More than anything, perhaps, propaganda (and in which I include advertising, branding, public relations, public diplomacy, etc) has laid waste to the Cartesian maxim cogito ergo sum. Propaganda has pretty much proved that thinking is not the central issue of being, nor can this res cogitans or “thinking thing” function as the “ground of being”. “Perception is reality” has displaced the Cartesian cogito from the centre of things. This “cogito” was prescriptive and proscriptive only. It deliberately overlooked the primacy of perception and the fact that this “thinking” could only be known by an act of perception itself. The “post-modern condition” is really the post-Cartesian or post-Enlightenment condition. It’s finally the odd-ball philosopher, Bishop Berkley, whose conclusion that “to be is to be perceived” countered the Cartesian formula, who now has had the last laugh.
The peculiarity of our present time is the “double-movement” that expresses itself as, simultaneously, the quest for “the Ground of Being” and yet also the Transcendent, but both of which attest to the fact that “cogito ergo sum” no longer works for us. We no longer have any faith in it as a guiding principle for the “good life”.
It’s precisely because “perception is reality” and “to be is to be perceived” have overtaken the Cartesian formula that we live “the post-modern condition” and why “perception management” has become the primary technology of social and political control. The fact is that Late Modernity is already “post-rational” and until we understand in what way it is so, we will remain hopelessly confused and bewildered about it.
We are obliged to turn our attention to the act of perception by the very fact of the ubiquity of “perception management” — advertising, branding, public diplomacy and so on. We are vulnerable if we don’t. But this shift from the act of thinking to the act of perception is even exemplified in the quandries and paradoxes of quantum physics, in which “Observer Created Reality” (OCR) or “Consciousness Created Reality” (CCR) has resulted in some dilemmas for “thinking”. The primacy of perception, and the liberation of perception from the “mind-forg’d manacles” and amalgamate false natures, was William Blake’s primary mission. And if Carlos Castaneda’s writings about his experiences as “sorcerer’s apprentice” continue to bedevil, perplex, and outrage his critics and the “debunkers”, it is also because of his teacher’s emphasis on “unfolding the wings of perception”.
Blake’s concern to “cleanse the doors of perception” and don Juan’s concern with “unfolding the wings of perception” are exactly equivalent. And this should concern us, too, since the act of perception is prior to the discovery of “thinking” itself, and for that reason has remained largely unconscious — in fact, is probably identical with what we mean by “unconscious”.
William Blake, Jean Gebser, Carlos Castaneda, Rudolf Steiner, Phenomenology, Rumi, and even, in some respects Nietzsche and quantum physics: what they all share — that which distinguishes them from the mainstream — is the recognition and acknowledgement of the primacy of the act of perception over the act of thinking. Jean Gebser’s “structures of consciousness” — the archaic, the magical, the mythical, the mental-rational, and the integral — are matters of perception and modes of perception. Likewise, Iain McGilchrist’s neurodynamic explorations in The Master and His Emissary draw attention to the issue of the divided brain as two different “modes of attention”, ie, modes of perception.
A lot of confusion exists, about this matter, because of a lack of differentiation between the perceptual and the conceptual, or between the perceptual and the sensate. A lot of reductionist psychology, for example, willy-nilly conflates perception with thinking (idealism), and even perception with sensation (materialism). In fact, perception precedes reflection or “thinking about”. Likewise, in the act of perception the physical senses — sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing — are only marginally involved, just as much as are the acts we call intellection, ratiocination, mentation, calculation or “thinking” as we presently understand thinking.
In philosophical terms, Phenomenology (Edmund Husserl, Merleau-Ponty) have gone the furthest in articulating psychology and philosophy of perception and in terms of the “intentionality of consciousness”. This is the same issue as what Carlos Castaneda’s don Juan refers to as “intent” as the operative potency in the universe, and the basis of the magical structure of consciousness. What this means is, that every act of perception is simultaneously an act of creation (and very much connected with Jung’s “synchronicity”). Consciousness is inherently creative by virtue of this characteristic of intent or intentionality. This shaping power of consciousness, as a issue of intending the reality it perceives, is what Blake calls “vision” or the “Imagination”, and is also implied in Heraclitus’ maxim that “character is fate”.
