Perception and the Sixth Sense

Have you seen him who makes his desire his god, and God sends him astray purposely, and seals up his hearing and his heart, and sets on his sight a covering? Who, then, will lead him after God [has condemned him]? Will you not then heed? Quran 45.23

And every soul shall come, with it a driver and a witness. (It will be said:) “Thou wast heedless of this; now We have stripped the veil (that covered thy understanding) from thine eyes, and incisive is thy sight this day!” [Quran 50:21-22].

Physical Senses
We give names to the ability to perform certain physical acts and group them under the label senses. Once, the senses were five, but now they number over a dozen. [See Senses, Wikipedia]. Modern science ably describes, in great detail, how each of our senses functions, the physical and chemical processes, and how they provide information interpreted by the brain.

We perceive the composite presented by our senses and call it reality. We compile, assimilate, store and review all the information provided by our senses with the goal of attaining such intangible emotions as happiness, security and tranquility.

It gives me a deep, comforting sense that ‘things seen are temporal and things unseen are eternal.’ [Helen Keller].

Limitations of Physical Senses
Unfortunately, our senses are limited in their ability fully to perceive. We know that some animals have senses with greater ranges than our own. The sense of smell of most mammals is much keener than humans. We also know that some animals have senses that we do not possess at all (e.g., electroreception and magnetoreception, the ability to detect electric and magnetic fields). 

Among humans, we know that some have better sight and hearing than others. In music, for example, some of us can identify and distinguish between sounds that many cannot. Music is particularly relevant in this discussion because there are so many components that can be defined and measured, but an intangible element, the “spirit” of music, remains outside scientific understanding.

In addition, psychological mechanisms within us can manipulate what we perceive, so that our senses can be fooled, distorted into illusions and misinterpretations. [See Illusions, Wikipedia] Moreover, we modify and expand perception to accommodate conscious awareness. This means that sometimes we see and hear what we want, not what is “real,” and that sometimes our mind interprets a reality greater than the sum of what the senses perceive. For example, Gestalt laws of similarity and proximity are used to design computer shortcuts in user interface engineering.

Going one step further, science produces ever more powerful tools that assist our senses surmount our inability fully to perceive. As our cosmic universe is ever-expanding, so too are we experiencing expanding realms of information. New technologies, chemicals and physical procedures continually add to our sensible data. Spectrometers, imaging sensors, electron microscopes, magnetic resonance imaging, seismometers are examples of our ever-expanding specialized “senses.”

There are certain happy accidents which have the power of inducting man for a moment into this richer and more vital world . . . In these hours, human consciousness ascends from thought to contemplation; becomes at least aware of the world in which the mystics dwell; and perceives for an instant, as St. Augustine did, “the light that never changes, above the eye of the soul, above the intelligence.” This experience might be called in essence “absolute sensation.” It is a pure feeling-state; in which the fragmentary contacts with Reality achieved through the senses are merged in a wholeness of communion which feels and knows all at once, yet in a way which the reason can never understand . . . [Evelyn Underhill, Practical Mysticism, Ch. 2, “The World of Reality.”].

Complexity of Information Perceived
Unfortunately, even if we could hear, see and perceive all the data being made available to us, we are still severely limited in our ability to comprehend, to process, organize and interpret it. We can absorb and metabolize just so much information before we become satiated and need new tools to calculate, interpolate and store all the data available. This magnifies our lack of understanding of even the reality accessible to us. 

As we discover new frontiers of awareness, we experience greater complexity of information. Instead of progressing, we sense that we are actually falling behind, becoming increasingly ignorant, as more and more questions arise for which we have no answers.

One response to overwhelming amounts of data is specialization. We develop fields of study and experts arise in these fields. We then rely on their specialized “senses” to perceive and to interpret own “reality.” In other words, science has become our eyes in understanding many areas of our existence. 

Summary of Blind Spots
As we have seen, our physical senses perceive on a fraction of the reality available to them. Without venturing outside the material world, we can identify blind spots where our senses fail us. To summarize:

  1. Our senses have limited range;
  2. We lack certain senses;
  3. Our mind can perceive more than the simple data presented by senses;
  4. Scientific processes significantly magnify our senses;
  5. Increases in data overwhelm us and limit our ability fully to perceive;
  6.  Specialization allows scientists to study large volume of data in specific areas.

Universal PSI
The apparent limitations of our senses underscore the obstacles confronting scientists trying to encompass God’s creation. Enter psi, experiences based on a sense(s) not yet defined by science. Psi is a neutral term for psychic experiences coined by British psychologist Robert H. Thouless in a 1942 article in the British Journal of Psychology. [Thouless, Robert H. (1942:Jan), “Experiments on paranormal guessing.” 

 . . . there are words for psi experiences in every language, from Arabic to Zulu, Czech to Manx Gaelic. The universality of the words reflects the fact that these phenomena are basic to human experience. And indeed psi experiences have been reported by people in all cultures, throughout history, and at all ages and educational levels. This suggests that the phenomena are basic not only to human nature, but they also tell us something about the fundamental fabric of reality. [Entangled minds: extrasensory experiences in a quantum reality By Dean I. Radin]

Clairvoyance, fanaa, intuition, moksha, mysticism, nirvana, paranormal, precognition, third eye (the inner eye) and others, all claim perception into a transcendent reality. However, scientists interested in such psi phenomena face imposing restrictions within professions that stunt pursuit of controversial topics and severely limit funding sources. Nevertheless, some scientists are not deterred.

The scientific evidence is now stronger than ever for commonly reported experiences such as telepathy (mind-to-mind communication), clairvoyance (information received from a distant place) and precognition (information received from a distant time). Studies suggest that we have ways of gaining information that bypass the ordinary senses. The sixth sense and similar terms, like second sight and extrasensory perception (ESP), refer to perceptual experiences that transcend the usual boundaries of space and time . . . the outcomes of many other types of tests by dozens of investigators on precognition and other classes of psi phenomena, have caused even highly skeptical scientists to ponder what was previously unthinkable—the possibility of a genuine sixth sense. [Is There a Sixth Sense? Psychology Today


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