The Reality of Matter
Who Is the Perceiver?
The brain is a collection of cells made up of protein and fat molecules. It is formed of nerve cells called neurons (above right). It is certainly not neurons that constitute consciousness. When we examine the structure of neurons, we see atoms. (above left) Unquestionably, it is impossible for unconscious atoms to produce consciousness. There is no power in this piece of meat to observe images, to constitute consciousness, or to create the being we call "myself".
We can never have direct experience of the "external world" that many people think they inhabit. Here, however, arises a question of primary importance: If we cannot reach the original of any physical object we know of, what about our brain itself? Since our brain is a part of the material world just like our arms, our legs, or any other object, we can never reach its original either.
When the brain is dissected, nothing is found in it but lipid and protein molecules, which exist in other organs of the body as well. This means that within the tissue we call "our brain," there is nothing to observe and interpret the images, constitute consciousness, or to make the being we call "ourselves."
In relation to the perception of images in the brain, perceptual scientist R.L. Gregory refers to a mistake people make:
The following question appears on the cover of the American science magazine New Scientist, which dealt with the fact that we experience the material universe only as it appears in our minds, in its 30 January 1999 issue: "Beyond Reality: Is the Universe Really a Frolic of Primal Information and Matter Just a Mirage?"
This problem puts materialists, who hold that nothing is real except matter, in a quandary: Who is behind the eye that sees? What perceives what it sees, and then reacts?
Renowned cognitive neuroscientist Karl Pribram focused on this important question, relevant to the worlds of both science and philosophy, about who the perceiver is:
Philosophers since the Greeks have speculated about the "ghost" in the machine, the "little man inside the little man" and so on. Where is the I—the entity that uses the brain? Who does the actual knowing? Or, as Saint Francis of Assisi once put it, "What we are looking for is what is looking."7
This book in your hand, the room you are in—in brief, all the images before you—are perceived inside your brain. Is it the blind, deaf, unconscious component atoms that view these images? Why did some atoms acquire this quality, whereas most did not? Do our acts of thinking, comprehending, remembering, being delighted, and everything else consist of chemical reactions among these atoms' molecules?
There is no sense in looking for will in atoms. Clearly, the being who sees, hears, and feels is a supra-material being, "alive," who is neither matter nor an image. This being interacts with the perceptions before it by using the image of our body.
This being is the soul.
It is the soul that sees, hears, feels, perceives and interprets the copies in the brain of the matter existing on the outside.
The intelligent being reading these lines is not an assortment of atoms and molecules and the chemical reactions between them, but a soul.
The Real Absolute Being
We are brought face to face with a very significant question: Since we know nothing about the original of the material world and we only deal with the copy images in our brain, then what is the source of these images?
Who continuously makes our soul watch the stars, the Earth, the plants, the people, our body and everything else that we see?
Very evidently, there exists a supreme Creator Who has created the entire material universe, and Who ceaselessly continues His Creation. This Creator displays a magnificent Creation, and surely He has eternal power and might.
This Creator describes Himself, the universe and the reason of our existence for us through the Book He has sent down.
This Creator is Allah, and His book is the Qur'an.
The fact is, the heavens and the Earth—that is, the universe—are not stable. Their presence is made possible only by Allah's Creation, and that they will disappear when He ends this Creation. This is revealed in a verse as follows:
Allah keeps a firm hold on the heavens and earth, preventing them from vanishing away. And if they vanished no one could then keep hold of them. Certainly He is Most Forbearing, Ever-Forgiving. (Surah Fatir: 41)
As we mentioned at the beginning, some people have no genuine understanding of Allah and so, as a result of terrible ignorance, they imagine Him as a being present somewhere in the heavens and not really intervening in worldly affairs. (Surely Allah is beyond that.) The basis of this corrupt logic actually lies in the mistaken thought that the universe is merely an assembly of matter and Allah is "outside" this material world, in a faraway place. (Surely Allah is beyond that.)
The only real absolute being is Allah. That means that only Allah exists; matter is not absolute being. The material world on the outside is one of the works of Allah's sublime Creation. Allah is surely "everywhere" and encompasses all. This reality is explained in the Qur'an as follows;
Allah, there is no god but Him, the Living, the Self-Sustaining. He is not subject to drowsiness or sleep. Everything in the heavens and the earth belongs to Him. Who can intercede with Him except by His permission? He knows what is before them and what is behind them but they cannot grasp any of His knowledge save what He wills. His Footstool encompasses the heavens and the earth and their preservation does not tire Him. He is the Most High, the Magnificent. (Surat al-Baqara: 255)
The facts that Allah is not bound by space and that He encompasses everything are stated in another verse as follows:
Both East and West belong to Allah, so wherever you turn, the Face of Allah is there. Allah is All-Encompassing, All-Knowing. (Surat al-Baqara: 115)
The fullness of faith consists of understanding this truth, avoiding the mistake of associating others with Allah and acknowledging Allah as the One Absolute Being. Someone who knows that, apart from Allah, everything is a shadow existence, will say with certain faith (at the level of Haqq-al yakin—truth of certainty) that only Allah exists and there is no other deity (or any being with strength) besides Him.
