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..:: Observations ::..


Alan Schneider


               The role of the observer in our observations has only very recently come to the attention and scrutiny of science. Amazingly, for the bulk of its existence, science has had an externalized perception of experimentation that has assumed that the human consciousness conducting scientific observation was of little consequence as long as the scientific method of inquiry was strictly adhered to as the means of investigation, a trend that reached its mechanistic peak with the philosophy of behaviorism propounded by B. F. Skinner in the mid-twentieth century. Behaviorism flatly denied the existence of internal personal consciousness, treated the organism as a superficial physical entity, and focused on behavior modification conditioning techniques as the method of treatment of all mental disorders. Fortunately, this robotic approach to human behavior and perception was offset, and later eclipsed by, humanistic and transpersonal psychology in the latter half of the same century. With the exception of such ill-conceived aberrations, the advent of scientific psychological investigation, beginning in the late nineteenth century, stressed the importance of the observer’s total mindset, intellectual capacity, and belief system, marking the birth of a new level of understanding of the experimental method that is, however, still very much under development at this writing. Enough progress in this area has been made by now to suggest some type of framework regarding the current level of perception in scientific experimentation.  

            In today’s conception of experimentation, at least three factors are seen by sufficiently sophisticated individuals as contributing to the experimental process – the experimenters themselves, the experiment proper, and the macro environment in which the experiment takes place. All three are interactive in determining the outcome of any experimental procedure, but particularly of social and psychological scientific experiments, strongly affected as they are by the society and culture in which they take place. The experimental mindset is the product of both acculturation and personal psychology, as they reinforce each other along what are often subconscious, unperceived behavioral vectors. 

            Why do certain societies and individuals seem to be oriented toward the mass production of utility objects (cars, houses, technology, equipment), while others are oriented towards esthetic production (artwork, music, literature, cuisine), others seem to have only basal economic production (subsistence agriculture, fishing, and handcraft manufacturing), and still others exhibit no, or only primitive, production orientations to speak of at all? How do social background conditions effect perception and experimentation with new options? How and why do we select what is worthy of study or experimental investigation in the first place? Why? Because cultural conditioning determines personal and collective attitudes and choices. 

            The observer inherits and internalizes personal belief from the culture of origin through the acculturation process. Now, it may be true that inherited behavioral traits influence some of the acculturated choices made, but the heavy influence of the social environment on those choices cannot be ignored. Unless other, outside factors are introduced into the psychological equation, the individual tends to follow the lead of first the family of origin, then the extended family of relatives and clan, then the local community, and finally the macro-communities of state and nation.  Under these circumstances, the selection of experimental environments deemed to be worthy of investigation is probably more the outcome of what is not rejected through the filter of acculturation than what is classified as socially appropriate by that filter.  

            The onslaught of science in the twentieth, and now twenty first, centuries was driven by the ego’s natural fixations with convenience, comfort, control, and power over the external physical environment, augmented by the expanding human intellectual capacity for rational thought that took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As we emerged from the Dark Ages, our understanding of the physical world literally exploded through the application of science, and continues to do so now. But, when the light of scientific inquiry is turned back upon us, many problems and paradoxes are seen to emerge. The impact of conditioning becomes apparent for the decisive influence that it brings to bear on awareness, perception, and choice. This can be illustrated by the simple example of the well-known ambiguous-figure experiments now so common in many psychology courses. 

            For example, one famous ambiguous figure is capable of being perceived as either an unattractive old woman, or a beautiful young woman, depending on the instructional cues given by a moderator. If the observer is cued to see the old woman, the frontal aspects of this individual’s face are indicated. If the observer is cued to see the young woman, the same set of cues is administered, but in a different order of presentation, and using different descriptive terminology – that of a young girl looking over her shoulder. The visual content itself does not change, but the first observer will invariably identify the old woman’s weathered face, while the second will identify the young girl! This is essentially the acculturation process, as seen in the microcosm of one discreet example. Now, it is noteworthy here that the physical organism does seem to have some inherent tendencies to respond favorably to certain physical situations and contexts. A rectangle of certain proportions – known as the Golden Ratio – is generally perceived as the most pleasing to the eye, and this came to be the dimension used in almost all television screens! When a strobe light is flashed at some frequencies, the result is perceived as stimulating, others are dangerously aggravating, while still others will induce hypnosis.  Situations that imply the threat of harm to a subject will tend to elicit heightened states of organismic arousal in experimental observers. But, the generally decisive role of conditioning in perception and choice cannot be denied.  We select what we are taught to select, and perceive what we are taught to perceive. This is the essence of the observer’s role in the experimental situation – selection through conditioning.  

