Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Sense Perception

Sense Perception


There are various philosophical doctrines on sense perception; including that of Mulla Sadra which is a marked one. Prior to expounding his doctrine we should get acquainted with its foundations (e.g. the connotation of the mind; categorising the perception under sense perception, imaginal perception and intellectual perception; classifying the knowledge into acquired knowledge and knowledge by presence; mental existence and mind's creativity). Though not a sensationalist, Mulla Sadra accepts direct involvement of sense in human knowledge. He regards "attention" and "awareness" as two important constituents of perception and believes that they are immaterial and include among the faculties of the soul. According to Mulla Sadra the knowledge is essentially the presence of the object (fact) for the mind. The senses (e.g. the sense of sight) project the form of the object on the nerves and material organs of body; immaterial soul, however, perceives it directly (through the knowledge by presence) and then saves it in its own memory called imagination. It will be saved there until the man attains acquired (ordinary) knowledge. The other important issue, interjected by Mulla Sadra is evolution of this perception into imaginal and, then intellectual, perceptions. It is in this point where he proves that there should be an existential union between "the perceiver and the perceived", or as he puts it, between "the intellect and the intelligence" or "the sensor and the sensed". While discussing these issues we have tried to prove the correspondence between the mind (subject) and the external world (object).

Mulla Sadra
’s doctrine of perception- including sense perception, imaginary perception, intellectual perception- begins from the external things and is based on what it is called "essential known".1

Mulla Sadra regards all the stages of perception, which are a series of bodily and psychical (material and immaterial) phenomena as originated from the external material thing (object). Unlike some idealist philosophers, who regard the mental things as the main ground of perception, or rationalist philosophers, who believe in a priori knowns or Hegel who has taken the "idea" as origin, he believes in the correspondence between the mental knowledge (or the essential known) and the external object. He sees a relation between all perceptions of man and the external facts and says that our knowns and imaginations have their roots in our senses.

Sensualists maintain that in this point the sense perception reaches its end. Some of them mention awareness among the prerequisites of the truth of perception. According to Mulla Sadra, however, the reflection of the external objects on the senses is like the reflection of a picture in a mirror (or on a photographic plate); and it is too trivial to be called perception.

According to Mulla Sadra, the objects’ influencing on our senses is only a part of perception; and naturally those, who like sensualists have not gone beyond the experience and sense, cannot (and should) not deny the perfect process of perception which occurs after sensing.

The man’s senses (for instance the sense of sight) are too weak to reflect the external reality in the mind and, thus, produce the knowledge for us. The signals transmitted by the eye result are nothing other than a phantom (i.e. an dubious picture) and this cannot be deemed as the knowledge. According to Mulla Sadra’s philosophy, the knowledge should be an explicit representative of the external reality, and the phantoms of the material objects are not so. In order to be representative , the knowledge and perception should deal with the quiddities of the external world. (The distinction between quiddity and form on the one hand and phantom, on the other hand, is that the form, if given mentally an external existence, will be same as the external thing; phantom, however, is not so).

The brain is also a processor like that of computer (for, it performs the man’s commands, and is not able to do a duty out of the limits of data. It is not aware of what it does, and is not able to elaborate on the data, without being commanded); and without awareness there is no knowledge.

Therefore, though it is true that our senses are involved in perception and regarded as necessary promises for it, they are not sufficient. The material product of these senses does not constitute our perception; impressions and sensible forms in the brain cannot be automatically transmitted to the mind.2

When the senses have done their duties and the sensible forms have been gained in the nervous system and brain, it is time for the soul and mind to make- employing the important elements, i.e. intention and awareness- an immaterial phenomenon called perception or knowledge- or as Mulla Sadra puts it "illuminative form".3 According to Mulla Sadra the intention and awareness are two main parts of the knowledge and perception.

The "intention" is a psychological phenomenon and a psychical factor. Body and its material organs are not able to do it; it requires a "indivisible entity" (basit al-haqiqah) essence. None of the signals transmitted by the senses can be regarded as perception unless there is the intention of the perceiver involved. And actually, it can be seen that the man, while crossing the street, does not perceives what he sees or hears, except he pays attention to them.

