The Perceived cannot PerceiveBeing the perceived, how can other people be having their own private, personal perceptions? Isn't there just the one Perceiver: Consciousness?
First, let me join in thanking you for your generosity, both in participating in this forum and for your book “The Transparency of Things.” I recently finished reading “Transparency” for the second time, and I was struck even more strongly the second time around with its clarity and directness.
Because of your usual clarity, however, I was surprised and confused by the following statement you make on your website in response to a question concerning “our” experiences and the experiences of “others”:
“In fact each person’s thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions are entirely private and personal, even when we are sitting next to one another conversing in a room.”
Doesn’t that statement presuppose that there are separate, individual entities, each capable of having its own thoughts, images, etc.? If I stick with “my” actual experience, I can’t justify that conclusion. I see other apparent bodies; I see them moving, acting, speaking; but I can’t honestly say that I know from direct experience that they’re having their own private, personal thoughts.
By analogy, if I’m having a dream, I may see the various dream characters—including “me,” if I’m in the dream as a character—expressing joy, sorrow, hunger, tiredness, etc. And in the dream, I’ll assume that those dream characters are having actual thoughts, images, perceptions, sensations, etc. But upon awakening, I see that it was all an illusion. In fact the dream characters had no private or personal experiences; it only appeared that way within the context of the dream. “Waking up” is seeing through that illusion, isn’t it?
I’m reminded of the famous statement by Huang Po: “The perceived cannot perceive.” “Other people” are perceived. Being the perceived, how can they be having their own private, personal perceptions? Isn’t there just the one Perceiver: Consciousness?
Thank you for your interesting question. I know we have corresponded on this matter before but let’s try again.
1) I would like to start with a question for you: if you truly doubt the existence of thoughts, sensations and perceptions other than those of ‘your own’ current objective experience, to whom or to what are you addressing your question? Does not the act of asking a question presuppose that the question is going, at least, to be seen and read, that is, that it is going to appear in Consciousness, although your mind may not have access to it. ‘Your’ mind (which is simply the current thought) will never see or read what ‘my’ mind is seeing or reading when I receive your email, because one object cannot perceive another. So, presumably you deny the existence of ‘my’ experience of your email. If this is the case, why did you send it? Were you sending it into a vacuum never to be experienced?
2) You quote me as follows: “In fact each person’s thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions are entirely private and personal, even when we are sitting next to one another conversing in a room,” and then ask, “Doesn’t that statement presuppose that there are separate, individual entities, each capable of having its own thoughts, images, etc.?
Absolutely not! One could equally legitimately interpret my comment above as meaning that there can be numerous objects, for instance numerous thoughts or images, all simultaneously appearing in one ‘space’ of Consciousness. In other words, why could there not be several ‘minds’ all appearing in the same Consciousness at the same time? Or, to use another image (and it is of course just an image) why could one Consciousness not ‘look out through’ several or indeed an infinity of minds?
When I say “each person’s thoughts” I do not mean to suggest that every limited thought appears to a limited knower, the separate entity. I think that is abundantly clear by now. It is just a manner of speaking. Rather, I am suggesting that an infinity of perceptions can appear simultaneously to one single Consciousness. The fact that they would appear as innumerable perceptions is a superimposition, imposed by the mind, onto the single Reality of Consciousness. In other words, from the point of view of Consciousness this infinity of minds (objects) is perceived as one single object. Each mind may be likened to a paint stroke in a painting. From the point of view of the brush there are many strokes. From the point of view of the painting, there is one image.
For clarity, “Each person’s thoughts” should perhaps have been place in inverted commas in the book, but it can become a little tedious and affected if one explains and apologises for every word or phrase one uses. The point I was trying to make was that there is no evidence of a world outside perception and perceptions themselves are not ‘shared.’ They cannot, as you and Huang Po rightly say, perceive one another. In other words there is not one world shared by six billion people but rather there are six billion simultaneous ‘worlds’ shared by one Consciousness. It is the mind that says six billion, whereas Consciousness sees only one.
