Friday, November 20, 2009

Our Perceptions

The quality of our perceptions has perhaps never been more crucial to our cultural and social survival. Historians note that there are particular periods in history when society goes through a more fundamental, marked shift, which involves not only the people but also most of a society’s basic institutions. According to famed historian Lewis Mumford there have been no more than four or five such great transformations in the entire history of Western civilization. Mumford in The Transformations of Man (1956) writes that

Every (human) transformation...has rested on a new metaphysical and ideological base; or rather, upon deeper stirrings and intuitions whose rationalized expression takes the form of a new picture of the cosmos and the nature of man... we stand on the brink of (such) a new age: the age of an open world and of a self capable of playing its part in that larger sphere. An age of renewal, when work and leisure and learning and love will unite to produce a fresh form for every stage of life, and a higher trajectory for life as a whole...In carrying [human]...self-transformation to this further stage, world culture may bring about a fresh release of spiritual energy that will unveil new potentialities, no more visible in the human self today than radium was in the physical world a century ago, though always present.

It was prescient of Mumford to view the next epoch not only in terms of ideological renewal but also as one that brings about ‘a fresh release of spiritual energy’. Likewise, British historian Arnold Toynbee (in his A Study of History) referred to the possible ‘transfiguration’ of modern society into some kind of ‘re-spiritualized’ form. Toynbee coined the term ‘The Law of Progressive Simplification’ where true growth occurs as civilizations transfer increasing amounts of energy and attention from the material to the non-material side of life, towards increased self-articulation. In other words, the criterion of growth is a progress towards self-determination. Any significant shift in society thus requires a change of the incumbent dominant paradigm: today, this requirement is global – a total global mind change. Our historical record as a species is the story of our movement through a series of perceptual paradigms. This is the hallmark of transformation - a change at the deepest levels within our social structures.

Similarly, our own belief systems are themselves ‘social structures’ that have been reinforced throughout our lives, beginning in infancy and throughout childhood. We literally have any ‘anomalies’ ironed out of us so that we agree to a consensus picture of reality. In a sense we are more than nationalized; we are culturally hypnotized. Such processes are well-documented by cultural anthropologists who have shown how persons who grow up in different cultures perceive different realities. Yet now such an ideological base is fundamentally inadequate. One of our greatest inadequacies is that we have ‘agreed’ to a social reality that all but denies the presence and potential of consciousness. Our social affliction thus stems from an ‘omission of consciousness’ within our paradigm of reality. We are in effect deceiving ourselves. We have become blind (perhaps deliberately so) to the edict that ‘by deliberately changing their internal images of reality, people can change the world’.

A well-known story from the East tells of a fool called Mulla Nasrudin:

‘Someone saw Nasrudin searching for something on the ground.

“What have you lost, Mulla?” he asked.
“My key”, said the Mulla. So they both went down on their knees and looked for it. After a time the other man asked: “Where exactly did you drop it?”
“In my own house.”
“Then why are you looking here?”
“There is more light here than inside my own house.”’

Individually and collectively, we often search where there is more light; which often means within the old paradigm, the old way of thinking. We need to start looking in the ‘dark’ for that which we think is lost - yet in truth it has only remained dormant: a way of understanding that will shift how we perceive of life, reality, and ourselves.

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