clouded by that mindset. Those who have a very wide mindset will usually be able to interpret their perceptions in a less subjective manner than those who lack training in comparative studies, critical thinking, and psychological self-understanding.

I have given some examples of distinguishing perceptions (and subjective interpretations of them) from reality in interactions with spiritual figures. Such insights are crucial in discovering fraud by so-called spiritual gurus. They help in seeing through the very subtle means of indoctrination, self-programming, and deceptive means of hooking followers. See the: The dangers of global and religious or spiritual cults (http://www.saibaba-x.org.uk/5/What_a_Cult_is.html) and for examples based on long experience of the techniques India’s most successful guru-god see here.

The nature of the brain’s self-programming is dealt with in an understandable way here, showing how perception is itself not reality-

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