The materialists do not believe in the existence of Allah, because they cannot see Him with their eyes. But their claims are completely invalidated when they learn the real nature of matter. Someone who learns this truth understands that his own existence has the quality of an illusion, and grasps that a being which is an illusion will not be able to see a being which is absolute. As it is revealed in the Qur'an, human beings cannot see Allah but Allah sees them.
Eyesight cannot perceive Him but He perceives eyesight... (Surat al-An'am: 103)
Certainly, we human beings cannot see the Being of Allah with our eyes but we know that He completely encompasses our inside, our outside, our views and our thoughts. For this reason, Allah reveals Himself in the Qur'an as "controlling hearing and sight" (Surah Yunus: 31) We cannot say one word, we cannot even take one breath without Allah's knowing it. Allah knows everything we do. This is revealed in the Qur'an:
Allah – Him from Whom nothing is hidden, either on earth or in heaven. (Surah Al 'Imran: 5)
When people observe the copy world in their brains, imagining that they are dealing with the original matter, that is, as they lead their lives, the closest being to us is clearly Allah. The secret of the verse "We created man and We know what his own self whispers to him. We are nearer to him than his jugular vein" (Surah Qaf: 16) is hidden in this fact. Allah has encompassed man all around and is eternally near to him.
That Allah is eternally near to human beings is also revealed in this verse: "If My servants ask you about Me, I am near..." (Surat al-Baqara: 186) In another verse the same reality is expressed, "Surely your Lord encompasses the people with His knowledge." (Surat al-Isra': 60).
Many people continue to err by thinking that the nearest thing to themselves is themselves. However, Allah is closer to us even than we are to ourselves. Allah reveals this fact in these verses: "Why then, when death reaches his throat and you are at that moment looking on—and We are nearer him than you but you cannot see" (Surat al-Waqi'a: 83-85). But as revealed in the verse, because people do not see it with their eyes, some of them are ignorant of this extraordinary reality.
Some people are unaware of this great fact. They accept that Allah created them, but think that the work they do belongs to them. However, every action performed by a human being is created with the permission of Allah. For example, a person who writes a book writes it with the permission of Allah; every sentence, every idea, and every paragraph is composed because Allah wills it. Allah reveals this very important principle in several verses; one of these verses is, "... Allah created both you and what you do?" (Surat as-Saffat: 96) In the verse "... when you threw; it was Allah Who threw.." (Surat al-Anfal: 17) Allah reveals that everything we do is an act that belongs to Him.
A person may not want to concede this reality; but this changes nothing.
Understanding the Reality of Matter Removes Worldly Ambitions
If one ponders deeply on all that is said here, one will soon realize this amazing, extraordinary situation by oneself: that we can never have direct contact with the "external world" …
What we have described so far is one of the most profound truths that you have heard in your whole life. We have shown that the whole material world is really a shadow, and that this is the key to understanding the existence of Allah, His Creation, and the fact that He is the one absolute Being. At the same time, we have presented a scientifically undeniable demonstration both of how helpless human beings are and a manifestation of Allah's wonderful artistry. This knowledge makes people assured believers making it impossible for them not to believe. This is the main reason why some people avoid this truth.
The things that are being explained here are as true as a physical law or a chemical formula. When necessary, human beings can solve the most difficult mathematical problems and understand many very complex matters. However, when these same people are informed that throughout their lives they have experience of only the images formed in their mind, and that they have no connection with the original of matter, they have no desire at all to understand. This is an "exaggerated" case of an inability to understand, because what is discussed here is no more difficult than the answer to the questions, "What is two times two?" or "How old are you?". If you ask any scientist or professor of neurology where they see the world, they will answer you that they see it in their brains. You will find this fact even in high school biology text books. But despite the fact that it is clearly evident, information pertaining to the fact that we perceive the material world in our brains and the results that this information entails for human beings can be overlooked. It is of major significance that one of the most important scientifically proven facts is so carefully hidden from people's eyes.
