The Mystery of Visual Perception

Wolfgang Smith

Editor’s Note:  This article is also available in Portuguese language translation.

Lord Kelvin made a crucially important point when he declared physics to be “the science of measurement”: it is this basis in measurement that proves definitive not only of physics and the physical sciences at large, but of the resultant Weltanschauung. Obviously measurement quantifies: reduces things in principle to “centimeters, grams, and seconds” according to the cgs system. The fact, however, is not that all is thus reducible, but that whatsoever happens not to be is “filtered out” by the modus operandi of the scientific process and eventually demoted to the status of a res cogitans, a mere “thing of the mind.” And it is this scientistic denial of the non-measurable that in a way defines our culture and moreover engenders that “chronic schizophrenia” to which I have often enough referred.

It can hardly be doubted that the physical sciences have proved successful beyond the wildest dreams of the founders themselves: even Francis Bacon, I surmise, would be amazed to see what his celebrated “machine for the mind” has been able to accomplish! What as a rule we fail to grasp is what a physics-based science does not accomplish, what in fact its very modus operandi excludes. A physics-based science, first of all, cannot disabuse us of the belief that the world reduces to quantities: to the things brought into play, namely, by that Baconian “machine.” What is lost in the bargain are primarily the sensible qualities: the five kinds, that is, which render the corporeal world perceptible. These sensibly apprehensible constituents are now said to be “subjective,” not because some experimentum crucis has shown them to be, but simply because a science based upon measurement does not register such a thing as red or green. It thus came about that color per se has been officially declared to be a wavelength, notwithstanding the self-evident fact that what we actually perceive is not a wavelength at all, but red or green.

Granting that the world does encompass qualities—and consequently does not reduce to the conceptions of the physicist—the question arises whether there may be other kinds of natural science, legitimate and useful in their own right, which do not subjectivize the sensible qualities. But whereas that possibility has in no wise been disqualified, it has evidently been ruled out of court by the presiding authorities. Let me thus make it clear at the outset that, for my part, I believe there are such sciences, and that they are based on perception in place of measurement. I am persuaded, moreover, that these sciences are founded upon principles we can neither understand nor evaluate on the basis of our reductionist Weltanschauung, which is why they are nowadays classified as “pre-scientific superstitions.”

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Given that these pre-modern sciences are based upon perception—which, I presume, was primarily visual—it needs to be stressed that this most certainly was no ordinary perception, failing which every man, woman, or child—excepting the impaired—would be a scientist! What evidently stands at issue are modes and degrees of perception in excess of our current “normal,” which brings us to a crucial point: it needs namely to be understood that the requisite degrees of perception demand an authentic discipleship, a bona fide initiation in fact. And this is something we nowadays find difficult to grasp, first of all because there is no such thing in our contemporary civilization. Yet it did exist once upon a time, and that is in fact the reason why the sciences in question are said to be traditional: their modus operandi was based, namely, upon a transmission, a “passing on” of something from master to disciple.

But needless to say, all this makes no sense whatsoever in an Einsteinian or a Darwinist universe. It does, however, make eminent sense if the cosmos at large, as well as the human microcosm, prove to be ontologically tripartite, as I contend they are.1See, for instance, my article, “The Tripartite Wholeness.” It is then not only conceivable but altogether likely that a “preternatural” knowing involving the intermediary—or even the aeviternal—plane may indeed have an efficacy “not dreamed of in your philosophy.”

Happily, we are in truth greater—by so many ontological “orders of magnitude”—than an Einsteinian or a Darwinist universe would permit us to be: nothing has in fact been more underestimated and demeaned in our contemporary civilization than man and woman as such. Yet the fact remains that the integral human person bears within himself a potential so great that his present intellectual formation renders him unable so much as to conceive of its scope. What is more, our pseudoscientific schools of psychology have contributed their share to what might be termed the “trivialization” of mankind: the very fact that our physics has reputedly reduced the cosmos to a kind of mechanism has relegated the inner life to a subjective realm consisting ultimately of libido and illusion. That “inner world” has thus become fair game to all kinds of geniuses, from Freudians intent upon turning it into a veritable sewer, to Jungians aspiring to create a new “deep-psychological” religion.2I have dealt with this issue at some length in Cosmos and Transcendence (Philos-Sophia Initiative, 2021), chs. 5-6.