            The tendency to ignore the observer was maximized in Newtonian physics, the pinnacle of science for many decades.  When Einstein introduced Relativity physics in the twentieth century, his theories hinged on the critical feature of the observer’s motion affecting the observations made. As is well known, only one constant emerged in the Relativistic paradigm – the speed of light in a vacuum – all else was shown by Einstein to be completely relative to the observer’s location and motion – even the perception of time. Quantum theory took this one step further, demonstrating that it is not possible to simultaneously know a particle’s location and momentum – only approximations of either or both are possible in what came to known as Quantum uncertainty. In fact, Irwin Von Schrödinger, the father of quantum mechanics, demonstrated that the observer literally creates the outcome of an observation in the process of making it! Prior to this point, the experiment and the outcome exist in what he called a “Black Box”, or chaotically nondeterministic, condition about which nothing can be known. Such theories stood Newtonian physics on its head, revealing what an inexact science it really was. 

            If we essentially create what we observe by observing it, this must also apply to our choices of experimental investigation. We must create what we choose to observe in the first place. If culture determines choice, where does culture itself come from? From history? From human experience? And where does our capacity to create through observation come from? How and why did the human “mutation from zero to everything” – the advent of our sentient self-perception and observational  capability – come to be? 

            At least in part, it would seem to be supported by science that we evolved into our present state of manifestation from lower, non-sentient, or only partially sentient, life forms. At some point in the evolutionary process, the size and complexity of the brain must have passed a critical threshold that enabled sentience. What this suggests is that sentience implies the capacity for self-observation. We simply emerged at some point in evolutionary history into a condition where we realized the capacity for self-creation through self-observation! Prior to that point, everything is a quantum Black Box about which nothing historical can be known. And in the sense of observational reality, any observation occurring under prehistoric conditions was an implicit self-observation, because human beings then did not have the capacity to clearly distinguish between themselves and their environments, or between themselves and each other. It is a matter of the greatest irony that we have achieved the realization, after millennia of externally focused observations, that we are creating our reality when we observe what we had thought was the separated external world, and this “thinking” was a cumulative cultural and historical error of perception!

           When we elect to voluntarily suspend the observational process through meditation, a very interesting manifestation occurs – the phenomenal world – the world as experienced through the senses, and interpreted by the ego – disappears, and is replaced by a non-analytic, non-interpretive stream of consciousness that is experienced as originating from beyond any personal organismic boundaries. It would seem that when we abandon the ego as the cultural focus of observation, we immediately begin to return to the primordial state of primitive humanity – collective perception occurring in an individual context.  This is the original group-mind that is always functioning beneath our conscious perception, and can be experienced as having a common point of origin at the center of the psyche and psychic manifestation. This location was known to Jung as the Self. For Jung, and Freud as well, consciousness was created from inside out – the only difference between the two was in terms of how far “in” the center of the process was located, and whether “in” eventually became “out” –  i.e. outside the physical boundary of the organism.  For Freud, the psyche was limited to the ego, the superego, and the id. For Jung, these regions – all of which are bounded by the physical body – were only the beginning of the psyche, which extended well into the non-determinate regions of collective perception and racial memory. 

            If the Self is the origin of experience, and is indeed located beyond the body, the implication must be acknowledged that all of the ego’s observations are invalid, that culture is statistical fiction enforced by trauma, collective perception is the ultimate reality, and that reality itself originates from one point in consciousness – the point of original observation that establishes original creation. This is the only logical conclusion to the current direction of scientific thought in physics – if we create through observing, then there must be a first observer somewhere achieving a first creation.  

            In fact, we have arrived at the place in history where science is suggesting at every turn that the traditional logic of object presupposing subject is dead wrong, and it is the subject which presupposes the object. As incredible as it seems, the universe once thought to be a vast machine now appears more and more to be an infinite intelligence that exists beyond our limited sensory perception of physical manifestation. If this is the case, as it increasingly appears now to be, then the Saints and Sages throughout history have been right all along in their insistence that there is a concerned Intelligence directing human affairs from an ultimately benevolent motivational frame of reference, however distant and intangible that Intelligence may be. If this is the case, then it is our moral, intellectual, and psychological  responsibility to become and remain as open on every level to the possibility of this Presence, and attempt to understand what that Presence may be attempting to communicate to us here and now in our apparently transitory state of incarnate physical manifestation. This is our greatest perceptual challenge today – to understand and accept the inconceivable reality that science has assured us nonetheless exists – we are the living recipients of the original Spark of Creation, and manifest that Spark in every choice we make. Let us then choose with love, wisdom, and compassion!


                                                                               - With Love, Alan -

                                                                         (CR2008, Alan Schneider)


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