The fundamental reason why people easily accept all scientific facts, yet are so afraid to accept this one, is that learning the truth about matter will basically change the way everyone looks at life. Those who believe that matter and the self are absolute beings will discover one day that they have merely dealt with the reflection in their minds of everything they have worked for and protected based on this idea—their spouses, their children, their wealth, even their own personalities. People are very afraid of this reality and pretend not to understand it even if they do. They try with determination to disprove the facts, which are simple enough for even a primary school child to understand. The reason behind this opposition is that they are afraid to lose what this world offers.
For someone who is attached to his possessions, his children, or the transient offerings of this world, the illusory nature of matter is cause for great fear. At the moment such a person understands this, he will have died before his natural death, and he will have surrendered his possessions and his soul. In the verse, "If He did ask you for it (all your wealth) and put you under pressure, you would be tight-fisted and it would bring out your malevolence." (Surah Muhammad: 37), Allah reveals how human beings will behave with meanness when He demands their possessions from them.
But when a person learns the real nature of matter, he will understand that his soul and his possessions already belong to Allah. If he knows that there is nothing to give or to resist giving, he will submit himself and all he possesses to Allah before he dies. For sincere believers, this is a beautiful and honorable thing and a way to draw nearer to Allah. Those who do not believe or whose faith is weak cannot recognize this beauty and stubbornly reject this reality.
The Environment that will Come to be When the Real Nature of Matter is not Kept Secret
Those who know that they have no connection with the actual material things, and that they are in the presence only of images that Allah presents to them, will change their whole way of living, their view of life and their values. This will be a change that will be useful both from the personal and social point of view, because someone who sees this truth will live without difficulty according to the high moral qualities that Allah has revealed in the Qur'an.
For those who do not regard the world as important and who understand that we cannot have direct experience of the original matter, it is spiritual things that deserve to be given importance. Someone who knows that Allah is listening to him and watching him at every moment, and is aware that he will render an account of his every action in the Hereafter, will naturally live a morally virtuous life. He will be very careful about what Allah has commanded and what He has forbidden. Everyone in society will be filled with love and respect for one another, and everyone will compete with one another in the performance of good and noble deeds. People will change the values according to which they judge others. Material things will lose their value and therefore, people will be judged not according to their standing and position in society but according to their moral character and their piety. No one will pursue things whose external originals cannot be reached; everyone will seek after truth. Everyone will act without worrying about what others will think; the only question in their minds will be whether or not Allah will be pleased with what they do. In the place of the feelings of pride, arrogance and self-satisfaction that come from possessions, property, standing and position, there will be a sense of the understanding of humility and dependence. Therefore, people will willingly live according to those examples of good moral qualities mentioned in the Qur'an. Eventually, these changes will put an end to many problems of today's societies.
In place of angry, aggressive people, anxious even about small profit, there will be those who know that what they see are images Allah shows them. They will be well aware that reactions of anger and loud shouting make them look foolish. Well-being and trust will prevail in individuals and societies and everyone will be pleased with his life and possessions. These, then, are some of the blessings that this hidden reality will bring to individuals and societies. Knowing, considering and living according to this reality will bring much more goodness to human beings. Those who wish to attain this goodness should consider this reality well and endeavor to understand it. In one verse, Allah says,
Clear insights have come to you from your Lord. Whoever sees clearly, does so to his own benefit. Whoever is blind, it is to his own detriment... (Surat al-An'am: 104)
Logical Deficiencies of the Materialists
From the start, this chapter has clearly and scientifically stated that matter is not absolute, as materialists claim, and that we can never reach its original that exists outside. In an extremely dogmatic manner, materialists resist this evident reality which destroys their philosophy, and bring forward baseless counterclaims to refute it.
George Politzer, for example, an ardent Marxist and one of the twentieth century's biggest advocates of the materialist philosophy, gave the "bus example" supposedly as an important evidence on this subject. According to Politzer, even those philosophers who espouse the fact that we merely deal with the copy of matter in our brains run away when they see a bus about to run them over.8
Samuel Johnson, another famous materialist, was told that one can never have direct experience of the original matter, and tried to deny this reality by giving one of them a kick.9
There are similar examples in the books of famous materialists such as Marx, Engels, Lenin, and others along with impetuous sentences such as, "You understand the real nature of matter when you are slapped in the face."
The point where materialists are mistaken is that they think the concept of "perception" only applies to the sense of sight. In fact, all sensations, such as touch, contact, hardness, pain, heat, cold and wetness also form in the human brain, in precisely the same way that visual images are formed. For instance, someone who feels the cold metal of the door as he gets off a bus, actually "feels the cold metal" in his brain. This is a clear and well-known truth. As we have already seen, the sense of touch forms in a particular section of the brain, through nerve signals from the fingertips, for instance. It is not your fingers that do the feeling. People accept this because it has been demonstrated scientifically. However, when it comes to the bus hitting someone, not just to his feeling the metal of the indoor—in other words when the sensation of touch is more violent and painful—they think that this fact somehow no longer applies. However, pain or heavy blows are also perceived in the brain. Someone who is hit by a bus feels all the violence and pain of the event in his brain.