Getting back to visual perception as the modus operandi of the traditional sciences, it is to be noted that not only is man ontologically tripartite like the integral cosmos, but there exists a kinship between the two so profound that the anthropos has been termed a “microcosm.” There is thus a connection between the Delphic injunction “Know thyself” and the traditional sciences which is evidently not visible from our scientistic point of vantage—when it comes to a simian who has but recently learned to walk on his hind legs, the Delphic injunction hardly makes much sense! Given, on the other hand, that man constitutes a tripartite microcosm no less, the picture has changed: now the idea of an integral knowing has become not only conceivable, but in a way “likely.” It appears that perception can in principle take us to the heart of cosmic reality, for the simple reason that it springs ultimately from that very “heart” itself.

It is thus to be noted that there exist different kinds as well as degrees of perceptual knowing, and that visual perception in particular can be sharpened like a laser beam to penetrate into hitherto inaccessible vistas. Is it any wonder, then, that the disciples of Pythagoras, for instance, were obliged to observe—in addition to a vow of celibacy—five years of absolute silence: are we able so much as imagine to what degree such practices can “sharpen the sword” of the human spirit and empower us to see! Let me propose, then, that henceforth all reference to “ancient superstitions” be put on hold while we endeavor to ascertain the facts.

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It is time to realize that perception is, finally, a mystery—as are the corporeal entities we normally perceive. There exist of course officially mandated theories of perception, visual first of all; yet these prove in the end to be untenable.3Regarding this point see my article, “Do We Perceive the Corporeal World?” In fact, they must, given that a science based upon measurement excludes a priori the very elements upon which perception is based: the qualities namely, which—as we have noted repeatedly—have for the past several centuries been assigned to the limbo of subjective fabrications. Absent the qualities, however, there can be no perception.

What first of all stands at issue, thus, in “the problem of perception” is the nature or quiddity of the corporeal realm: the fact that the corporeal domain is endowed with five distinct kinds of qualitative attributes answering to the senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. The point is that these five sensible qualities—so far from being “merely subjective”—prove in truth to be definitive of corporeal existence as such. What renders a thing corporeal, thus, is the fact that it can be known through at least one of the five senses: not that it is thus perceived, but that in principle it can be.

In keeping with the traditional sciences let us then be open to the idea that corporeal entities are somehow composed of the so-called “five elements.” We need not be put off by the naïve-sounding designations of these so-called elements, traditionally referred to as earth, water, air, fire, and “aether,” the quinta essentia or “fifth essence.” It hardly needs saying that the “earth, water, air, and fire” in question are not to be taken in the ordinary sense, any more than the quinta essentia may be identified with the “ether” once postulated by physicists as the medium supporting electromagnetic waves. What proves crucial is a consistent association between these five purported elements and the five sensible qualities in the specific order smell, taste, sight, touch, and sound, namely. It is further to be noted that these designations of the “five elements” as well as this specific correspondence with the five senses appears to have been universally accepted in pre-modern times, and that an unequivocal imprint of this doctrine is to be encountered from the shores of Egypt and Greece to the Himalayan regions of India and Tibet. It would surprise me, moreover, if a reputable medicine man among the American Indians, say, did not have at least a smattering of these doctrines as well.

This science of the “five elements” appears to have attained its most explicit and refined formulation in the Hindu darśana4This term—derived from the verb driś, “to see”—is the closest Sanskrit equivalent of what we term “philosophy,” the point of difference being that to the Indian mind there is no single darśana that covers the entire ground. Which is to say, strictly speaking, that one requires, not one, but six darśanas—corresponding to the six “directions in space”—to encompass all reality. One cannot but wonder whether, in that regard, the Hindus may be wiser than we.known as Sānkhya, where in fact these elements appear in two forms: a subtle form pertaining to the intermediary domain, known as tanmātras, and a gross referred to as bhūtas, conceived to be constitutive of the corporeal. It is then these five tanmātras that constitute the intermediary basis of corporeal existence as such. And this should in fact come as no surprise, given that “corporeal” is indeed tantamount to “perceptible,” and that it is finally the five tanmātras that render corporeal entities perceptible according to the five modes. It needs however to be clearly understood that these tanmātras pertain incurably to the subtle or intermediary realm: no wonder they are invisible to our physics-based means of inquiry!

