Thursday, June 04, 2009

“Stick Out Your Tongue and Look At Me:” Images We See in the World Are First Formed Deep in Our Brains

We grow up automatically believing that what we see with our eyes makes up a real world. When an infant begins to connect a word with an image he sees, e.g., "Mommy," "doll," "doggy," we reward him lavishly. Thus begins his quest to learn the names of everything in sight.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with this. You can hardly expect a child to do otherwise. The only problem is that it establishes a world that seems real but, in fact, is not real. Obviously, overcoming this predilection to believe what we see with our eyes is a terribly difficult task.

Last week I came across an article in the newspaper that made the task less difficult by providing me with unequivocal evidence that seeing with the body’s eyes does not establish a real world. The article is entitled, Using the Tongue to Help Blind See, demonstrating how a device called BrainPort enables the blind to see images.

Roger Behm lost his sight at 16, the victim of an inherited disease that destroyed his retinas. Both of his eyes were surgically removed. Now 55, Behm has made himself at home in a sightless world. Three years ago, he slipped a device over his head, turned it on, and was once again able to discern light and dark, shapes and shadows, letters and numbers, and even a rolling golf ball. "I could look down and and see the ball, white on black, and I could see myself swinging my putter," Behm said. "And, of course, I missed. But I could reach down and pick up my ball, like any other sighted person."

The BrainPort relies upon the ability of the human brain to adapt when a source of sensory information such as the eyes are lost and traditional sight is impossible. In this case, the device uses a video camera to translate images into electrical impulses that are sent via the tongue to the brain where portions of the organ devoted to touch and sight work together to turn the information into an image that the blind person can actually see. It takes advantage of groundbreaking work by a UW-Madison scientist that showed the brain will reprogram itself to accept and use different sensory signals — in this case touch instead of sight — to replace signals that can no longer be received due to injury or disease. (Ron Seely, Using the Tongue to Help Blind See, Wisconsin State Journal, Sunday, May 17, 2009, p. A11)

Reading this article was so helpful to me in breaking the bondage of believing that seeing with these eyes establishes a real world. The BrainPort provides an excellent reference point for the Workbook Lessons of A Course in Miracles, particularly in the beginning. This is why Jesus begins his Workbook where he does, Nothing I see means anything.

The reason this is so is that I see nothing, and nothing has no meaning. It is necessary that I recognize this, that I may learn to see. What I think I see now is taking the place of vision. I must let it go by realizing it has no meaning, so that vision may take its place. W-p1.51.1

This is a tough beginning because we take for granted, for granite, that seeing is normal, natural, universal, ordinary—in other words, seeing is believing.

You do not seem to doubt the world you see.
You do not really question what is shown
you through the body's eyes. Nor do you ask
why you believe it, even though you learned
a long while since your senses do deceive.
That you believe them to the last detail
which they report is even stranger, when
you pause to recollect how frequently
they have been faulty witnesses indeed!
Why would you trust them so implicitly?
Why but because of underlying doubt,
which you would hide with show of certainty?


To begin to shake this firm foundation, Jesus links thoughts with images.

My thoughts are images I have made. Whatever I see reflects my thoughts. It is my thoughts that tell me where I am and what I am. The fact that I see a world in which there is suffering and loss and death shows me that I am seeing only the representation of my insane thoughts, and am not allowing my real thoughts to cast their beneficent light on what I see. Yet God's way is sure. The images I have made cannot prevail against Him because it is not my will that they do so. My will is His, and I will place no other gods before Him.

It is so hard to accept that what I see in the world is simply, and profoundly, a projection of my thought-images first formed in my brain, especially since the very beginning I was conditioned to believe that the world is real--"Mommy," "doll," "doggy."

It is so hard to look out through the window right now and see the trees and the grass and the sky and the clouds and the birds and the squirrels and say to myself, “This is not so; this is not real.” It is difficult to realize that this panorama all begins in the dark recesses of my brain where, in fact, no light can really enter.

Over the centuries, catching glimpses of the unreality of the world, we have come up with a number of metaphors:

A sleeping dream
An illusion
The shadows on the walls of Plato's cave
A mirage
A stage play
A movie
Life's but a walking shadow. . . a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. (from Macbeth)
A hologram
A holodeck

These metaphors all tell me that I am seeing only my thought-images being projected out, and what I see is simply their reflection.

In contrast to believing in what the body’s eyes see, Jesus uses emphatic phrases like these, stopping our minds for a moment:

There is no world.

Thoughts are images I have made.

I am not a body. I am free.

For I am still as God created me.

Nothing real can be threatened.

