Sunday, February 26, 2006

Perception…. IS Reality….

At least that’s how I see it.

Fantasy, illusion, reality… what’s more important? Which is more real?

Empirical evidence, objective truths, subjective observations… is one substantially ‘better’, more real, or possibly more ‘true’ than another?

I think many folks would say, almost out of reflex that objective reality is the ‘real deal’, and maybe it is, or, maybe it really is all much more contextual in nature than factual.

This is one of the little thoughts that have been rolling around in my ‘bb brain’ for a while now. This question of reality, what is real, what exactly is fantasy or illusion?

I’ve believed, for some time that “Perception is reality” that what we perceive as real, is, in fact real, for us, at that moment. That it is (or might be) an illusion is secondary, something we only come to understand, later, after the fact.

This applies in the programming and system development world and can be seen at work there every day. If a user perceives an application to be difficult to use, it is, in fact, difficult to use, for them. Forget that there are 10 other folks who love the look, the feel, the reports, for that user who perceives it to be bad, it is.

Even worse, if that user happens to be in charge of the 10 who like it, trust me; their reality will become altered until they too see it as flawed.

I’ve thought about this at times as I’m riding the motorcycle too. At times, the bike I currently have feels less ‘fast’ than my previous bike. I know that in fact it’s far faster, but, other than in straight line acceleration it just doesn’t feel that way, to me, as the rider. It may have to do with this bike having a much more relaxed feel, that at the same speeds in the same corners, it just doesn't feel as 'on edge'... it could be something else... I only know that's how it 'feels'.

You’d think that with something as measurable as speed, or even acceleration we’d have a pretty good grip on the ‘real’ answer, but we don’t.

Think about it, how ‘fast’ does 600 miles per hour feel when you’re in an airplane? Does it feel faster, or slower than say 80 miles an hour in your car? How many times have you been in a line, where you felt that you’d been waiting for ‘hours’, only to discover it had only been a few, maybe less than five, or ten, minutes. Have you ever noticed that the later you’re running, the slower everything around you ‘feels’? That your perception of time is altered by your subconscious as you attempt to get where you’re going?

Our perceptions, of ourselves, our friends, loved ones, business associates and the world around us in general, in fact, creates our reality. Or at least I believe it does.

If you perceive that you’re getting a ‘raw deal’… at work, for example, no amount of supposed ‘rational discussion’ with others who are not in exactly your specific situation is going to convince you otherwise. Have you ever noticed though, that if you alter your perception of the situation, you’ll actually begin to ‘feel’ differently about it? If you, for instance, begin to believe that you’re not alone, that the company treats everyone poorly, then you begin to feel less persecuted, more focused in your efforts to find another job that’s more in line with how you think folks should be treated?

I’ve been thinking about this “Perception is reality” concept of mine for a very long time. At least 10 years or more, and in all of that time I've become more convinced, everyday, that it’s completely true.

This brings a very interesting conundrum to light, do I believe it, because I perceive it, or, have I come to believe it simply because it is the way things are?

If our reality is determined by our perceptions, to me, that means our degree of happiness is 100% under our control. That if we perceive ourselves to be happy, we will be, in fact, happy… the converse is also true, we can build a misery for ourselves far beyond any of even biblical proportions.

So why is it then, that we’re not all just walking around deliriously happy?

I think that society, our culture, is at least partly to blame. We’re taught from a very young age that we should be able to ‘live the American dream’… unfortunately, the exact details of that dream are not the same for everyone. Some of us have far higher expectations of what the dream actually is, and when we reach for it, and find it to be just out of reach, we think we’ve failed, or been lied to, or any of 1,000 other self defeating thoughts on ‘why’ we didn’t get the dream as promised.

Newspapers, Magazines, Television, Radio and the movies all present us with various versions of what the dream entails. Advertising in these mediums also attempts to formulate in our beliefs what it means to “have the dream”. A new car, bigger house, better job… longer vacations, a stunning, sexy partner… perfect hair, teeth, body… all within reach, if, you’re living the dream…

I say, if you look there for the dream, unless you are one of about 1% of the population, you’re very likely to be ‘perceiving’ that you’ve been cut off from the dream.

