Reductive accounts of the soul took root in ancient and early modern notions that perception is passive, ultimately a matter of mechanical impacts on our sense organs that somehow become signals, “sense-data,” as they were called in the last century, long construed as atomic, even unanalyzable. Yet close study of perception, physiologically and psychologically, reveals active work in the brain and our sense organs themselves in every perceptual experience: Even from the start we integrate, organize, relate, and interpret all that we encounter perceptually. The work of the Gestalt psychologists proves especially relevant here. But so does that of color theorists, linguists, artists and musicians, and the scientists who study olfaction, taste, and touch, depth perception – and the fascinating phenomena of synaesthesia, and our remarkable ability to follow the thread of a conversation, even in a noisy room. Color is not just light of a given wavelength; a tone or chord is not just a sequence of vibrations in the air. To be heard those vibrations must be worked with. To be seen wave patterns in the visible spectrum must be taken up and transformed. The synthetic work of the soul translates physical effects into experiences and ideas.
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