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This brings us to a crucial point regarding the nature of perception which needs to be clearly grasped: perception in whatever mode is not—and cannot be—consummated on the corporeal plane. It will be instructive, first if all, to consider the matter from the standpoint of the prevailing scientific approach. One knows by now that the neuronal mechanism associated with visual perception is designed “to take the picture apart” as Sir Francis Crick reminds us, which is to say that there exists no corresponding neuronal apparatus designed to put the picture “back together” again.5For a brief introduction to this field of current scientific inquiry I refer to my chapter, “Neurons and Mind,” Science & Myth (Philos-Sophia Initiative, 2023).How then is that prodigy accomplished? How does one survey and integrate into a single picture the “on-off” states of a myriad neurons—and do so in a “split second” no less! This is the famous “binding problem” which, as I maintain, actually admits no resolution on the corporeal plane. As I have noted elsewhere,6Physics and Vertical Causation (Philos-Sophia Initiative, 2023) pp. 32-5.this “putting together” is in truth effected by what is traditionally termed the soul or anima, which is able to accomplish this feat precisely by virtue of the fact that it pertains—not to the corporeal—but to the intermediary realm, where spatial separation does not exist. It follows thus that visual perception originates—not on the corporeal—but on the intermediary plane.

I would point out that the binding problem for visual perception is in fact analogous to the measuring problem for quantum mechanics in that it proves to be insoluble under the customary ontological assumptions. It can likewise, thus, serve to reveal the existence of what may be termed the “next higher” ontological plane: in the measuring problem this is the corporeal, and in the binding problem it is the intermediary.

Having concluded, then, that visual perception originates on the intermediary plane, we should not fail to point out that this ontological fact entails an etiological consequence: inasmuch, namely, as the “horizontal” causality upon which physics is based demands a transmission through space, that mode of causation is not operative on the intermediary plane, where spatial bounds are transcended. The fact, therefore, that visual perception originates on the intermediary plane entails that the pertinent mode of causality must indeed be vertical. And that in itself explains the current impasse: it follows from this etiological fact alone that all attempts to understand the phenomenon of visual perception by means of a physics-based science are bound to fail.

Visual perception, we have said, originates on the intermediary plane. Yet what we normally perceive are objects situated on the corporeal! By what means, then, can this ontological gap be bridged? The answer, I propose, is to be found in the Sānkhya doctrine: in the relation between the tanmātras and bhūtas, which establishes a bridge or connecting-link between the two ontological planes. The point is that we perceive the corporeal bhūtas by way of the corresponding tanmātras pre-existing on the intermediary plane. In a word, corporeal qualities derive from the intermediary plane, where they pre-exist in a “tanmātric” form that renders them perceptible.

This brings us to a pivotal recognition: the distinction between tanmātras and bhūtas indicates a pre-existence of corporeal objects on the intermediary plane. And actually this should come as no surprise: as every good Platonist knows, the corporeal object pre-exists even on the aeviternal plane as well—for the simple reason that being is not to be found in the temporal realm. What differentiates the corporeal from the intermediary realm is not being or essence—which is found in neither—but precisely the imposition of spatial bounds, which apply to the corporeal but not to the intermediary. And I would add that the alchemists of old understood this fact very well: the two fundamental operations of their science—the so-called solve and coagula—refer after all to the lifting and the imposition, respectively, of these spatial bounds! Let me emphasize—to drive home the point once and for all—that this pre-existence of the corporeal on the intermediary plane is by no means a pre-scientific fantasy: if namely corporeal entities did not pre-exist on the intermediary plane, they would ipso facto be imperceptible.

I am moreover persuaded that this immemorial doctrine—incomprehensible to the modern mind though it may be—rests even so on an empirical basis no less rigorous in its own way than that upon which our empirical sciences are based. The decisive point is that we are dealing here with a traditional science in which the scientist himself serves in a sense as an “instrument”—not of measurement, to be sure—but of sight, precisely. What stands at issue is ultimately a “seeing” capable of perceiving corporeal objects on the intermediary plane: that is to say, ontologically prior to their corporeal manifestation. It is evident, moreover, that such a science is in a way more powerful than our own, which cannot so much as detect the existence of the intermediary realm.