Like the "intention", "awareness" also is not a material phenomenon. It is not in consistency with the matter and refers to the free-of-matter soul. For Mulla Sadra, the awareness is the presence (or recalling) of the quiddity of the external phenomenon or object or the main part of its essential aspects, in the mind. It is only the simple and immaterial soul which is deserved to be presented the self and other objects; for, the essential characteristic of the matter is its unawareness (or as Mulla Sadra says, its absence) of everything. According to the school of Mulla Sadra and his doctrine of "substantial motion" the matter is moving along a hypothetical and temporal line, and its past and future are "non-existing" and "non-existent" and ,thus, absent. Therefore, the matter is unaware of its own self; we do not mention the other things. For example, how can the retina or the cells of brain – on which is formed the picture and which are unaware even of their selves- be aware of an external fact? The awareness is, essentially, an existential and positive thing, therefore the material impressions of the brain- which consist of the existence and non- existence – cannot be regarded as the awareness and perception.

Therefore, awareness is same as the " presence" of the external object (or accidental known) in the man’s mind and revealing or unveiling aspect, which Mulla Sadra regards as the prerequisites of the perception and knowledge.

As we know, this "awareness", "presence", "unveiling" are the exclusive prerequisites for the truth of every perception, and can be regarded as criteria to make distinction between the true perception of a healthy man and the false perception of a neuropath one (hallucinations), and as it is said the unveiling aspect is found only in the quiddities of external objects.

This intention and awareness of the soul is what Mulla Sadra calls the soul’s " knowledge by presence" of its faculties and forms imprinted in them.

In the Islamic philosophy the knowledge is classified under two categories: acquired knowledge and knowledge by presence.

The acquired knowledge is gained mediately (i.e. through the five senses) and through mental stages. Though transmitting the quiddity of the objects to us, this knowledge cannot present the existential characteristics of them (e.g. heat, moisture…) and in the other words the acquired knowledge is an unproductive one.

The knowledge by presence is a knowledge, which reaches the inner self directly and immediately, and in the words, it is an intuitive perception. Unlike the acquired knowledge, this perception or knowledge contains the existential and external effects. Through union with it, man’s (immaterial) soul penetrates it and becomes aware of the depth of its existence.

The man’s knowledge by presence appears in different ways:

1-the perception of the self; the man’s knowledge of the self is an intuitive perception resulted through the knowledge by presence. Even if all five senses are disabled, the man is able to perceive his own self and this is not inconsistent with the fact that he sometimes perceives his self through the acquired knowledge (e.g. through seeing or touching).

2-the man perceives all his inner faculties, mental impressions, perceptions, motivations, desires, sentiments, thoughts, mental acts, and mental ideas through the knowledge by presence (Asfar-155/6).

3-the perception of what is reflected in the five senses- which are our reporters- also is through the knowledge by presence. And they are understood and analyzed entirely in the mind and through the knowledge by presence, and the present article is aimed to indicate this point.

4-extraordinary methods for perception and acquisition of the knowledge, which is acquired through intuition, such as perceptions gained after ascetic exercises or during the sleep and dream.

In Mulla Sadra’s philosophy the most important role in perception is played by the knowledge by presence. Intending to the products of its senses and becoming aware of the imprinted forms in those senses, the soul reconstructs the quiddity of the external object from them.

In addition to being able to be aware of what there proceeds in the senses, brain and its other internal faculties, the soul has creativity. Through this creativity, which is an essential aspect for it, the soul can construct any form and bring it into existence. The man’s soul is said to be even capable to imagine impossible and non-existing things, and even the non-existence itself in its own mind, and maintain for them positive and negative propositions.4

Mulla Sadra likens the man, because of his creativity, in some ways, to God. He says the forms, brought into existence in the mind, have not been transmitted to it; but rather they have been produced in, and emanated out from, the shop of the mind. As he himself says: the forms are emanated from the mind and not transformed to it.5

Therefore- unlike the other Muslim philosophers- Mulla Sadra does not regard the perception as the "imprinting" of direct picture of the object in the mind, and as a passive and reflective process, but he considers it as the creation and production of the forms of objects through the mind’s creativity and activity. Unlike the Kant’s categories, this creativity of the mind adds nothing to the data of sense, but it creates its counterpart in a mental (and not external) existence. It does not impose a special form or shape on its own percepts.

Thus, through reconstruction of the sensory impressions of quiddities and some secondary knowns- such as what Hume calls ideas- the mind gains acquired knowledge, and as Allamah Tabatabaii says: " it looks for "known", but it gains the knowledge".6

The role played by the sensible forms and the impressions of senses in the process of perception are only tools to make the soul and the mind prepared for making the acquired knowledge, i.e. creating a form and quiddity similar and corresponding to what there is in the external reality.