This is, in some ways, ancient knowledge. The pre-Socratic philosophers, for example, never thought of the physical senses, such as the eye, as passive recipients of sense impressions or sensory “data” from “outside”. Light was conceived as radiating outwards from the eye to illuminate what it saw. Seeing generated the sight. What they were trying to express, though, was the meaning of “intentionality” of perception. That the physical senses shape their environment was a residual memory, become somewhat obscured by the mythical structure of consciousness, of a much earlier knowledge of the magical potency of intentionality, still clear to Heraclitus, (appropriately renamed in our time as “the Greek Buddha”. In his own time, though, he was called “Heraclitus the Dark”, or “Heraclitus the Obscure” because still, with Heraclitus, the issue is the primacy of perception over thinking). On the other hand, his arch philosophical foe, Parmenides — the philosopher of “Being” — had declared that “thinking and being are the same” (later to be repeated in Descartes’ formula “I think therefore I am”). And it was Parmenides and the primacy of thinking, and not Heraclitus and the primacy of perception, that was to set the cornerstone for all Western intellectual history since.
What propaganda as “perception management” has re-discovered, albeit in a very inadvertent and unconscious way itself, is the primacy of perception over thinking. And we are compelled by this fact to become conscious of the act of perception itself, simply as a matter of self-defence against the voodoo of propaganda, advertising, branding and other forms of contemporary “perception management”. We are being compelled by the facts of Late Modernity to realise and acknowledge that “thinking” and “consciousness” are not identical — that the “mental-rational consciousness structure” or “perspectival” consciousness as Gebser also calls it, is only one mode of perception available to consciousness, and a very limited and limiting one at that. It is certainly not foundational.
Iain McGilchrist’s insight, gleaned from neurodynamics, that your “mode of attention” determines your “mode of being” is very much, once again, the issue of intentionality and perception, and a recognition of the fact that the act of perception is simultaneously a constitutive act — ie, it is creative. And since the mode of attention determines the mode of being (which is fully the issue also of Jean Gebser’s different “structures of consciousness” as modes of perception) you can appreciate why certain commercial and power elites would seek to control and regulate the act of perception — to control and regulate “the mode of being”. In in our case, it is to make sure no one escapes the orbit of consumerist materialism.
It should be clear that we can’t go back to the cogito as foundational and primary, simply because it’s not. It was as much a “dream” — the dream of reason — as the fantasy reality generated by branding. We must get clear about the act of perception if we have any hope or desire of ridding ourselves of Blake’s “mind-forg’d manacles”. And I am finding, in my present studies of brand culture, that a lot of otherwise useful and critical books on the subject suffer from an outdated loyalty and allegiance to the cogito and to the principles of the Enlightenment. Consequently, the end up pissing into the wind, and can make no headway against the potent falsities of the present.
Whether or not “perception is reality” and that “to be is to be perceived” are true can only be decided by becoming clear about the act of perception itself. We have simply ignored the primacy of perception for too long, or have taken it for granted, and in consequence have allowed propagandists and perception managers to run roughshod all over our nervous systems.
Opening “the doors of perception” (Blake), or “unfolding the wings of perception” (Castaneda) or “purify your eyes and see the pure world” (Rumi) just make eminent sense, don’t they? “Perception is reality”, as a replacement for the cogito, is a conclusion that is now treated as if it were a premise. The only way to test its truth or falsity is to investigate our own perception, unencumbered by the “mind-forg’d manacles” of assumptions, biases, beliefs, and prejudices that are, usually, not even our own but someone else’s — the “foreign installation”. Before we can even decide whether “perception is reality” or whether “to be is to be perceived”, we have to know perception. That’s where we should begin, and not with either the Cartesian cogito or the propagandist’s motto.