But getting back to the Sānkhya, let me note that this traditional science entails, in a way, a refinement of the Aristotelian doctrine of forms. For whereas Aristotle accounts for perception by the fact that a given form can reside simultaneously in the perceived object and its percipient, Sānkhya takes into account the corresponding ontological discrepancy: the fact that the object is corporeal whereas the percipient pertains to the intermediary domain. According to Sānkhya doctrine thus, Aristotle is identifying bhūtas and tanmātras—which is of course in a way legitimate, inasmuch as what is identified are the gross and subtle manifestations of one and the same quality.

Returning to the problem of visual perception: having concluded that this perception originates on the intermediary plane, we need now to account for the fact that it normally terminates on the corporeal. It is needful, therefore, to distinguish between what may be termed ontological and intentional7In the sense of “intentionality” as the term is used by phenomenologists.visual perception: between what is actually given in that primary perceptual act, and what is intentionally perceived. And as every phenomenologist knows full well, the two are by no means the same. In the words of Henri Bortoft, what is initially perceived is a “whole which is no-thing,” and is therefore as a rule dismissed as “nothing” and replaced with “a world of things,”8I surmise one of the first things to be mastered by a Sānkhya apprentice is how not to dismiss the “no-thing.”leaving the percipient with “the apparent task of putting them together to make a whole.”9The Wholeness of Nature (Lindisfarne Press, 1996), p. 14. Henri Bortoft was a physicist, a student of David Bohm no less, who became fascinated with the approach to natural science pioneered by Johann Wolfgang Goethe. His book is in fact subtitled, “Goethe’s Way Toward a Science of Conscious Participation in Nature.” It is safe to say that few if any Western savants in post-Enlightenment times have had as profound an insight into the traditional sciences as Goethe.That “world of things”—which proves to be none other than the corporeal—is the object thus of intentional perception.

Suffice it to say, in regard to this secondary mode of visual perception, that it evidently constitutes an exceedingly complex process involving presumably other senses—such as the kinesthetic and the sense of touch—in addition to the visual, as well as elements of memory. Intentional perception is something, moreover, which needs evidently to be learned in infancy. I would point out that three-dimensionality, in particular, pertains unquestionably to intentional as distinguished from primary—that is to say, ontological—vision. It needs to be realized that all this activity underlying the simple quotidian act of perceiving a mountain or a tree transpires evidently on the intermediary plane. Corporeal being, one might say, enters the subconscious process at the very end as that which is perceived.

It needs finally to be noted that where there is an object—in this instance, the corporeal “what” that is visually perceived—there must also be a corresponding subject: the “who” that perceives this “what.” The perception of corporeal objects entails thus a percipient pertaining to the intermediary plane—the psychic percipient, one can say.

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At this juncture a problem presents itself which proves to be no less fundamental and daunting than the measuring and the binding problems. And even as the latter both demand the crossing of an ontological threshold—the measuring problem from the physical to the corporeal, and the binding problem from the corporeal to the intermediary—so the third demands that we go the rest of the way: from the intermediary to the aeviternal, that is.

One might refer to it as “the motion witnessing problem”: it turns out, namely, that if the observer or witness were himself “fully subject” to the bound of time, the perception of motion—of events—could not be achieved. For indeed, what such a time-bound percipient would perceive could be no more than a succession of static images: no more than what a “motion picture” camera registers. One arrives thus in the end at the ontological recognition that the ultimate or authentic observer—the veritable witness of a changing panorama—must in truth be situated on what we have termed the aeviternal plane.

Where then, let us ask first of all, does this leave our so-called psychic percipient, situated as he is on the intermediary plane? It turns out that he does not stand alone, in separation from that “aeviternal” witness. Yet let us not fail to note, once again, that every true Platonist could have told us so from the start. As the Master says somewhere, “The soul is partly in time and partly in eternity.” So long, then, as we conceive of the soul as psyche, we need to realize that it is complemented by an aeviternal principle, call it pneuma, nous, or spiritus. We need to remember, once again, that man is neither corporeal, nor indeed psycho-corporeal, but incurably tripartite.