Having got acquainted with Mulla Sadra’s doctrine of sense perception, now it is worthy to mention Mulla Sadra’s other doctrine of perception. As we know Ibn-Sina and his followers regarded the "knowledge" as a "psychical quality". According to them- who followed Aristotle’s doctrine- the mind or the perceptive faculty of the soul is as a tablet on which the percepts are imprinted, and –in technical terminology- supervened and saved on it. These supervened forms are as a "secondary perfection" for man and have nothing to do with his essence.7

Though agreed with Aristotle in classifying all things under 10 categories, and though in the first part of his philosophical career, like other philosophers he classified the knowledge under the psychical category (a sub-category of the quality) he seems to have disproved it later and thought that the knowledge could not be classified under any Aristotelian categories and it is like the "existence" a supra-categorical one.

He goes further and, mentioning the well-known doctrine of " the primacy of existence"- claims that the knowledge is a level of the levels of existence and a quality of its qualities. Therefore, unlike his predecessors, he does not regard the "knowledge" as supervening and the mind as being supervened, and even he thinks that the knowledge cannot be regarded as separate from the "knower".8

Mulla Sadra says the knowledge is not separate from the existence and the essence of the knower, but it is a part of her/his existence. It is why the man’s existence attains perfect gradually as his knowledge and perceptions increase and his existential level upgrades, like a building which is completed through laying its bricks, that constitute that building altogether, on each other. Therefore, the knowledge and awareness are the primary, and not secondary, as Ibn- Sina and his followers think, perfection for the soul.

According to Mulla Sadra, when the man perceives something, in fact, he causes a quality to become actual and its going from secret potentiality to actuality; and actuality for the soul is as its perfection. Hence, upon every perception the man’s soul becomes more perfect, and the substance of his soul- which is, according to the rule of the substantial motion, in becoming- speeds up in perfection; and in the other philosophical expression its matter receives another form.

It should be noted that there is an important distinction between the substantial motion of the soul and that of matter, and that distinction is the simplicity and indivisibility of the soul’s identity (unlike the matter, which is divisible and composed of particles); and it is this simplicity of the soul and all other separates and immaterial things, which is equal with the awareness of one’s self, situation, and surroundings.

Mulla Sadra’s doctrine of the knowledge reaches its culmination in the rule of union of various levels: perception, perceiver, and perceived.

First- He says that the perception is nothing but the acquisition of the perceived for perceiver, and acquisition is, in fact, same as the existence, and the existence of everything is same as its self; therefore the perception and knowledge are same as the man’s essential known and perceived. That is:


Second- as we know the perception or knowledge is same as the perceiver and knower and not separate from him, since the knowledge is same as the awareness of the self and awareness of the self is our selfness and essence. That is:


Comparing these two equality we can obtain:


This doctrine of Mulla Sadra is a special case of his general doctrine of perceptions. As we have said the philosophers classified perceptions under three categories: sense perceptions, imaginary perceptions, and intellectual one. This doctrine, known as the doctrine of the union of the knowledge, knower and known, or as Mulla Sadra says: union of the intellect, intelligence and intelligible, considers the imagination and imagined as well as the intelligence, intelligible, and intellect as united as the sense, the sensor and the sensible. In the version, which speaks of intellect, the importance of this doctrine can be seen more easily.

Wherever there is a known, there is certainly a knowledge and wherever there is knowledge there is, of course, a knower. These three are correlated, and correlated ones are corresponding ones. Therefore, the knowledge, the knower, and the known are the same thing and nothing else, since they have one existence. By the perceived, " a quior a thing, which has perception " is not meant, and thus, it cannot be considered as separate from the perception and supervened on it. It is, in fact, same as the perception, since the perceived form and the perception itself are not separate from each other.

Therefore the sense and essential sensible and the sensing person or soul are altogether one reality which are regarded as three different things through mental positions and assumptions in philosophy; existentially, however, they are same and of the kind of existence and existent, existing through one existence. Mulla Sadra expresses this relation as the union between "the sensor and the sensible" and the union between "the intellect, the intelligence and intelligibles".

Here it can be understood that why as the knowledge and awareness increase man’s spirit and existence develop and why the man’s existence, while being stable and having an external identity, is constantly in an evolutionary motion; and why as Heraclitus says," the fragrant of a flower cannot be smelt twice."

The rule of the union of perceiver, essential perceived and perception or union of the intelligence, intelligible, and intellect has a high place in Mulla Sadra’s philosophy; and as he himself has said, he had demonstrated it at the age of 58 after long ascetics exercises and prayers. This doctrine is originally very old and remained from the Illuminationist sages of the ancient Persia and Alexandrian philosophers, and particularly Porphyry had detailed it in his book. Ibn-Sina and his followers did not find a proof for it and thus disproved it. Mulla Sadra, however, could prove it through promises and demonstrations.

