Some excerpts from the second chapter of The Conquest of Illusion
Our image of reality
by J.J. Van Der Leeuw (1929)
The primitive and unthinking way of explaining sense-perception implies that, through the senses, a faithful image of the world around us is reproduced in our consciousness in such a way that image and reality are exactly alike. In order to explain this process still further we compare it to the action of a photographic camera, where through the lens an entirely accurate and faithful picture is reproduced on the sensitive plate. Satisfied with that explanation we sink back into our unquestioning acceptance of the world around us, glad that everything is so simple and never suspecting that we have not explained anything at all. How the image reaches our consciousness through the darkness of the sensory nerves and the brain matter is a question which does not even occur in the primitive explanation. And yet, even if the senses produced a faithful image of the world surrounding us, that image again would have to be perceived by the consciousness and with regard to the perception of that image we should find ourselves faced by exactly the same difficulty as with regard to the perception of the outer world itself. We have merely shifted the problem one step, and, to the unthinking mind, such a shifting or re-statement of a problem is generally quite acceptable by way of explanation. However, the image which the senses give us of the world around can never be a faithful one; our senses are selective and can only interpret those elements of the world around us to which they are able to respond. Thus, in the case of sound and light, we need only look at a table of vibrations in air and ether to realize how extremely small the groups of vibrations are to which eye and ear react. With regard to all the other vibrations we are practically insensitive, we only know them by inference.
It is a very useful exercise to think ourselves into a state of consciousness, where those elements of the world around us, to which our senses respond now, would be non-existent and the contents of our world-image would be furnished by elements to which our present senses do not respond. Imagine two beings meeting and comparing their knowledge of the world, a human being with our five senses and an imaginary being with the senses we lack. Each of them would be aware of a world around him, each of them, unless they were philosophers, would be quite certain that he perceived the world exactly as it was there, outside, and that he perceived all there was to be perceived of it. Yet their two worlds would be utterly unlike; could we for a moment perceive the other being's world there would be nothing in it familiar to us or resembling any feature of our world. And yet, the other being would have as much right to call his world the real world, as we should have to call ours the world as it really is. But from the standpoint of reality no one has a right to call his world *the* world; it is *his* world and nothing more, his selective interpretation of reality.
With the understanding of this truth our primitive explanation of sense-perception as a faithful reproduction of the world around us collapses, and our world-image, far from being identical with the real world, becomes but our specific interpretation of that world; our world is but *our* version of *the* world. It is well to ponder deeply over this very simple fact of the selectivity of our senses and thoroughly familiarize ourselves with the idea that what we see around us is not the world at all, but rather the peculiar interpretation of that world which we as human beings, because of the nature of our five senses, make. It is not sufficient to agree intellectually with this and say that the argument is clear and that we acknowledge it to be true; philosophy must be realization if it is to be worth anything, and the truth we realize must become part of our very consciousness; Our innate superstition that the world we see is *the* world indeed is so deeply ingrained in our nature that it will rise again and again and make us believe that our world-image is the world in reality. Our primitive illusions need to be rudely shaken before a wider knowledge can be born.
end pt. 2
With thanks for selecting this and typing it out to Leo Bartoli.