The Seven Houses of Perception

Our understanding of perception is severely limited, and not just in terms of recognizing its ultimate nature, which is consciousness.

Perceiving with the Instinctive Function

It is commonly said we have five senses, but after that all agreement breaks down. Some posit a sixth sense, some more, some speak vaguely of extra-sensory perception, telepathy, and so on. While all this has some degree of truth, it is organized wrong, and a better organization quickly reveals unimagined possibilities.

Our senses of sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing are like the windows of a house, each affording a different view of the outside world. We do not expect to see the same view from the back of the house that we do from the front, any more than we expect to receive the same impressions from our eyes that we do from our ears. If we combine all these different views, the input from our five senses, we might think that we have approximately the total source of our perceptions of the outside world. In reality, all we have is the approximate total of all our perception from one house, our instinctive function, and there are six more functions, six more houses of perception.

Our seven functions are each an organ of perception. We do not normally think of, say, the moving center or the intellectual center as organs of perception, but they are indeed organs of perception, in addition to the capabilities we normally credit them with. Each shows us the world in a different way, each affords us unique views, and it is only in their totality that we can begin to exercise our full potential of human perceptivity.

Having just mentioned the various senses of the instinctive center, the first house, I proceed to the other centers.

Perceiving with the Moving Function

We may think of the moving center or moving function as that which enables us to walk, ride a bicycle, steer a car, cross our legs and twiddle our thumbs and so on, but we also perceive the world in a certain way with it. We perceive time and space with our moving center. As with all moving center capabilities, this perception must be learned. Toss a beach ball to a child and you will see that the uneducated moving center cannot raise its hands correctly to deflect or catch the ball. But that is only part of what the moving center must learn to make catching the ball a reality. It also must determine the speed and direction of the ball. While the information about the ball's movement in space is coming in through the instinctive center, it is the moving center that perceives something in addition to data of sight: it perceives, in fact, something that is invisible to sight, it perceives a vector in space-time. The moving center has learned to filter the "blooming, buzzing confusion" of instinctive sensation to focus on the more (for it) relevant data, which is the time sequence of ball locations that enable it, from past experience, to predict the time and location of the arrival of the ball. Instinctive sensation, which we are born with, cannot do this. Nor, for that matter, can even intellect calculate this in anything remotely approaching the time required. (People speak of the speed of thought as if it were so fast as to be almost instantaneous. In reality it is our slowest function, and what they are calling fast thought is often moving function and sometimes emotional function, but usually just fantasy, imagination.)

It is this aspect of the moving function, this ability to perceive time and space and their intimate relationship (like two sides of a coin), that allows us to maneuver on the highway or thread a crowded city sidewalk. And this perception of vectors can be extrapolated from the more immediate uses we put it to, to include such things as envisioning the revolution of planets about the sun, or the interlocking of proteins inside the living cell. It is with the moving function that we perceive pattern and shape, movement itself, and three- and four-dimensionality. Far from a mere addition to the five senses, we would be helpless on Earth without moving function perceptivity.

This also gives the lie to the idea that what we want to do or strive to do in ways of self-transcendence is to drop everything we have learned and return to some early condition of pure unmitigated sensory experience. This is the essence of a newborn, and it has taken much effort, much trial-and-error now long-forgotten, to acquire our abilities to orient ourself and function in the world. What we have learned, what we have acquired, that overlies our essence and filters our impressions, is personality. We are not trying to become essence, we are trying to develop true-personality, as opposed to overly-restrictive and ever-erring false-personality.

Perceiving with the Emotional Function

Our emotional center is another organ of perception, affording views from another house altogether. With the emotional center we perceive, of course, emotions, something invisible to other centers but obvious and of sole importance to the emotional center. We tend to think of our emotional function as that which has personal emotions, but we need to also recognize the extent to which it perceives emotions in others. It can even perceive, in fact, emotions both above and below those of the human.

Part of our lack of awareness of emotional perception is due to our lack of attention paid to it, and also our lack of education of it. Even as recently as a century ago, the importance of emotional education was recognized in Western society, but since then our lopsided intellectual development has all but curtailed this development completely. "We must become more emotional", Ouspensky would say, and to the uninitiated this sounds like he is suggesting we become more unreasonable, full of childish temper tantrums and the like. On the contrary, it means becoming more sensitive to emotions, refining the work of the human factory to produce a higher quantity and quality of energies that shift the working of our emotional function to new levels, levels capable of perceiving ever finer emotional impressions.

One of the chief ways we can educate our emotional center is with art. We feel art, we do not think it. Again, of course, in the last hundred years or so, "art" has often come to mean an intellectual construction in which case it has nothing to do, in fact, with art, which is an emotional medium. Music for the most part still holds its emotional content, though it is rarely targeted at the higher part of the emotional center and instead appeals to the mechanical part. But by becoming more aware of our emotions, we can begin to perceive art correctly, and we can begin to choose to expose our emotional center to the more refined impressions of art that have been created by and for the intellectual part of the emotional center. It is a start to the eventual perception of objective art, created by and for the higher emotional center.