Evidently, by the "perceived" he does not mean the external object, but he intends a conception, received (or constructed) by the mind, i.e. " the essential known". Here, by the union, the union between two things, such as the union between the motion and the moving thing or the potentiality with actuality or the matter with the form, and not the union between the substance and accident, is intended.

The important issue, preoccupied many philosophers, which we have to discuss here, is the issue of correspondence between the mental concept (the subject) and the external object, or as Mulla Sadra puts it " the correspondence between the essential known and the accidental known".

The realist philosophers believe in the correspondence between the subject and the object. The other group of philosopher, however, could not find such a correspondence. These philosophers have regarded the mental concepts as separate from the external realities, or even considered the external realities as a picture of the mental concepts.

In the "Transcendent Theosophy", the correspondence between the object and the subject is regarded as the main pivot of philosophy without which there remains no issue for philosophy to discuss, and philosophy will turn to a verbal game.

As we saw, Mulla Sadra expresses the knowledge and perception as the "light" (which causes the objects to be exposed) and considers the perception and knowledge as and unveiling the external reality in the mind, and thus names it "unveiling aspect". In Mulla Sadra’s school, the key for the correspondence between the subject and object and a firm link for their real relation is the union of the quiddities of "the essential known" and "the accidental known", since the quiddity of the thing in the external world and in the mind is same.

In acquired knowledge the man always deals with the quiddities; no one can claim that the acquired knowledge is the presence of the objects in the mind; this is only the quiddity and the limits of external entity which enter the mind.

The quiddity is the external reality which appears as a " mental existent". When it is said that the knowledge has an unveiling aspect, it means that it displays the external reality: a triangle is a triangle, and not a square, whether in the mind or in the external world. Therefore, the quiddity is both the knowledge and the known.

All the primary and secondary qualities , quantities and positions of the things – which are the manifestations of the quiddities of the things- can be perceived through the senses and thus the quiddity can be reached. It is why Mulla Sadra’s school mentions this relation as the " saving the essentials"(inhifaz e dhatiyat )in both subjective and objective quiddities.

The only distinction, made between the external object and the mental object by Mulla Sadra, is distinction between their degrees of existence. The external existent has a more intense existence and a greater influence on the other objects (for instance fire burns and water wets); the mental existent, on the other hand, has a weak and shadow-like existence and lacks those influences. It is why the Mystics believe that the willful men and jukis can grant the strength and influence to those mental existents and realize them in the external world.

From another point of view and following Muslim Mystics, Mulla Sadra regards the world of existents consisted of three world: sensory, imaginary, and intellectual. In another place, he divides it into four world: the corporeal world, the world of sensible souls and all sensible forms, the world of separate souls, and the world of intellects.

In these three or four worlds, the quiddities of the material existents are one, and in correspondence. In these worlds, despite the important distinctions between them, every quiddity, which is seen in the corporeal world, can be seen in other worlds as well, the degree of its existence is, however, different in these worlds.11

Here a confirmation for the correspondence between the material accidental sensible and the ideal and mental essential sensible, and a link for the union between the quiddity of a thing in the external world and its quiddity in the world of mind and soul, even in the level of the essential intellects, could be looked for.12


A thorough study on Mulla Sadra’s needs a more extended time. For the sake of brevity, we content ourselves with mentioning some important points:

First: The first important point, which is worthy to be mentioned, is illusion, which can discredit the forms imprinted by the senses.

It is proved that all the senses are sometimes captured by illusion; for example the eye sees a straight rod, which is placed in water, as a refracted one. Or the senses of hearing, or taste, or touch reports sometimes falsely. For this, some philosophers have regarded the man’s perceptions other than the external world, and entirely as the ideas created by the mind.

The subject of illusions or error in perceptions has been studied in details, in Islamic philosophy. It is said that the error is never committed by the senses and the error is, in fact, the error made by man’s mind in judging; and in philosophical expressions: the imagination faculty of the man is involved in recognizing it. As Ibn ‘Arabi says: "the senses are witnessing and the judge is the reason".13

The hallucinations of the psychopath ones, on the other hand, are caused by other things. Melancholic ones see and hear things, which are not in the external world, and in fact the imagination faculty or the mind of the psychopaths creates them.