Nothing unreal exists.

Herein, lies the peace of God.

This is the way William Wordsworth (1770-1850) expresses it, demonstrating that while the infant is learning to connect words and images, he is all the time trailing clouds of glory, coming from God.

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
(Ode, Intimations of Reality, lines 60-70)

Seen through the tongue, or the eyes, what we see covers up our connection with God. What Jesus is offering us is the opportunity to shift our faith from our senses to faith in the truth of what we are, the holy sons of God. What is real is seen with vision; what is unreal is formed in our brains, either through the body’s eyes or through the tongue. My goodness! It is the brain that is seeing, usually through the eyes, sometimes through the tongue. Who knows what it will use next. But the brain is not real, only Christ's vision is real.

Reason would tell you that the world you see through eyes that are not yours must make no sense to you. To whom would seeing such as this send back its messages? Surely not you, whose sight is wholly independent of the eyes that look upon the world. If this is not your vision, what can it show to you? The brain cannot interpret what your vision sees. This you would understand. The brain interprets to the body, of which it is a part. But what it says you cannot understand. Yet you have listened to it. And long and hard you tried to understand its messages. When I manage to let go and stop listening to the brain’s interpretation, I am free to hear and see with the Savior’s vision.

Though one can read the science over and over again, it still requires somewhat of a leap of faith to grasp the idea of "seeing" through the tongue. Simply, the patterns of light picked up by the camera are converted by a tiny computer into electrical pulses across 100 stainless steel electrodes. Users say it feels similar to touching a weak battery to your tongue, a bubbly or tingling sensation. The pulses are spatially encoded, meaning the person receiving those signals on the tongue can perceive depth, perspective, size and shape. That information is translated by the brain into images — fuzzy images, because of the low resolution, but images nonetheless. Those who have used the device explain that they perceive the objects in front of them, separate from their own bodies. (Seely, p. A11)

The BrainPort helps me to see (Whoops, notice that we are so ingrained with the idea that seeing is believing that we use “see” as a metaphor for understanding) that I don’t even see only with my eyes. I can see with my tongue as well. This reminds me that when I was talking about this with my wife, Christine, I read to her my working title, “What I Seem to See in the World is Simply a Visible Picture of Neural Activity Taking Place, Invisibly, in the Dark Recesses of my Brain,” and she said immediately, “No, just call it, Stick out your tongue and look at me.”

In the beginning of this essay, I used the phrase “unequivocal evidence,” and I have to chuckle now because it demonstrates again how ingrained it is that we think that seeing could possibly offer proof that there is a real world out there. Ironically, the word “evidence” comes from the Latin vident, “to see” meaning “plain or clear to the sight, or understanding.” Jesus, of course, sees this connection.

The mad illusion will remain awhile
in evidence, for those to look upon

who chose to come, and have not yet rejoiced
to find they were mistaken in their choice.

“Equivocal” comes from the Latin equi, “equal” and voc, “voice,” meaning “having two or more interpretations.” However, “unequivocal” means “unambiguous, clear, having only one possible interpretation.” And what is significant for us is that its root meaning is “voice,” reminding us that there is only one Voice, the Voice for God, the Holy Spirit.

Yet you must learn to doubt their evidence
will clear the way to recognize yourself,
and let the Voice for God alone be Judge
of what is worthy of your own belief.
He will not tell you that your brother should
be judged by what your eyes behold in him,
nor what his body's mouth says to your ears,
nor what your fingers' touch reports of him.
He passes by such idle witnesses,
which merely bear false witness to God's Son.
He recognizes only what God loves,
and in the holy light of what He sees
do all the ego's dreams of what you are
vanish before the splendor He beholds.

In summary, this is Joel Goldsmith expressing the continual translation of the visible picture into the reality in his masterpiece, The Infinite Way.

Spiritual illumination may be attained by living constantly in the consciousness of the presence of perfection, by the continual translation of the visible picture into the reality. We are being faced with discordant appearances all through our days and nights, and these must immediately be translated through our understanding of the “new tongue,” the language of Spirit.

Every incident of our daily experience offers fresh opportunities to use our spiritual understanding, and each use of the spiritual faculties results in greater spiritual perception, (the Savior’s vision) which in turn reveals more and more of the light of Truth. “Pray without ceasing. . . . And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Translate the pictures (thought-images) and incidents of daily existence into the new tongue, the language of Spirit, and consciousness will expand until translation occurs without even taking thought. It becomes a habitual state of consciousness, a constant awareness of Truth.