Another way we educate our emotional center is with people, in conversation and in general with social interaction. Again, we must be aware of our emotions, but in this case we must also be aware of the emotions of others. And, again, we can learn to perceive the different sources of emotion, whether the mechanical, emotional, or intellectual parts of the emotional center. If we are to refine emotions, become more properly emotional, we must concentrate our efforts on developing the intellectual part of the emotional center. This new focus will come as a result of our awareness and knowledge of our emotions and their different sources.

As with the instinctive, moving, and intellectual centers, we can determine the part of the emotional center that is active by the study of attention. The intellectual part of the emotional center is activated by deliberate attention, attention held by will. We make the effort to perceive emotion, and to sustain that perception, and so become sensitive to both finer and cruder energies in this way. Attention that is drawn in spite of ourselves by the art, conversation, or whatever, is activating the emotional part of the emotional center; and automatic, basically unattended emotion, such as in rote expressions of sympathy, or in most popular music, activates the mechanical part of the emotional center. Over time, through attention and consequent development of our emotional center, our tastes change: tastes in art, preferences in conversation, personal associations and so on. All this has to do with the development of emotional perception.

As an aside, our chief tool, by far, in developing our emotional capabilities, is the non-expression of negative emotions. This simple idea is generally poorly understood. For one thing, it has nothing to do with the suppression of negative emotions. The suppression of negative emotions is at best foolish and at worst dangerous. The non-expression of negative emotions has to do with finding reasons—good, convincing reasons—to not express them. For another thing, we don't know when we are expressing negative emotions. We think we do, but we don't. I see no real alternative to working with at least men or women number four on this who can, with requisite patience and understanding, show us something about ourselves that we simply will not believe otherwise: the extent to which we express negative emotions. This can be by posture, by verbalization, by attitude, by activity, in short, in countless ways. It is not at all unusual for people to think that they "do not have a problem" with negative emotions, as if this were some aspect of the work they did not need to deal with. On the contrary, we all need to deal with it. And it is not a disadvantage to have to so deal. By learning about our negative emotions—and we only learn about them through the work that begins with their non-expression—we discover a great deal about the emotional center. It is as if our work on the non-expression of negative emotions introduces a "tracer" into our psychic life, much as a radioactive tracer in our bloodstream illuminates right and wrong working of our circulation. By learning about our emotions, by glimpsing their sources, we see the workings of much else besides.

Sweet are the uses of adversity.
William Shakespeare

Perceiving with the Intellectual Function

Another organ of perception is our intellectual center. With the intellectual center we perceive ideas. Ideas are real things, just as rocks and people are real. That there are real things that are invisible to the senses should not surprise us, as the perceptions of all other centers are invisible to the instinctive center's senses. Einstein once said "The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible." This refers to his astonishment that the ideas and formulas of physics found expression in the actual data of "the world". But if we recognize ideas as realities, this no longer seems so strange. This is perhaps most noticeable, or striking at any rate, in the mathematics associated with quantum mechanics, in which scientists examining the equations are able to determine what is possible or impossible, even if it defies all previous thought and common sense. In the phenomenon known as quantum tunneling, for example, it is possible to trap a sub-atomic particle behind a barrier from which it does not have sufficient energy to escape. Nevertheless, with a certain statistically-determinable frequency, it will in fact get outside of the barrier, because the equation that describes the particle allows it. The idea is more real than such common-sense notions as energy or matter.

Considerably less exotic ideas are equally real. And not only ideas associated with science such as order, chaos, identity, difference, magnitude, and so on, but ideas such as justice, goodness, and freedom are equally real. Regarding the latter group, we can see a recognition of such realities in the ancient Greeks and indeed in other cultures widely separated in space and time. In Greece, a living, true idea was theos, a god, and was personified as, for example Dike, the god of justice. The Greek gods were and are real, divinely real, just not in the humanized way that we have come to misunderstand them.

Much of the nonsense in our skulls has nothing to do with the perception of real ideas, of course. As with other functions, we have to educate the intellectual center to perceive clearly. It is a long and laborious process, illustrated by Plato as Socrates in his search for truth. We are as mistaken in thinking that we can automatically perceive real ideas without learning how to do so as we would be mistaken in thinking a newborn could catch a beachball. And again, the way to develop our perception in the intellectual center is just as it is in other centers, through work with attention so that we use the intellectual part of the center. Ideas that fascinate us and carry us along willy-nilly in a flow of excitement have to do with the emotional part of the intellectual center. One finds a great deal of this kind of "thinking" on the net for example, in which people blabber unreflectively about ideas, arriving at great depths of impractical and ineffective "ideas". These things are not real. (One also finds a great deal of wrong development of magnetic center, magnetic center that has developed in the emotional part of the intellectual center instead of the intellectual part of the emotional center, but that lies outside the topic at hand.) Ideas that are simply the repetition of what we have heard or read are from the mechanical part of the intellectual center.

