Life is only a series of acts of attention, and an act of attention is inexplicable without reference to a purpose, conscious or unconscious. Even our acts of perception are determined by our immediate interests and purposes. The Persian poet ‘urfâ’ has given a beautiful expression to this aspect of human perception.
‘If your heart is not deceived by the mirage,
Be not proud of the sharpness of your understanding;
For your freedom from this optical illusion
Is due to your imperfect thirst.’
The poet means to say that if you had a vehement desire for drink, the sands of the desert would have given you the impression of a lake. Your freedom from the illusion is due to the absence of a keen desire for water. You have perceived the thing as it is because you were not interested in perceiving it as it is not.
Thus ends and purposes, whether they exist as conscious or subconscious tendencies, form the warp and woof of our conscious experience. And the notion of purpose cannot be understood except in reference to the future. The past, no doubt, abides and operates in the present; but this operation of the past in the present is not the whole of consciousness. The element of purpose discloses a kind of forward look in consciousness.
Purposes not only colour our present states of consciousness, but also reveal its future direction. In fact, they constitute the forward push of our life, and thus in a way anticipate and influence the states that are yet to be. To be determined by an end is to be determined by what ought to be. Thus past and future both operate in the present state of consciousness, and the future is not wholly undetermined as Bergson’s analysis of our conscious experience shows. A state of attentive consciousness involves both memory and imagination as operating factors.
On the analogy of our conscious experience, therefore, Reality is not a blind vital impulse wholly unilluminated by idea. Its nature is through and through teleological.
(Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam)