I would maintain that the universe has an objective reality that we can perceive through our senses, and an underlying reality that we can intuit and “vision” — accessible through both direct and indirect perception. That doesn’t mean that the unseen reality is subjectively on standby awaiting our awareness and command. There are both rigid and flexible aspects to this underlying reality in the same way that the exterior objective reality has both stability and the potential for change. We can intuit the inner patterns of existence through spiritual practice. Sometimes we may enter into direct perception, with or without a corresponding translation into a medium language. Honestly assessing our experience is a personal path to Truth. When the experience is not our own, it is by definition anecdotal, and we rely on the reliability of the witness. But there are circumstances that may objectively suggest direct perception without the need for personal experience.
Neurologist Oliver Sacks reports a fascinating encounter with “idiot savant” twins in his book THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT. Sacks reports that the twins had a numbers game (one of many) that they played with each other, in which they were exchanging 6-digit numbers. Sacks, being a bit of a numbers nerd himself in his youth, happened to possess a rather rare book of prime numbers (numbers that cannot be evenly divided by whole numbers, like the number 11). He confirmed the twins were exchanging prime numbers. At this point, Sacks wanted to make it interesting. Using his prime numbers book, Sacks introduced an 8-digit prime into their game. That really got the twins attention, and they too began to exchange 8-digit primes. The game escalated to 9-digit primes, and Sacks entered a 10-digit prime. An hour later Sacks reports the twins were swapping 20-digit primes, although he admits he had no way of checking. It’s possible Sack’s book of primes only went to 8-digit primes, the extent of what he could verify. But we might assume from the series of escalated exchanges that it was likely the twins were continuing to produce prime numbers larger than 8-digits. In any case, the game of prime numbers was only one example of their extraordinary perception of numbers. Since the twins had no mathematical or computational skills of any kind, how was that possible? Sacks concluded: “The twins seemed to employ direct cognition – like angels. They see directly a world of numbers.” In other words, the twins had a connection to the stream of numbers that exist in a Platonic realm that gives all mathematics its potential.
I worked with an autistic teenager at the beginning of my Human Services career who had very poor daily living and communication skills. But one thing he was able to do was compute the day you were born, Sunday through Saturday, given the date and year of your birthday. Oliver Sack’s twins had this ability going forward or backward in time 40,000 years. I don’t know the extent that our savant could calculate dates, but I do know that he was correct on my birth date, as well as with several coworkers, because I verified his responses. There is a name for a savant with this type of skill. They’re called calendar calculators. This was about all the skill he had, except once in a while, like in the bathtub when he should have been washing, he would suddenly say, loudly and with emphasis, “I bless you in the name of the father, the son, and the holy ghost.” His father had been a priest. And while it seemed comical, I’m not willing to say he didn’t have the capacity for direct cognition – like an angel.
Direct cognition has to come from somewhere, like the direct perception of using the senses to see a visual item such as a flower that exists outside the body and in the world. We have eyes to see a flower. How does one see numbers? Science doesn’t account for direct cognition, because that would involve a mechanism outside the senses, and might allow for the possibility of other forms of direct perception like ESP.
When direct perception occurs, it is because the brain can operate as a receiver, like a radio receiver, and not strictly as a self-contained computational source. Take the animal world, what used to be called instincts may turn out to be direct perception (I’m not calling it direct cognition, to avoid giving insects the capacity for thought). For example, some wasps with brains the size of a pinhead can memorize minute details of a landscape almost immediately, and some birds can memorize vast routes of migration in one flight. Here’s the best example I know of: monarch butterflies can migrate 2000 miles on a route they have never traveled to a specific place they have never been. True, this type of animal intelligence is very rigid. But we’re talking pin-sized brains that still have to negotiate the world in other ways. They have to eat, reproduce, avoid danger, achieve locomotion, and do other bug things of which we may not be aware. My philosophy would explain it as direct perception. As a radio receiver accomplishing monumental tasks of recall, their brain tunes in to that one channel, that one direct perception. Think: antenna you can’t see.
If direct perception exists with animals, it is specific to their needs, the connections they have developed with their environment over time. Great musicians sometimes speak in a language reminiscent of direct perception, stating the music just comes to them, or that they channel music somehow when they inhabit inspiration. When we acquire specific connection — the technology or skill acquisition of an endeavor such as music — we open ourselves to direct perception that links to the source. Direct perception is then translated by the individual into thoughts or actions.
As a young adult I was a karate-ka. The goal of advanced students was direct perception, to know before your opponent knew what he was about to do. Put more precisely, for your body to know and react precognitively just prior to your opponent becoming aware of his own motives. My experience tells me that this is possible. We used to call it the Tao or Zen of an art, to translate direct perception into personal knowledge or action. Since this type of perception is beyond the five senses, there still has to be an avenue or mode of connection. Earlier I mentioned the brain as radio receiver. Now imagine that brain receivers can tune in to more than one frequency, the potential of which varies amongst species and individuals — the variations of endowments and potential. Each frequency is its own thread of perception that operates through instinctive endowment, predilection, or through active attention and willful intention.
Consider the pre-Socratic Greek philosophers Leucippus and Democritus who intuited the fundamental building blocks of matter when they postulated the philosophy of atoms about 2300 years before the discovery of the atom. I’m suggesting that threads and streams – more wave than particle – are the unseen causative that may be the fundamental building blocks of perception. I’m suggesting that connective threads are not a mythological description, but an actual means of inner perception that is beyond our current science. Who knows, maybe in a couple thousand years science will be weaving aspects of reality with these now unseen threads and streams the way that today’s science can split atoms for energy. If so, I hope they have a notion of Good.