It is, perhaps, with an awareness that ideas are real that we first begin to get a glimpse of a new reality beyond the one in which we live. If goodness is as true now as it was then, it is eternal. What else is eternal? And do we have the ability to perceive things eternal, even to perceive eternity itself, whatever that may be? This discussion, which relates to the higher centers, we will leave for a moment to discuss one more of our "lower" centers, the sex center, and its function as an organ of perception.

Perceiving with the Sex Function

The sex center has astonishing powers of perception. Astonishing, in both its speed and its ability. It has much of the characteristics sometimes associated with "ESP", in that it can, for example, see behind us, making us turn our heads to link eyes with an attractive sexual affinity. (This is not to be confused with another apparent example of ESP, a function of the intellectual part of the instinctive center which is much slower. That function may also, for example, "see" behind us, but the subject of it's perception is associated with a real or possible threat, danger, or physical challenge.) The sex function also "calculates", for lack of a better word, an incredible amount of information about the suitability of another person as a sexual partner in not just a matter of moments but in less than a moment. In addition to using visual sensation as a source of the material that it perceives, the sex center perceives chemical signals through scent or a closely allied function, and perceives a still unknown energy transmitted by other sex centers. (It is not the subject of this essay to discuss the centers as transmitters, only as receivers, but they transmit as well, for example the emotional center transmits emotions that are perceived directly by other emotional centers, if they are awake enough.)

It is with the speed of the sex center and the same speed in the right working of the emotional center (this is the speed enabled by the sex and emotional center's distinct hydrogen 12s) that we can connect with the higher centers and their very different perceptivity. Higher centers are "calling to us", as G. said, but we must have "ears to hear".

Perceiving with the Higher Emotional Function

The higher emotional center perceives meaning. It does not, however, perceive meaning directly, but perceives meaning as it is represented by things. These things may be physical objects such as stones or flowers or diagrams, or they may be less concrete objects such as ideas, sounds, occurrences. "All things are metaphors", Goethe famously said, and this is the perception of higher emotional center. Higher emotional center is perceptive of the expressions of higher emotional center, just as the emotional center perceives the emotions of other emotional centers, and the intellectual center perceives the ideas of other intellectual centers. If we can think of the intellectual center trying to perceive a Botticelli masterpiece, or of the emotional center trying to perceive calculus, we get a glimmer of the difficulty of perceiving the expressions of higher emotional center with lower centers. What if a piece of art is objective art? How would we know? Oh, someone might tell us it is, but they may be mistaken. In any case, for us it is not objective art unless we can perceive it as such, and that is only possible with higher centers. Similarly, there are objective diagrams, objective poems, objective writings, objective dances, objective ideas. These are attempts by higher emotional center to communicate with us, even we here. As an example, there is an ancient teaching in which the emotions are compared to a horse that pulls the carriage (body) and is, however ineffectually, steered by the driver (intellect). The old idea of Pegasus, the winged horse, represents higher emotional center. Myths, fables, fairy tales, legends, whole theologies, histories, and so on, may be formed in the language of higher emotional center.

In its higher, more pure, perceptions, all things have meaning and there is no need for diagrams, art, and the like to vivify our higher emotional center. Such states can be read about in the literature of all times and places. The world itself then teaches the receptive soul. Because all things are metaphors.

Perceiving with the Higher Intellectual Function

Higher intellectual center perceives reality directly, it perceives unity. About this, the less said the better. The very terms higher emotional and higher intellectual are perhaps misleading, as both are beyond and inclusive of both emotional and intellectual perceptions. It is as if with our lower centers we perceive light refracted through a prism, each center perceiving a characteristic wavelength, but the higher centers increasingly perceive the pure light of the source from which the rest derive.

Clearly, if we are aware (when we are aware) of only a few of the instinctive center's five senses, we have a long way to go.

To those who are awake, there is one ordered universe in common, whereas in sleep each man turns away to one of his own.


It is almost always instructive to use the enneagram to help us gain insight into a topic if we know enough about the topic to apply it. The functions can be plotted as the six/seven points on the enneagram as shown here:

enneagram with centers assigned to enneagram points as follows: 1=instinctive, 2=moving, 4=emotional, 5=intellectual, 7=higher emotional, 8=higher intellectual

(The sex center, not shown, corresponds to the "seventh point" of the inner circulation.)

With this, it is possible to see the relationship between the particular point on the enneagram when discussing human psychological functions and other knowledge I've plotted on the enneagram in other essays. This is not easy to see. On the one hand, you must invoke your intuition to see the connections. On the other hand, it is always necessary to be cautious about seeing connections, because in a certain sense we must suspend (or at least demote) logic to use intuition, and caution is required because too often the suspension of logic causes us to see things that aren't there, to see them because we want them to be there, we think they should be there. So this is an exercise in psychological thought (see Three Types of Thought), in which we use intellect and emotion in fine cooperation, and must distinguish between a fast and intelligent emotional perception of correspondence, versus the relatively cruder relief or excitement of a desire achieved.

All pages © Copyright John Raithel