Lawnchair Philosopher

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The Desire of Perception

August 2010
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The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground.  ~Buddha

The world is a kind of oblique mirror. It represents us fundamentally.

Consider the objects we experience. Among any object we could possibly experience, there is not a single one with which we could not hold a practical and immediately apparent causal relationship. Trees, rocks, apples and water all have practical implications, and all can either benefit us or harm us because of the kind of being we are.  Being able to perceive them has proven an evolutionary benefit.

Science has helped us to discover many things which exist and which yet we cannot directly perceive. Radio waves, infra-red light, the atomic world. We have learned how to both perceive and use these kinds of things indirectly. But hitherto, they had no immediate causal relationship with us such that evolution would have selected our natural perception of them.

Because of what we are, and because of what we need, we have developed our range of perception. Humans see red very well, since many objects colored red are highly compact with nutrition. Yet there are ranges of color which we do not perceive. This is owing to our lack of biological need for these kinds of things.

Things exist which do not present themselves for our consciousness owing to our practical causal relationship with them: they have less to do with sustaining our life in direct relationship with our free will than do other kinds of objects, such as rocks, trees, apples and rivers.

What we perceive is directly owing to our desire. Desire, properly speaking, is the will to live, to sustain and forward our life and our genes. Among even the objects we can easily perceive, those which have more bearing on our immediate survival will take precedence. A car sliding out of control toward you will trump the pleasant conversation you are presently having with a friend. Were it otherwise, it is likely that you’d be promptly removed from the gene pool.

And so the logic continues to ever more subtle levels, such as the apple sitting in the center of a table which would distract a hungry man from his present and less essential activity, or such as–to the chagrin of so many wives–the way a young and beautiful woman will grab a man’s attention from more mundane tasks, such as carrying groceries from the car.

The whole world is desire manifest. Each object expresses our will to live. That we can even perceive an object in the first place implies our human condition. Things which have no practical effect on our lives remain invisible to us.  Yet we are artificially expanding our ability to perceive through science. This is not exempt from the principle. We are learning how to use hitherto unseen realities in order to further our basic will to survive and to thrive.

That that we can and which we learn to see expresses what we fundamentally are: mortal beings striving to transcend death.


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