There are important distinctions between perception, awareness, and consciousness. Here are the key differences you should know:
What is Perception?
Perception is the raw act of an organism apprehending information by way of its perceptual capabilities.
We humans, Homo Sapiens, have 5 primary methods of apprehending information, it’s the 5 senses we are all familiar with which are sight, sound, smell, taste, and feeling.
Some say there is a “6th sense” – psychic perception capabilities – but actually all so-called 6th sense capabilities are all actually processed through one or more of our 5 senses – so-called “clairvoyance” is seeing, “clairaudience” is hearing, “clairsentience” is feeling (taste and smell are far less common when it comes to the “6th sense”.
All experience of any kind must be processed by one or more of our 5 senses, we cannot perceive information otherwise.
It’s also worth noting how limited our senses actually are – often referred to as “neurological constraints”, our 5 senses perceive along a very narrow band of available information.
For example, take our ability to see: the visual spectrum of light we can visually apprehend is but a tiny band, a very small segment of the entire electromagnetic spectrum and we are not able to see Gamma rays, X-rays, ultraviolet, infrared, radio waves, and many other kinds of information is simply invisible to us, whereas other species such as many types of insects & birds can perceive ultraviolet light and perhaps even infrared.
What is Perception – Summary
Perception is merely the raw information being apprehended by whatever neurological constraints & capabilities a specific species possesses.
What is Awareness?
Awareness is a step immediately after perception, and is the state of noticing some set of information coming in through our perceptual capabilities.
We humans are not aware of all information arriving at our senses, awareness acts as a filter for that raw information coming in.
For example, as you read these words right now you may not have been aware of how your left foot feels, or the temperature of your right ear, or some sounds you may be hearing and screening out of your awareness as you focus on reading this sentence.
Awareness further funnels and limits the limited information our sense are able to perceive; what we are aware of at any moment in time is a function of many aspects of ourselves such as our current mood, whether we’re experiencing pain or some other overwhelming sensation, and our memories, expectations, attitudes, beliefs and values all “color” and filter what we are aware of at any given time.
What is Awareness – Summary
Awareness is a secondary filter applied after the limited amount of information that arrives to our perceptual capabilities (AKA, our “senses”) – awareness further shapes and constrains that information and the sum total of our experience via our senses at any given moment in time is our current state of awareness.
It’s also worth noting that there is a secondary type of awareness which I refer to as “self-reflective consciousness” where we are not only aware of something, but we are concurrently aware that we are aware.
Self-reflective consciousness is what gives humans (and very likely some other species such as whales and dolphins and possibly some others) the ability to reflect on the past and imagine the future.
What is Consciousness?
Where perception is the raw reception of information via neurological capabilities, and awareness is the sum (and limited) total of our experience at any given moment in time, Consciousness is the underlying or overriding “field” in which all of that exists.
Consciousness is what “the universe” is composed of and out of which existence itself springs.
The branch of scientific investigation known as “physics” has as its longtime stated goal to find the single indivisible “building block” of the universe – for quite some time this was theorized as the atom, well before the actual discovery of same.
However, after the atom was discovered, physicists quickly realized that the atom is indeed comprised of yet-smaller pieces of matter (or states of matter), typically referred to as “subatomic particles“.
Physics searches in vain for the smallest indivisible “piece of matter” which comprise “the building block of the universe” simply because of a common and forgivable error: thinking that the universe is a thing and that that thing is made up of a combination of parts, like a machine.
However, the universe is not an assemblage of parts – our awareness and language actually fool us into seeing separation where in fact it doesn’t exist – and there is great wisdom here because while certainly there are “different things” that exist such as rocks and trees and lakes and humans, those things are in reality not separate entities in the way we conceptualize them; all things that exist now did not exist long ago and will not exist at some point in the future, and the very “stuff” that comprises us now once comprised something else, and will again comprise something else in the future.
The reason physicists will never find that single building block that comprises the universe is because not only is the universe not an assemblage of things, but rather that “single indivisible thing that comprises the universe” is consciousness itself, and consciousness is simply not a thing.
What is Consciousness – Summary
If perception were a tree and awareness the fruit of that tree, then consciousness would be the underlying field in which that tree can exist and grow in the first place. Consciousness is the very stuff of which “the universe” is composed, it’s out of self-reflective consciousness from which existence “came into being”.
Bonus: Perception Is Projection – True or False?
There is a longstanding saying in psychology that “all perception is projection” – is that really true?
Answering this question requires true discernment.
The idea of psychological projection posits that because we humans can only understand the external world through our own filters of memory, expectation, attitude, values, beliefs etc., then that means whatever we think is true about other people or “the world” is merely a reflection of our own psychological state.
While there is great wisdom there and fodder for extensive personal development by assuming that all perception is merely our own psychological projection, the reality is that perception is not projection.
For example, let’s say that you work at a business in a department where the department head holds a weekly meeting set to start at 2:30 PM each Wednesday.
And let’s say that you have attended 24 of these weekly meetings, and you have noticed that the department head who holds the meetings never arrives at the 2:30 PM meetings any earlier than 2:35 PM.
In other words, you perceive that this department manager is always late to his own meetings – and if you were to point this out to a colleague, psychological projection would posit that you’re “projecting” your own emotions or beliefs or values around the concept of being on time – and that’s certainly true if you do project some emotion or belief about it – but if you merely notice that it’s true, pointing it out to a colleague (or merely perceiving that yourself) is not psychological projection, it’s simply awareness.
Perception, awareness, and consciousness have important distinctions. Discernment is the key to unlocking the differences.
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