“One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important”
The primary means by which we know the world is of course sense perception: we see and we touch corporeal objects, we hear sound, and we employ our olfactory and gustatory faculties to access two additional dimensions of the sensory universe. The paramount faculty of sensory knowing, however, is doubtless the visual, which is why one speaks of a “world-view” rather than of a “world-hearing” or a “world-touch,” and why the term “perception” is frequently used to refer specifically to sight. The world, then, exists in the first place as something to be seen, something to be perceived visually.
We have noted that knowing—and thus, in particular, visual perception—”is ultimate,” which is to say that it cannot be reduced 😮 the category of “being”: no cosmic process can explain or account for even the simplest such act. On the other hand, physical processes do of course play a necessary role in every form of human knowing, and we are all aware of the fact that cognitive neurophysiology, in particular, has made impressive strides. In the case of visual perception, for instance, the anatomy of the so-called primary visual system has been meticulously investigated, with the result that one now disposes over a “wiring diagram,” extending from the retinal ganglion cells (of which there are more than 100 million in each eye) to the hippocampus, which dwarfs in its Gargantuan complexity anything the electrical engineer has ever conceived. But while it is certainly true that this research has enabled us to give at least partial answers to numerous questions relating to visual perception, when it comes to the central issue it has so far only confirmed our ignorance; as Sir Francis Crick has put it: “We can see how the brain takes the picture apart, but we do not yet see how it puts it together.”6 There arc, however, compelling reasons why in fact the brain cannot “put it together,” a question with which I have dealt elsewhere.7 What is more, not only is the brain incapable of “putting the picture together,” but it has been shown on the basis of empirical studies that, contrary to what had long been assumed, visual perception is not in reality a matter of seeing a picture or a visual image at all.8 What one sees in bona fide acts of visual perception are not “pictures,” but corporeal objects, precisely: one sees a mountain or a tree, for example, and not just an image of a mountain or a tree. One can also, or course, see pictures, as happens in an art gallery, for example.
We need to understand that perception, like every other act of knowing, is consummated in a certain union or contact between the subject who knows and the object that is known; as Aristotle has observed, “in a certain manner” the two become one. It needs further to be noted that “knowledge is ultimate” precisely because this union is unlike any other: it is a union mi generis by which the act of knowing is defined. It follows that neither neurophysiology nor any other natural science can comprehend that union. Though the act of human knowing, in any of its modes, does most assuredly involve the physical body—what we have characterized as the intersection of man and cosmos, their common locus—it is perforce consummated in the Intellect, which exists neither in space nor in time. All that the contemporary cognitive sciences have brought to light—not as conjectures, but as fact—stands in full agreement with this conclusion.
So I am I because you are you; and you are you because I am I –so neither I am I, nor you are you. But I am I because I am I; and you are you because you are you – so I am I and you are you, and we can talk to each other!
–Old Yiddish Proverb (found in the Kabbalah of Envy, by N. Bonder)