We obviously agree that there is only one Consciousness. However, I suggest the possibility of numerous objects appearing to (and made out of) one Consciousness, which is independent of each of the objects it perceives, whilst you only admit the possibility of one object appearing to one Consciousness. Superficially these two positions seem to be similar, in that they both admit only one Consciousness. However, upon scrutiny they are very different. The first is called non-duality, the second, solipsism, a kind of narcissistic madness that claims that only our own current perception is real. That is obviously not your experience.
Let us explore this ‘multiplicity of objects’ in more detail:
The separate dream subject in a dream seems to experience a multiplicity and diversity of objects around him, that is, the table, the chair, the door, the others, his own body, etc., similar to the waking subject in the waking state. Upon waking it becomes clear, as you say, that there was not in fact a multiplicity and diversity of objects, but rather one single dream image. This ‘one single dream image’ appeared as ‘many’ at the moment in the dream when mind identified Consciousness, in which the dream was appearing, with one of the apparent objects in the dream (a dream body). With that identification, Consciousness, the true ‘I,’ which was equally the substance of the ‘one single dream image,’ seemed to become limited to a single body, the separate dream subject, and as an inevitable corollary of this, the appearance of a multiple and diverse dream world, independent from and known by the separate dream subject, arises.
This immediately becomes clear upon waking but what is not so obvious is that we immediately and inadvertently fall into another identical illusion in the waking state. I wont repeat the process by which the separate ‘I’ and the separate world seem to be created in the waking state, because it is the same process as in the dream state (that is, mind’s identification of Consciousness with an object, the body). The important point is that the apparent multiplicity of objects (INCLUDING THE APPARENT MULTIPLICITY OF MINDS) in the waking state is, from the point of view of Reality, ‘one single waking image.’ It is only refracted into an apparent separate entity and an apparent multiplicity and diversity of objects by ignorance, that is, by mind’s identification of Consciousness with a single object, the apparent waking subject. But even if, for the moment, we admit the existence of objects, there is always only ever one object present at any time, just a there is only one image on a painting, although the painting may seem to comprise many brush stokes.
From another angle…..imagine three separate events in your life, A, B, and C, that occurred in the past. We have no doubt that each of the experiences A, B and C appeared to the same Consciousness that is seeing these words and which we know as ‘I.’ In other words, it is our experience that objects separated in time (events A, B and C) all appear to the SAME Consciousness, to ‘me.’ That is, it is our experience that objects separated in TIME appear to the same Consciousness. Time and space are made out of the same ‘stuff.’ Therefore, why could it not be possible for objects separated in SPAC,E but occurring at the same time (for instance, your and your wife’s current thought) to take place in the same Consciousness. That is, could there not be a forgetting across space just as there is a forgetting along time, due to the limitations of mind, but that does not, nevertheless, preclude the possibility of all these objects appearing in the same Consciousness? Memory selects objects from space and thereby creates and substantiates the illusion of an independent world, just as it selects objects from time and thereby creates and substantiates the illusion of a separate entity.
Another way of saying this would be to say that if we understand that the apparent multiplicity and diversity of objects is only a superimposition of ignorance upon the ‘unity’ of our true experience, why would it not be possible for several people’s thoughts occurring in different spaces but at the same time, for instance yours and mine at this very moment, to be, from the point of view of reality, one thing, that seems, from the point of view of the person, to be many?
In other words at every moment the totality of all thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions, which seem to be innumerable from the point of view of ignorance, are actually ‘one thing’ from the point of view of Consciousness. There is only ever one image on the screen at a time, although that image may depict a thousand apparent objects. And what is this ‘one thing’? The shape that Consciousness is taking from moment to moment. That is, if we admit the existence of objects, we can first reduce the apparent diversity and multiplicity of of objects to one single object. And this ‘one single object’ is then further reduced in understanding to Consciousness itself. At this point there are no objects and your question cannot arise.
This is hard to explain. I hope I have made sense.