Perception: How we make sense of reality

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We make sense of our environment through the process of perception. It typically happens through our senses: visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and tactile sense. We respond to stimuli from the environment and interpret them. In the process of perception, four components are involved: the sense organ, the receptor cells, the nerves the transmit the signal and the brain region.

Indian view of perception

The Indian philosophical systems have diverse views on the origin of the senses. The upanishads talk of the creation of the universe, the individuated consciousness and the koshas that enclose the atman.

The adhisthana is the seat of the senses which are the sense organs. The gnanendriya are the five senses. Like the nerve conduits that we mentioned before, the signals from the various senses flow through designated nadis: gandhavaha for smell , rupavaha for light and form, rasavaha for taste, sparshavaha for touch, shabdavaha for sound, manovaha for the mind. What is perceived is called the visaya or object of the senses. Senses that work by direct contact with the object are called prapyakari (smell, touch and taste) and those that work by indirect contact are aprapyakari(vision and sound). The tattva bodha, a vedantic prakarana grantha speaks of the Manomaya kosha as the mind with the gnanendriya and the Vijnanmaya kosha is the intellect with the gnanendriya.

Pratyaksha is a form of direct perception through the senses. It is one of the Pramana: valid sources of knowledge.

What impacts perception

Perception can be impacted by several things. The quality of the sense organ could change the way we experience things. Perceiving through the senses is called indriya pratyaksha. The state of the mind could impact perception. When the mind is distracted (kshipta), it changes the perception. Perceiving through the mind is called manas pratyaksha. The kleshas: mental impurities could also impact with way we perceive the world around us. Our likes and dislikes make us perceive a situation favorably or unfavorably. Our intellectual frameworks too color our perception of reality. If we don’t have prior knowledge of something, we might perceive the object to be a completely different thing. The Indian tradition also recognises higher states of perception like intuition: yoga pratyaksha.

Once Bhagavan Shri Krishna asked Duryodhana to bring one good man from his region. He also asked Yudhisthira to bring one bad person his region. The next day both came alone. Duryodhana said he couldn’t find one good person and Yudhisthira said he couldn’t find one bad person. The frameworks we hold in our mind impact the way we look at the world around us. Don’t they?

More about the cognitive processes coming soon.

File:The chimera of human perception of reality - John Quintero Villar.jpg

Source: The chimera of human perception of reality. Oil on canvas