Appearance, Reality, and William Blake (pt.1)

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In a poem entitled ‘The Everlasting Gospel‘, William Blake wrote,

In his ‘Auguries of Innocence‘, however, when we do look “thro’ the Eye”, this enables us,

In this first of two posts, let’s look at the lines from “The Everlasting Gospel“. The “five windows of the soul” are the five senses which give us information about the world around us – sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. We process this information with what Blake calls our “soul” but which most of us now more likely call our ‘mind’. Blake says there’s a way in which this process “distorts” reality, so that we “believe a lie“. To counter this, he says we need to see, not “with” but “thro” the eye, which is an interesting turn of phrase. Understanding how our senses work can enable us to “see thro” the “lie“. In other words, to see the deception inherent in our customary “with the eye” perception of external ‘reality’. 

There is philosophical and scientific thinking which shares this view. You and I don’t see ‘out of’ our eyes, but light, which is electromagnetic radiation, enters ‘into’ our eyes. This radiation is colourless – colours are a creation of our minds. The vibrations in the air which enter our ears are silent – sounds are a creation of our minds. The atoms and molecules that enter the nose and mouth have neither smell nor taste – tastes and smells are creations of our minds. As for touch, everything is made of atoms which never ‘touch’ each other. The electrons in approaching atoms repel each other with overwhelming force. You may think that you and your chair are touching each other, but that’s no more possible that it is for the same poles of two powerful magnets to touch each other. ‘Touch’ is an experience created by our minds. 

The everyday ‘reality’ that surrounds us, in itself, has no colours, sounds, tastes, smells, or anything tactile. All these experiences are created by electro-chemical processing in our brains and minds. We’re inclined to dislike being told this, but if we’re interested in understanding how things actually are, we have to take it on board. The pictures you and I create of the world around us are useful, and indeed essential, for safe daily navigation of our surroundings, but they’re pictures nonetheless. 

Whatever ‘ultimate reality’ is, it doesn’t, in itself, look, sound, smell, taste, or feel like anything whatsoever. We now know that we can picture it as an invisible and intangible, infinite field of innumerable patterns of interacting energy, which should be for us a source of awe and wonder. Out of this ‘ground of all being’, (which some might happily call ‘God’) – out of this one, totally interconnected, cosmic web of energy, has emerged material things, living beings, and the sublime experience of consciousness and self-awareness – and the ability, if we so choose, to begin to “see”, not “with”, but “thro’ the eye”.

Where does this lead us? In (pt.2) of this post, we’ll consider the lines, quoted above, from ‘Auguries of Innocence’ …..

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