I find it astounding that the cognitive psychologist James Gibson—that paragon of “no-nonsense” empiricism—came as close as one conceivably can on empirical grounds to that very conclusion. The gist of what Gibson discovered—in the course of his painstaking research designed to reveal how we visually perceive—is that this perception is based on what he terms “the pickup of invariants” from the ambient optic array. The crucial discovery is that these “invariants” can be recognized as such only in a state of motion: invariance, after all, manifests in motion alone. Visual perception, it turns out, constitutes an inherently kinetic process:

The eye is never literally fixed. It undergoes a series of miniature movements or microsaccades… Looking is always exploring, even so-called fixation… The visual system hunts for comprehension and clarity. It does not rest until the invariants are attracted.10The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (Lawrence Erlbaum, 1986), pp. 220, 222.

“Events are perceived” Gibson assures us; and to help us comprehend this prodigy he goes on to explain that “there is no dividing line between the present and the past, between perceiving and remembering.”11Ibid., p. 253.Now this is very deep, and tantamount, I take it, to the ontological fact that “the present is not a part of time” as Aquinas declares. What is it then, that elusive “present”? It proves to be none other than what the Scholastics termed the “nunc stans” or “now that stands.” And where else, in the final count, can “the perception of events” take place than in this nunc stans! Herein then—in this very recognition—resides the key to the enigma: what ultimately enables the perception of events—of motion thus—is the fact that the true or “first” percipient resides in the nunc stans: in aeviternity that is.

The true or “ultimate” seer, then, is not after all the psychic percipient, but proves to be none other than what in Indian tradition has been referred to from time immemorial as the Purusha, the aeviternal witness of “events.” But where, then, does this leave the psychic percipient? It turns out that the two are closely united, inseparable in fact: for one is forced to conclude that the psychic observer derives his power of vision directly from the Purusha himself. And yet he knows not that Purusha: his gaze, as we have noted, is directed “outwards” into the corporeal realm. What stands at issue here is none other than the traditional distinction between “soul” and “spirit,” which proves to be one of the most difficult to conceive. As St. Paul seems to imply, it ultimately requires “the word of God”—“sharper than any two-edged swordto accomplish that “dividing asunder of soul and spirit.”12Heb. 4:12

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The “big picture” is beginning to emerge. Visual perception does not, of course, take place on the corporeal plane. But neither does it transpire fully on the intermediary, nor by way of an interaction between the intermediary and the corporeal as our distinction between “ontological” and “intentional” perception might suggest. The point is that what transpires on these two planes—necessary though it be—does not in itself constitute visual perception: it happens that the most essential “component” remains yet to be identified. It emerges namely from the preceding considerations that visual perception does not—and cannot—in truth take place within the spatio-temporal realm! But whereas the Purusha is indeed the “ultimate” witness, the process of visual perception entails what may be termed a psychic or “ego-centric” observer as well.

It is to be noted that this “ego-centric” observer13We are referring, of course, to the waking state: in the dream-state, to be sure, the psychic percipient is facing into the intermediary domain, wherein he perceives subtle (as distinguished from corporeal) facing “outwards” towards the corporeal plane, which means, from a Platonist point of vantage, that he is indeed constrained to gaze upon “shadows,” as the celebrated myth has it. By the same token he is totally unaware of the Purusha, that “ultimate witness” from whom his own power to perceive is derived. There are thus, apparently, two seers: the egocentric and the spiritual, the temporal and the aeviternal, and the disconnect between the two—between so-and-so gazing upon the petunias in his garden and the aeviternal Purusha—could not be more extreme.

I would like now to point out that this “break” between the psychic and the aeviternal components of our integral being—this congenital inability to discern the aeviternal basis of reality—is in fact the mark of what in Judeo-Christian tradition is termed the Fall. Man in his present state has been severed, as it were, from the spiritual component of himself—his “summit” one might say—and reduced to the status of what St. Paul terms a psychikos anthropos: a merely psychic being “who knoweth not the things of God because they are spiritually discerned.”141 Cor. 2:4 In a word, he has lost the capacity of spiritual vision by which one can know the aeviternal things, which prove to be the ultimately real. His condition thus has indeed become that of Plato’s “prisoners”! One must not however conceive of this Fall as an historical event—as something that came to pass “in time”—which would in a way be “putting the cart before the horse.” The point is that the Fall, so far from having transpired at some remote time in the primordial course of history is much better conceived as the prehistoric Event that caused or initiated history as such.