In universal statements also, the error is possible to be committed, this also is caused by the involvement of the imagination faculty. Following Ibn ‘Arabi and Mystics, Mulla Sadra regards these kind of the statements, which are issued by the mind of the path and lead him to skepticism and sophism, as the devil temptations and devil phenomena.14

Yet the Islamic philosophy does not claim that all the man’s perceptions correspond the reality, and content itself to say that- in general- the perceptions may be in correspondence with the external objectivity, and the man also naturally thinks so.

Second. The man’s perception is not restricted to the sense perception. But, in addition to this perception, there are two other perceptions, following it, and these three perceptions consist the chain of the man’s perceptions. (It may be said that he does no accept the imaginative perception, which has had its own place in Islamic philosophy).15

The sense perception is defined as the presence of the form of every particular and material thing, which has accidents, for the perceiver, but free of matter and corporeality. The imaginative perception is the presence of every particular, but immaterial thing; and, the intellectual perception is the presence of the universal form of every sensed or imagined thing, which is called "intelligible", and the perceiver is called "intellect", and that universal perception is called "intelligence".

Mulla Sadra classifies this intelligible under " the first" and " the second" philosophical intelligibles and the second logical intelligible. In general, the levels of the perceptions are as follows: the sense perception, the imaginative perception, the intellectual perception (including the first and the second philosophical intelligibles and the second logical intelligible); there is a real and connective relation established between these various levels of the perception. That is, they are like the changes in the warmth of the water and not like the discrete points on a ruler; and the origin of all of them are the external existents and sensibles.

Third. The Arabic term " Dhehn"- which is translated sometimes to mind and sometimes to understanding-is applied, according to Mulla Sadra and Islamic philosophy- to a faculty of the soul which is able to perceive the external entities and things as well as the man’s psychical ones. This is same as the " understanding power" of the soul and perhaps on can say that it is other than the English understanding or Deutsche verstand or entedement in French. Also it is not same as Kantian term and is not restricted to the " understanding power".

Evidently, according to him, Dhehn is not same as the brain or another bodily organ. Also as we have said, it should not be regarded as a container for the knowns and percepts, which there is before the acquisition of the knowns and percepts; but it is same as the percepts, acquired for man, and simultaneous with them.16

Fourth. The philosophers, hitherto, defined the philosophy as " man’s becoming to an intellectual world, resembling and corresponding with the sensible and external world". At the end of his perception theory, Mulla Sadra comes to the conclusion that, according to the rule of union between the sensor and the sensible, and the union between the intelligent and intelligible as well as the rule of union between the knowledge and existence, the man is an aware existent, who, in every life and in every existential stage (sensory, imaginative, intellectual), unites through his perception and awareness , with the existents of that life or stage.

As a result: through his perceptions of this material world and by the transformation of the quiddities of external existents to his mind and spirit, the man becomes, in fact, a mental and intellectual world, similar to the material world; and in Plotinic expression, because of perceiving the truths of the world, the micro anthropo becomes equal with the world and universe( or the macro anthropo). Thus, the intellectual perception of the truths and entities, i.e. philosophy is, in fact, correspondence with the external world; a realistic correspondence, which is opposite to idealistic correspondence of Hegel and his school.

Fifth. There are some distinctions between the man’s perception and those of the other animals- who have sense perception and even imaginative perception. Among these distinctions is the intellectual perception and perceiving the universals, from which originate the philosophy and the other sciences.

The other is perceiving the one’s perception or knowledge of the knowledge, which is called apperception by Leibniz, and is called the compound knowledge as well.

Abstraction, generalization, and classifying the concepts under universal, particular, imagination and judgment are among the man’s characteristics. This article is devoted to the "imaginations", and those perceptions which have statements or judgments, on which Mulla Sadra presents the summit of his thought and designs, with his magic pen the most beautiful scene of the man’s perception, require another study.


1-Asfar;, vol. 8, p. 202
2- ibid., p.181
3- ibid.
4- ibid. 1/264; al Shawahid al-Rububiyyah, pp. 31-32
5- Asfar, vol.1, 265
6- Rawish e Realism ( the method of realism), vol.-, p.-
7- Asfar, 3/327-328
8- Asfar, 6/136
9- Asfar- 2/227
10-Asfar, vol.8, p.181
11- Asfar, vol.3, p.363 &p.506
12- Correspondence between three material, imaginary, and intellectual worlds. C.f. Asfar; vol. 6; p. 277;vol.7; p.18; and other points.
13- Ibn ‘Arabi; Futuhat al-Makkiyah( Meccian Openings); vol. 2; p. 395.
14- ibid.
15- Asfar; vol. 3; p. 360-362 and vol. 2; p.293.
16- Asfar;, vol. 1, p. 264

No comments: