The Nature of Perception


By Dr. Alpana Agarwal

The science of perception is described in detail by eastern mystics. According to the Vedic philosophy, information is received through all the five senses but there is a lot that goes on in the brain before actual perception happens. Many recent discoveries in the field of neuroscience provide proof in support of the theory given by the Vedic seers.

How Perception Happens

Perception takes place as a series of steps. Taking the example of eyes, the visual information from the scene in front of the eyes goes to a space called chakshu. Chakshu is just like a digital signal processor. Whatever is seen through the eyes is converted into a bio-signal in the chakshu. For the case of eyes, the chakshu are the rods and cones in the retina which convert the light falling on them into a neural signal. The signal is then sent to a space called chitta, which is the equivalent of a computer’s memory storing all the data. The process of comparison and elimination now starts in the memory – “this is not a stone, this is not a tree, this is not an animal.” Chitta can be correlated with the primary visual cortex (1). It has been found by scientists that only 20 percent of the nerves coming to the primary visual cortex are from the eyes, the rest are from other areas of the brain, for example those in charge of memory. It is logical to conclude that only 20 percent of perception is based on input through the eyes, while 80 percent contributions are from the “mind” (2).
In the next step, identification happens in the visual areas of the brain (3), called as manas by Vedic rishis. For example, when one sees a familiar face or object or place, the manas recognizes the image – mother, boss, dog, rose, book, park, school, river. Next, the file moves to a space called ego, where the connection between the individual and the identified objects/persons/place is established. The information is relayed to the amygdala (a gateway to the limbic system) to recognize the emotional significance of the scene. Past incidents connected to the person/object/place are then retrieved and the information passed on to the limbic system, which produces a response in the person.

Why Do Memories Get Triggered?

The process of perception follows a logical path until the manas. After the manas when the information goes to the ego, the perception gets colored by the individual’s ego. It is well recognized both by neuroscience and psychology, that deep-seated memories play an important role in perception and decision making. Perception is not factual – perception is facts processed based on memory. Memory of past events, especially their emotional context, is called “Episodic Memory”, and this information is stored in the limbic system. If a scene reminds a person of some unpleasant experience in the past, unconsciously the painful memory gets triggered. For example, if the person was hurt by someone in the past, next time he sees that person, he would go through anger or sadness. This serves a purpose in the scheme of things, which is to avoid future hurt.

Root Thought Patterns

The problem arises when this memory gets triggered when it is not needed, due to some similarity between the past painful experience and the scene before the person. Now, even if the person sees anything or anyone which remotely resembles that person who caused the original hurt, or a situation similar to the original incident, he again goes through the same low mood, affecting his decisions. This process can happen quite unconsciously, and in the case of very old or repressed memories, one may not even know the reason for a sudden dislike to a place, person or situation. These kind of deeply engraved memories are called samskaras. It is important to understand, that a memory is not only a memory of the incidents that happened at a certain time, but also the cognition that a person has of those incidents. What the person believes himself and others to be in the situation is also engraved in his bio-memory along with the information that is received through the five senses. These cognitions are called the “root thought patterns”. Sometimes, even if one is aware of what is right, one ends up making the wrong decisions due to the root thought patterns. All addictions happen because of an incomplete and inadequate cognition which becomes engraved in a person, and then begins to override the intelligence of the individual. According to Freud, human beings are completely unconscious of 90 per cent of what goes on in their minds. Most of the decisions are not taken consciously, and can be traced back to the unconscious mental patterns.

Only when a person has completed with all their root thought patterns, can true perception happen. *Svapoornatva and poornatva are the two techniques given by Nithyananda to complete with root patterns, and reclaim the ability to perceive life without the interference of the unconscious mental patterns.


1 For details of the process of visual perception, refer to “Phantoms in the Brain” by Sandra Blakeslee & V.S. Ramachandran
2 Richard Gregory, “Brainy Mind”, British Medical Journal, 19 December 1998, issue 317: pp. 1693–1695
3 Refer to the works of Semir Zeki, John Allman, John Kaas, David Van Essen, Margaret Livingstone and David Hubel