Subliminal Perceptions and Signs
By Janpha Thadphoothon
All is perception. It hence follows that our perception is not direct. As a human being, we have been programmed by the environments as well as our genetic endowments. We humans have evolved a being of perceptions.
In semiotics, a sign is defined as “anything that communicates a meaning that is not the sign itself to the interpreter of the sign.” In other words, it is anything representing something else, meaningful for an individual based on his or her capacity. That’s what semiotics says. In my opinion, it is a rather crude definition. In psychology, they talk about stimuli – anything that stimulates one’s perceptive organs. A stimulus can be a picture, sound, or touch, or a taste.
Semioticians have not delved deeply into human physiology or how one’s body works, like psychologists do. They are more interested in language or symbols.
In psychology, they even talk about the so-called ‘subliminal perception’. This refers to the moment an organism perceives an oncoming entity or matter. There must be a table of registration in our brain somewhere.
In Buddhism, this phenomenon is called ‘contact’ or Passa (in Pali). There are many contacts that are so feeble or subtle that one’s mind (perception capability) cannot register as being a contact. But once, it is perceived, it is perceived, the interpretation process is at work.
In order to appreciate this science, one must recognize and understand that fact that many psychologists believe in the existence of the subconscious mind. A subliminal perception operates at that level. A sound sent out may not be audible enough that the conscious mind might register it, but it is be audible enough for the subconscious mind. We may not be aware of the perception. This is how many advertisers influence our perception or how the media may operate.
A sign can be in a weak signal, sending out in a high-frequency mode, to capitalize the ability of our subconscious capacity.
There are occasions when our perceptions are at the subliminal level. Subliminal perceptions, also known as subliminal messages, are messages, either visual or auditory, that are presented just beyond the threshold of human perception.
Subliminal modality is a powerful strategy in many areas, including campaigning. An advertisement is a form of propaganda. We might have heard of the term ‘subliminal advertising’. What is it? Subliminal advertising tries to influence people without them being aware of it, for example by showing messages for such a short time that people read them without realizing that they have done so. What is subliminal is not recognized or understood by the conscious mind, but still having an influence on it. It works like magic, sometimes.
In healthcare, we have learned about the use of subliminal perceptions under different therapies – one of which is called ‘subliminal therapy.’ This is nothing new. Subliminal therapy started back in the early 1900’s. One of the first methods of subliminal suggestion used was called whisper therapy, in which a patient was whispered suggestions in hopes of subconsciously induce him/her for behavior improvement.
The point I would like to make here before we move on is this – signs need to be perceived by an agent before it can be called a sign – in other words – a signal becomes a sign the moment it is perceived by an agent. Sometimes, the perception is too weak for the conscious mind to register, but the subconscious mind is in operation.
That’s why a sign needs to have two components – the signifier and the signified. The process is the mental one. By this very definition, we can notice that any flash of thought running across our mind is also a sign or maybe a set of signs. After all, a sign does not have to be a thing.