Some people accept that when they touch a bus, they feel the cold metal in their brains. On the other hand, they do not accept that the feeling of pain at the moment the bus hits them forms in the brain. However, a person will feel the same pain if he sees himself falling under a bus in his dream.
In order to understand this better, it will be useful to consider our dreams. A person may dream of being hit by a bus, of opening his eyes in hospital later, being taken for an operation, the doctors talking, his family's arrival at the hospital, and that he is crippled or suffers terrible pain. In his dream, he perceives all the images, sounds, feelings of hardness, pain, light, the colors in the hospital, all aspects of the incident in fact, very clearly and distinctly. They are all as natural and believable as in real life. At that moment, if the person who is having that dream were told it was only a dream, he would not believe it. Yet all that he is seeing is an illusion, and the bus, hospital and even the body he sees in his dream have no physical counterparts in the real world. Although they have no physical counterparts, he still feels as if a "real body" has been hit by a "real bus."
In the same way, there is no validity to the materialists' objections along the lines of "You realize the real nature of matter when someone hits you," "You can have no doubt as to whether or not you see the original of matter when someone kicks your knee," "You run away when you meet a savage dog," "When a bus has hit you, you understand whether it is in your brain or not," or "In that case, go and stand on the motorway in front of the oncoming traffic". A sharp blow, the pain from a dog's teeth or a violent slap are not evidence that you are dealing with the matter itself. As we have seen, you can experience the same things in dreams, with no corresponding physical counterparts. Furthermore, the violence of a sensation does not alter the fact that the sensation in question occurs in the brain. This is a clearly proven scientific fact.
The reason why some people think that a fast-moving bus on the motorway or an accident caused by that bus are striking proofs of their dealing with the physical existence of matter is that the image concerned is seen and felt as so real that it deceives one. The images around them, for instance the perfect perspective and depth of the motorway, the perfection of the colors, shapes and shadows they contain, the vividness of sound, smell and hardness, and the completeness of the logic within that image can deceive some people. On account of this vividness, some people forget that these are actually perceptions. Yet no matter how complete and flawless the perceptions in the mind may be, that does not alter the fact that they are still perceptions. If someone is hit by a car while walking along the road, or is trapped under a house that collapses during an earthquake, or is surrounded by flames during a fire, or trips up and falls down the stairs, he still experiences all these things in his mind, and is not actually confronting the reality of what happens.
When someone falls under a bus, the bus in his mind hits the body in his mind. The fact that he dies as a result, or that his body is completely shattered, does not alter this reality. If something a person experiences in his mind ends in death, Allah replaces the images He shows that person with images belonging to the Hereafter. Those who are unable to understand the truth of this now on honest reflection will certainly do so when they die.
This very important concept undermines the materialist philosophy that denies the existence of Allah. This is why materialists like Marx, Engels, and Lenin panicked, became enraged, and warned their followers "not to think over" this concept when told about it. Such people are so mentally deficient that they cannot even comprehend the fact that perceptions are formed inside the brain. Assuming that what they watch in their brains is the "original of the external world," they cannot comprehend obvious evidence to the contrary.
This unawareness is the outcome of the lack of wisdom Allah gives to disbelievers. As Allah reveals in the Qur'an, the unbelievers
In the age we live in, this fact has been proven with clarity by the body of evidence put forward by science. For the first time, the fact that we don't have direct experience of the original of the universe is described in a concrete, clear, and explicit way.
For this reason, the 21st century will be a turning point when people in general will comprehend the Divine realities and be led in crowds to Allah, the only Absolute Being. In the 21st century, twisted materialistic creeds of the 19th-century will be relegated to the trash-heaps of history; Allah's existence and Creation will be grasped; facts like spacelessness and timelessness will be better understood. Humanity will break free of the centuries-old veils, deceits, and superstitions enshrouding them.
6. R.L.Gregory, Eye and Brain: The Psychology of Seeing, Oxford University Press Inc. New York, 1990, p.9
7. Ken Wilber, Holographic Paradigm and Other Paradoxes, p.20
8. George Politzer, Principes Fondamentaux de Philosophie, Editions Sociales, Paris 1954, p.53
9. Orhan Hancerlioglu, Dusunce Tarihi (The History of Thought), Istanbul: Remzi Bookstore, 6.ed., September 1995, p.261
10. Paul Davies, Tanrı ve Yeni Fizik, (God and The New Physics), translated by Murat Temelli, Im Publishing, Istanbul 1995, pp.180-181