Experience has the knack of fooling us on a regular basis. We see the sun setting every day, but we know very well the sun never sets. It is the earth rotating backwards, which gives us the experience that the sun is setting in the horizon. The sky looks blue, but we know that there is really no sky and neither is it blue. There are many such examples where our experiences are false. The same is also true of how we visually perceive the world. Science has taught us that the light is reflected from any object in this universe that we observe, and travels to the retina in our eye. There are 120 millions rods which are sensitive to black and white and there are about 7 millions cones which are sensitive to color. These rod and cones convert the incoming light into an optical signal. This optical signal is transmitted to the visual cortex in the human brain. This is the end of the journey of the perception process. There is no explanation as to what happens to the optical signal and how the brain decodes the optical signal and reconstructs our visual world. Science also never tells who is at home within the brain who finally sees the reconstructed visual image. Who is final observer of this image? I guess this idea of the final observer has always been outside the bounds of science because there is no way to empirically record the observer’s existence. Anything “subjective” is discarded in the scientific world.
For science to describe the perception process accurately it has to make a paradigm shift and move into the metaphysical world and understand who the observer is, then and only then the real perception process can be fully understood.
The way the perception process is currently described is inaccurate and has many shortcomings. The objective of this article is to give a fresh and a different outlook to this perception process. It will use science as a foundation and where this is not possible it will use the teachings of the ancient Rishis as available in Vedanta.
Limitations: Current Perception Process
Besides the lack of understanding of the observer and what happens in the mind/brain in the reconstruction of the outside world, there is this unanswered question – does the incoming light reflected from objects have the capacity to generate the awareness of those objects? It would seem this reflected light is our only connection with the outside word. We are aware of all the objects both far and near only because of this reflected light. In this article, I would like to show that this is asking too much from reflected light alone.
Science tells us that light can either be a wave or a particle. We also know that light travels at the speed of 186,000 miles per sec. We know the particle aspect of light is made of photons, which are mass less particles and travel at the speed of light.
1. If you look at a far away star, the light traveling from there can take a long time. For Star A which is 10 light years away, the photon has to start traveling 10 years back so that it can hit the retina in our eye now to make Star A visible. Now we turn around and try and see Star B, which is 1 million light years away, that photon would need to start its journey 1 million years back so it is available to our eyes. This is a long journey for the photon passing through space containing dark matter, galaxies, and planets. The photon has to keep its purity of wavelength and energy level. Now if you can imagine millions of people spread over many different galaxies looking at the same stars at the same time, different photons from Star A and B should also travel from the past to the present to reach these millions of viewers. It would seem these photons from anywhere in the universe are available to viewers everywhere on demand and that too instantaneously. This makes you wonder- is there is a limit on the number of photons the reflected light can generate from the object which has to be viewed?
2. We know light is made up of different colors and each of the colors has a different wavelength. When we pass light with these colors through a prism (basically from one medium to another), the wavelengths for each color bend differently and we see the rainbow effect on the other side of the prism. Light breaks up and moves in scattered directions. It is more than likely the light coming from distant objects will pass through different media which only means the photons of different colors will scatter and move in different directions. The probability of scattering is much higher if the light has to travel from stars which are light years away. If this is really happening what is the accuracy of the photons reaching the human eye? Is it really representing the objects accurately? I do not think science really discusses this and it is taken for granted that the photons reaching us from distant objects are an accurate representation.
3. Another critical question is – how can the photon accurately represent the distance and time it has travelled? The object could be close by or a distant star. Quantum physics tells us these particles are continuously destroyed to become other particles and then they combine once again to become a photon. Such a dance is going on continuously. Keeping this dance in mind, there is no way to know which photon has traveled how far to reach the human eye. As of now there is no indication that the photon has some sort of memory to know from which object it has come and the distance it has travelled. There are millions of photons hitting the rods and cones in the retina, but there is no way to know which photon comes from which object and how much distance it has traveled. If this critical information is lacking, it is impossible for the eye to reproduce the image we are trying to perceive.
You could say that this is perhaps unknown to science – the photon does have memory to know the distance it has travelled. If so, how does it transfer this distance data to the retina? The retina in turn must add the data regarding distance into the optical signal being sent to the brain. Only this way, the brain can reconstruct the visual image accurately.
Science is completely silent about this and there is no evidence that all this is actually happening. All the above arguments show it’s just not very clear how we really perceive. What science tells us so far is full of problems and shortcomings.
4. Let us now look at the same problem from a more radical point of view, which is fully supported by science. Einstein postulated that nothing in this universe can travel faster than the speed of light. He also explained that if anything travels at the speed of the light, for that object, space will be smaller than the smallest dot. If you can travel in a rocket at the speed of light, the size of the universe will contract and become smaller than a dot. At the moment the only particle we know which can travel at the speed of light is a photon. Let us play around with this proven fact. We can imagine that we’ve put a tiny camera on a photon and this photon is travelling at its usual speed (of light). What will this camera capture? It will capture a universe whose size is smaller than a dot. Let us apply this logic to all the available photons in the universe. All these photons will see the same universe which will be smaller than the smallest dot. Actually the dot in this case is zero which means there is nothing – no space. Nothing means nothing, but we know there is something, there is a photon. The only way to understand this is that the photon is in an unmanifest or dormant condition; it is in its potential form, just like a tree is in an unmanifest condition within a seed. The physical tree still has not come out, but the tree is there in a potential form in the seed.
From the photon’s viewpoint or from its frame of reference there is nothing out there, there is no space, no universe, no distance and no time. This is because the photon is in an unmanifest condition.
However if you look at it from the observers point view, from its frame of reference, we see a vast and huge universe. In this frame of reference the photons manifest themselves, and we think that the photons are zooming around at the speed of light. How to understand this?
How does the photon manifest itself? In the presence of the observer or perceiver the photon manifests and makes itself available to be observed. It becomes the photon we have measured and tested. The photon manifests itself when the observer wants to see an object, which maybe close or far away. The distance is immaterial. The photon does not need to know the distance as it manifests only where the observer is and when the observer wants to observe an object. So who knows the distance? Definitely not the photons. What is interesting is that distance traveled by the photon is added by the observer’s mind or, as it’s called in Vedanta – Maya Shakti. We will see later on that the space time is created by Maya Shakti and the distances within space time are also created by this power.
It must be understood that this availability of the photon is completely dependent on the observer or perceiver. When the observer wants to see a far away star, only then the photon from that star is readily available. The observer mind thinks it has taken all this time for the photon to reach from the star, but from the photons point of view it is already there. This applies to any object the observer wants to see. When the observer wants to see an object the photon is readily available from that object. This clearly shows that the existence of the photon completely depends on the observer. The ancient Rishis in India understood this concept centuries ago, it now time for science to acknowledge this fact that the existence of the photon which is the basic elementary particle building block of the universe is totally depend upon the observer.
What does this mean? – the only possible conclusion is that the photon manifests only in the presence of the observer and it is only logical that this observer creates the photon. We know that the photon is the building block of the universe and therefore it is not wrong to conclude that the observer also creates this universe that they are seeing from their minds. Without the observer there are no photons and therefore no universe. There is nothing in this universe which is independent of the observer. Like so many other improper experiences we think that photons and the universe are independent of the observer, but this is just not possible.