I wish moreover to correct a widespread misunderstanding by pointing out that despite unquestionable concordances, the full untruncated recognition of the Fall is apparently indigenous to the Judeo-Christian domain. In the Hindu tradition, in particular, one finds a clear cognizance of the resultant impairment: a verse from the Katha Upanishad, for instance, affirms that “The Self-existent Lord afflicted the senses so that they look outward and perceive not the inner Self.”15II.1. But whereas this acknowledges, in the clearest terms, the fact that the senses “look outward and perceive not the inner Self,” it ascribes the cause not to an infidelity of the anthropos—what Christianity refers to as Original Sin—but to “the Self-existent Lord” himself. There exists thus a profound and absolutely fundamental discrepancy between the Vedic and the Christian outlook, which tends in various quarters to be systematically overlooked, to the detriment of clarity regarding the most decisive issues.

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Let us assume then that religion, in its higher manifestations, is able, to some degree at least, to reverse that Fall—to “narrow the gap,” as it were, between the psychikos anthropos and the spiritual component of our integral being—and that this restitution constitutes in fact the ultimate criterion of what is legitimately termed sanctification. The question arises now whether the effect of that sanctification—this at least partial “undoing” of the Fall—may impact the powers of visual perception: can it, namely, bestow upon the sanctified a distinctly supernatural capacity to transcend not only spatial, but temporal bounds? Can it in truth empower the saint to perceive visually from the vantage of the aeviternal plane? I am persuaded that such is indeed the case.

Let one example suffice, that of Anna Katharina Emmerich (1774-1824), an Augustinian nun whose convent in Germany was closed in 1812 as a result of the Napoleonic incursion, and who subsequently resided in a farm house, confined to a single room and bedridden. The Catholic reader may be interested to know that according to a document attested to by a group of physicians, Anna Katharina was in truth a stigmatic. What concerns us, in any case, is that she spent much of her time in trance states, in which she claimed to have visited—in the primary sense of seeing—various far-away regions, from Palestine to the Himalayas. What is more, she claimed to “see” events pertaining to the distant past, and more rarely to a future century: and that, obviously, is what a psychikos anthropos is categorically unable to do.16The interested reader may wish to consult the impressive series of “Emmerich books” brought out recently by Angelico Press.

Much of what Anna Katharina describes—typically in meticulous detail—as having “seen” are scenes from the Old and New Testament, and in these detailed depictions quite a bit is altogether new. What lends credence to this testimony is the fact that wherever her account—descriptions, for instance, of local geography, inclusive of details the seeress herself could not possibly have known by natural means—could be verified, her reports have invariably proved accurately true. To cite just one example: her depiction of the house in which the Virgin Mary spent the last years of her life—which is located in the foothills above Ephesus, and had not at the time been identified—was discovered on the basis of Anna Katharina’s descriptions by a French priest in 1881, long after she and her biographer, Clemens Brentano, had departed from this world.

How, then, can these feats of clairvoyance be explained? Now, so far as seeing at a great distance is concerned, this can in principle be understood on the basis that ontological seeing takes place on the intermediary plane, in which there is actually no spatial separation at all. And as a matter of fact, it appears that certain individuals—often referred to as “mediums”—are gifted with a preternatural capacity to “see” distant objects and events. When it comes to seeing into the remote past or future, on the other hand, we need evidently to bring the “aeviternal percipient” into the picture; he alone can literally see past and future events. It appears thus that Anna Katharina was endowed with a capacity to “perceive from the aeviternal plane,” which is to say that she had in some measure gained access to what, in Judeo-Christian terms, could be referred to as the “Edenic state.” But this should hardly come as a surprise: does not authentic sainthood, as we have noted, entail precisely an access of that kind?

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When all is said and done, visual perception remains for us a mystery: it constitutes, after all, an act of the tripartite wholeness we all are, but cannot, as a psychikos anthropos, know that we are. In every act of visual perception, thus, three ontological strata come perforce into play—even though we are normally aware only of one: i.e., the corporeal. The intermediary plane does also come into play—beginning with what we have referred to as the ontological mode—but we are not as a rule conscious of that realm. When Aldous Huxley, following a practice of certain American Indian tribes, imbibed mescalin, he entered into the lower reaches of the intermediary, and segments of our population have been doing much the same ever since. Yet pending the restoration of the traditional sciences that domain is bound to remain for us inherently a closed book. And finally, when it comes to the aeviternal realm, who among us has had so much as a fleeting glimpse of that supreme cosmic sphere!

