Maya series. Part 3: Perceptual Maya (Brain construction > Physical truth)
This is the third part of a 4-part series. You can find the other parts here:
Part 3: Deep-dive into perceptual maya
Intro: self-aware boundaries
As one moves on up from the physical reality, one starts to encounter boundaries which have a certain sense of self. I.e., these boundaries are cognizant of their own boundaries (even if not consciously) and doing their best to survive & thrive. This includes single-celled organisms, as well as more complicated boundary-aware systems such as animals, plants & human beings.
I call this realm the biological realm & one of the unique features about this realm is that it consists of boundaries that perceive other boundaries. This perception is very necessary for surviving or thriving.
It is this perception, most likely in service of surviving and thriving, that gives rise to a more nuanced reality — the perceived reality.
This is the level reality that we (you and I) are most familiar with. Compared to the physical reality that came before it, the perceptual reality is one that we have been evolved to directly experience.
This article is written from the perspective of humans (as that’s the only perceptual experience available to me). However, it is probably relevant to any ecosystem or organism that has the ability to perceive (whether consciously or not) an external reality that is separate from itself.
Your brain’s relationship with reality
Most humans imagine that there is a concrete objective reality “out there” and that our perception is about capturing that “true physical reality”. Similar to taking a photograph, we believe that we are capture a facsimile of something out there with our brain.
But it isn’t that simple.
Recent studies hint that the brain has quite a bit of creative control in creating your perceived sense of reality.
In mental illness this statement is hard to argue against. In diseases such as schizophrenia (many more such reality-warping diseases can be read up on books by Oliver Sacks), the brain is known to create a reality that most others would say are “artificial”. Unfortunately, the perceptions of a schizophrenic brain are as real to the victim as ours are for us.
As an aside, the only distinction between sanity and insanity often seems to be determined by “majority wins” diktat. For example, if enough people believe in a man in the sky who punishes or rewards humans depending on his whims, the perception becomes a shared, sane reality (one that is even eligible for tax breaks!).
Coming back to our point, the construction of a reality is not just the domain of the “mentally ill”. If it were, one could claim that an imperfect construction of an underlying reality is only an aberration, like a faulty camera.
However, recent research (over the past few decades) by neuroscientists such as David Eagleman shows us that this reality construction is a normal part of the brain’s job. The healthy brain is quite literally constructing the reality that you experience.
Livewired (by the author mentioned) is a fascinating book to read, and the biggest take-away is that the brain is a multi-purpose pattern recognition device. In other words, it is not like a camera; instead, it is more similar to a multi-talented artist. Given the inputs that the artist has available (paint or mud or ink), it will create a piece of art that helps it survive & thrive.
To make sense of what that means, consider the following experiments. By using an interface device that converts physical light ways into sound/shock waves and attaching it to a person’s skin, researchers are able to allow blind people to “see” the world.
The “see” is in quotes only because these people are not able to use their eyes. However, experiments show that these people do indeed see the world in the same manner as you and I (the limiting factor here is the technical sophistication of this light to sound/electricity conversion device). By this I mean the blind participants do not visualize a room by imagining it or by creating a sonar-like mental map of the room they’re in; instead, they actually experience it in the same way as you do with your eyes.
Similar studies have shown that this sort of perception transference is possible with the other senses as well. Hinting at the fact that our sense organs are just a way for the brain to be fed certain patterns that exist in physical reality. There is nothing too amazing about the organs themselves. If the brain were to receive similar patterns through an artificial/augmented means, it would be able to create the same reality as it does with natural organs.
To me that is direct proof of the fact that what we perceive is a constructed reality. The master architect being our brain. Given that most humans share a genetic lineage and the same blue print for the master architect itself (i.e., the brain), it is not surprising that we all perceive a consistent and similar reality in our day to day lives.
Altered states of consciousness are often when the master architect starts following some other rules versus the rest of us. It might be that the master architect is seeing patterns where none exist (we call this mental illness), but it is also possible that the master architect is seeing patterns that the rest of us are unable to (we call this eccentric genius). The line between mental illness and eccentric genius is often quite subtle because it is hard for normal people to judge whether the reality being perceived is actually based on existing patterns out there or just an imagination.
The brain’s prison & beyond that prison
Given that the brain perceives a reality from the truth, let’s think through the constraints it may have in doing so. Any constraints will likely give us a hint as to whether there are aspects of reality that are outside of our perceptual reach. This would then become the reality hidden behind maya of our brains constructing a world.
To me, the brain in its pattern recognition role has two structural constraints (maybe more, but two for sure):
1. The pattern recognition should help a human being survive & thrive — this is just basic evolutionary design. It is in fact the reason that the brain exists.
2. There are physical / infrastructural limitations on the patterns that can be perceived. E.g., our pattern recognition is limited by the senses that can be plugged into the brain or even the brains ability to synthesize and discern complicated patterns.
These two constraints point us to aspects of physical reality that are out of reach of perceptual reality (not only for humans but every living being faces these constraints).
Specifically, if two types (at least) of hidden realities can be said to exist at the perceptual level:
1. Patterns within the physical reality that do not aid in surviving and thriving, or may even detract from that ability.
2. Are untappable based on constraints that evolutionary design has. I.e., a brain doesn’t have access to certain patterns (even if the patterns could be useful for surviving & thriving)
Again, this is maya at play. The patterns that fit these two constraints would exclude the “hidden realities”. This becomes maya — or a half-truth punching above it’s weight.
The first point to note is that it is literal & not metaphorical.
The second point is that instead of being villainous, it serves a very useful purpose. One of aiding survival of biological boundaries over time. Which, in turn, serves the purpose of enabling these living boundaries to access new types of experiences & enhance the quality of existing ones. Thereby improving both the “width” and “depth” of the interactions possible between boundaries — and hence fitting in neatly with the purpose of the universe.
We’ve tackled maya at the physical & perceptual realities. Let’s see if we can see find it in the context that it is most often used in — the metaphysical or spiritual level.