Only in this wise can we find our lives unfolding, harmoniously from the center of our being without taking conscious thought. Instead of our existence being a continual round of “demonstrations,” it becomes the natural, harmonious, joyous unfoldment of good. Instead of repeated efforts to make good come to us, our every good unfolds to view from the depths of our own being without conscious effort, either physical or mental. We are no longer dependent on a person or circumstance, nor even on our personal effort. Spiritual illumination enables us to relax our personal effort and rely more and more on Divinity unfolding and revealing Itself as us.
(Joel Goldsmith, The Infinite Way, Marina del Rey, CA., DeVorss & Co., p.43)

And now I find it very helpful to read Lesson 92, Miracles are seen in light, and light and strength are one.

Lesson 92 is primarily in blank verse. I say “primarily” because the first two paragraphs are in prose, and the remaining paragraphs morph into the poetic stanzas of blank verse. From Lesson 91 to 97 Jesus is in the transition of moving from prose to blank verse, and Lesson 98 is entirely in poetic form. Here is Lesson 92.

The idea for today is an extension of the previous one. You do not think of light in terms of strength, and darkness in terms of weakness. That is because your idea of what seeing means is tied up with the body and its eyes and brain. Thus you believe that you can change what you see by putting little bits of glass before your eyes. This is among the many magical beliefs that come from the conviction you are a body, and the body's eyes can see.

You also believe the body's brain can think. If you but understood the nature of thought, you could but laugh at this insane idea. It is as if you thought you held the match that lights the sun and gives it all its warmth; or that you held the world within your hand, securely bound until you let it go. Yet this is no more foolish than to believe the body's eyes can see; the brain can think.

It is God's strength in you that is the light in which you see, as it is His Mind with which you think. His strength denies your weakness. It is your weakness that sees through the body's eyes, peering about in darkness to behold the likeness of itself; the small, the weak, the sickly and the dying, those in need, the helpless and afraid, the sad, the poor, the starving and the joyless. These are seen through eyes that cannot see and cannot bless.

Strength overlooks these things by seeing past
appearances. It keeps its steady gaze

upon the light that lies beyond them.
unites with light, of which it is a part.
It sees itself. It brings the light in which
your Self appears. In darkness you perceive
a self that is not there.
Strength is the truth about you; weakness is
an idol falsely worshipped and adored
that strength may be dispelled, and darkness rule
where God appointed that there should be light.

Strength comes from truth,

and shines with light its Source has given it;

weakness reflects the darkness of its maker. It is sick
and looks on sickness, which is like itself.
Truth is a savior and can only will
for happiness and peace for everyone.
It gives its strength to everyone who asks,
in limitless supply.
It sees that lack in anyone would be
a lack in all. And so it gives its light
that all may see and benefit as one.
Its strength is shared, that it may bring to all
the miracle in which they will unite
in purpose and forgiveness and in love.

Weakness, which looks in darkness, cannot
a purpose in forgiveness and in love.

It sees all others different from itself,
and nothing in the world that it would share.
It judges and condemns, but does not love.
In darkness it remains to hide itself,
and dreams that it is strong and conquering,
a victor over limitations that
but grow in darkness to enormous size.

It fears and it attacks and hates itself,
and darkness covers everything it sees,

leaving its dreams as fearful as itself.
No miracles are here, but only hate.
It separates itself from what it sees,
while light and strength perceive themselves as one.
The light of strength is not the light you see.

It does not change and flicker and go out.
It does not shift from night to day, and back

to darkness till the morning comes again.

The light of strength is constant, sure as love,
forever glad to give itself away,

because it cannot give but to itself.
No one can ask in vain to share its sight,
and none who enters its abode can leave
without a miracle before his eyes,
and strength and light abiding in his heart.

The strength in you will offer you the light,

and guide your seeing so you do not dwell

on idle shadows that the body's eyes
provide for self-deception. Strength and light
unite in you, and where they meet, your Self
stands ready to embrace you as Its Own.
Such is the meeting place we try today
to find and rest in, for the peace of God
is where your Self, His Son, is waiting now

to meet Itself again, and be as one.

Let us give twenty minutes twice today

to join this meeting. Let yourself be brought

unto your Self. Its strength will be the light
in which the gift of sight is given you.
Leave, then, the dark a little while today,
and we will practice seeing in the light,
closing the body's eyes and asking truth
to show us how to find the meeting place
of self and Self, where light and strength are one.

Morning and evening we will practice thus.

After the morning meeting, we will use

the day in preparation for the time
at night when we will meet again in trust.
Let us repeat as often as we can
the idea for today, and recognize
that we are being introduced to sight,
and led away from darkness to the light
where only miracles can be perceived.