With these recognitions we have apparently reached the end of our metaphysical trajectory, which seems to have led more or less to the Socratic recognition of our ontological nescience. What then remains to be done? I surmise that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn gave exactly the right answer to this question in his famous Harvard address, when he declared that “the only way left is upwards.” I take it, moreover, that this is to be understood precisely in the sense of religion, a word which derives from “re-ligare,” meaning literally “to bind back.” And here it is again, that Judeo-Christian notion! For it is plain to see that re-ligare refers eminently to the Fall. Religion, then, is there, in the first place, to repair an injury: to restore what is mystically termed the Edenic state.

There is however more to be said, and it is implicit in the Christian expression “felix culpa”: in the end the Fall proves to be a “happy fault”—an opportunity, that is, for the attainment of something incomparably greater than that “Edenic state.” For it has ever been recognized by the truly wise that both the macrocosm and the microcosm—in a word, the entire Creation—is as nothing compared to its transcendent Cause. Which brings us back to the felix culpa: the greatest and most humanly incomprehensible fact of all, Christianity declares, is that each of us has been invited, “by name” as it were, to a Wedding Feast—yes, by none other than God Himself.

Such, in all brevity, is the Invitation which proves to be definitive of the Christian religion. I emphasize this point because it has so often been implicitly denied by those who would subsume Christianity under the rubric of a religio perennis exemplified, first of all, by the oldest religious tradition in the world, which appears to be the Vedic. Yet with all love and reverence for Hindu religion, it needs to be understood that—search where you will—such an Invitation is nowhere to be found in the Vedic heritage.17I have touched upon that issue in Physics and Vertical Causation, op. cit., pp. 104-10.One can always, of course, explain away the Offer, be it as an exoteric adumbration or an outright beguilement; the question can be argued endlessly. What is by no means debatable, on the other hand, is the uniqueness of the Christian Calling: we know precisely when and where it was first proclaimed, and by Whom.

Dr. Smith’s latest book, Physics: A Science in Quest of an Ontology, is now available, as is our feature documentary chronicling his life and work, The End of Quantum Reality.


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1 See, for instance, my article, “The Tripartite Wholeness.”
2 I have dealt with this issue at some length in Cosmos and Transcendence (Philos-Sophia Initiative, 2021), chs. 5-6.
3 Regarding this point see my article, “Do We Perceive the Corporeal World?”
4 This term—derived from the verb driś, “to see”—is the closest Sanskrit equivalent of what we term “philosophy,” the point of difference being that to the Indian mind there is no single darśana that covers the entire ground. Which is to say, strictly speaking, that one requires, not one, but six darśanas—corresponding to the six “directions in space”—to encompass all reality. One cannot but wonder whether, in that regard, the Hindus may be wiser than we.
5 For a brief introduction to this field of current scientific inquiry I refer to my chapter, “Neurons and Mind,” Science & Myth (Philos-Sophia Initiative, 2023).
6 Physics and Vertical Causation (Philos-Sophia Initiative, 2023) pp. 32-5.
7 In the sense of “intentionality” as the term is used by phenomenologists.
8 I surmise one of the first things to be mastered by a Sānkhya apprentice is how not to dismiss the “no-thing.”
9 The Wholeness of Nature (Lindisfarne Press, 1996), p. 14. Henri Bortoft was a physicist, a student of David Bohm no less, who became fascinated with the approach to natural science pioneered by Johann Wolfgang Goethe. His book is in fact subtitled, “Goethe’s Way Toward a Science of Conscious Participation in Nature.” It is safe to say that few if any Western savants in post-Enlightenment times have had as profound an insight into the traditional sciences as Goethe.
10 The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (Lawrence Erlbaum, 1986), pp. 220, 222.
11 Ibid., p. 253.
12 Heb. 4:12
13 We are referring, of course, to the waking state: in the dream-state, to be sure, the psychic percipient is facing into the intermediary domain, wherein he perceives subtle (as distinguished from corporeal) objects.
14 1 Cor. 2:4
15 II.1.
16 The interested reader may wish to consult the impressive series of “Emmerich books” brought out recently by Angelico Press.
17 I have touched upon that issue in Physics and Vertical Causation, op. cit., pp. 104-10.