Most of us though, if we truly look around, will see that we already have the dream. It’s here, right now, and we’re living it. It’s our perception, and our perception of what we don’t have, that feeds that discontent.

If I spend just one day focused on the things I’d like to have, but don’t have, I’ll be significantly less happy as a result. There is no end to my ‘wish list’… it simply grows (or shrinks) with my current income level. If I’m broke, I’m perfectly happy just paying the bills and having food to eat… on the other hand, when I’m doing well and the income is flowing in regularly, I find myself ‘wishing’ once again.

I could be wishing for a new tractor, a better welder, a new Plasma cutter, a big screen TV, a vacation home in the mountains, a new bike, a bigger garage, more relaxation time… whatever… all things that aren’t even on the list, when money is tight.

Will these “things” really change my level of happiness? No, they won’t… sure, I’d enjoy them, but as sure as I’m typing this, if money got tight I’d sell all of it without a second thought.

So, what do you think? Is your perception of reality, in fact, your reality? I’m working on some more posts on this, as I believe it explains a lot in the way of our (well mine anyway) behavior, and, our over all satisfaction with our lives.

I’d really like to hear what you’re thinking about this!

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Greg said...

Ah...Bill the Buddha!
If you look at what you have said you will conclude there is no reality only illusion. This has formed the basis of a great deal of thought these past 6000 years or so 'till finally a guy came along and kinda put it together and started smilin'...(and a little extra weight is smiled on too)

Of course, I agree.

Now for happiness...try this...get rid of everything...ok keep your boxers if you will be amazed at how ex-stactic (no cling!) you will be and you can also then let go of the reality check stuff too 'cause you find you don't need it either. You don't even have to compare speed...speed of what? In fact I believe happiness is realizin' you don't NEED anything and has sumpin to do with the true nature of love as well...and with no place to go you can really enjoy the trip!

Lorna said...

I totally believe that what I perceive as real is real to me. That doesn't mean that it's a universal reality, but it does act as the basis for my decision-making, which builds my newer reality, so I'm just going to accept it.

Bill said...

Greg - Ahh I do miss ya bro... you were one of the few folks I've ever hung with that could get as 'out there' as I can at times, and, for the most part, we understood one another.

2nd... thanks for stealing the rest of my 'blog thunder'!! :)

I was headed towards tying this in with my earlier "Control is an Illusion" post.. and postulating that all we see, feel, and believe.. could well be an illusion... Oh well :)

As always, I'm glad to see ya!

Lorna - Exactly my point!! We all live in our own, self perceived, reality... not a bad thing, but slightly different than how we've been tols things are... 'eh?

Jada's Gigi said...

Reminds me of an article I read here
relating to hit songs...interestingly enough, people are apt to choose a song as one they like....dadah...if they think others like it. I'd definitly say perception is a huge part of the picture....

Firehawk said...


Great post. Perhaps there is no "one objective reality" but rather, many. We can recieve sensory information that is vastly similar (not identical, because we never occupy the same point in space at the same exact nanosecond), but that information is filtered through the unique implements of perception we have (our eyes each see in incrementally but percievably different ways, our sense of touch is not identical to anyone else's, our hearing has slight peaks and dips of perception that are unique to us).

After this filter, the information is decoded and interpreted by our brains, each one gifted and molded and damaged in a different way. Any stimulus will also trigger association pathways in our brains that are unique. When we say the word "River", to a thousand different people, they all understand the concept (if they speak English...), but they each have a slightly different reaction to the word. Different images play on their internal movie screens, and for different reasons. Does the voice that speaks remind them of someone they used to know? Do they have good or bad memories of rivers and water?

When you take all of that collectively, it's a wonder that we can percieve the world with as much commonality as we do.

In regard to happiness and contentment--I feel that it is a choice. Often, you can't change the world, only the way in which you react to it. Circumstance, in the end, is irrelevant. Only the person you choose to be in that circumstance matters.

As to speed, it's all about proximity and sensation. Going 15 miles per hour down a hill of rough pavement on a skateboard will feel faster than going 600 mph in a jumbo jet. The wind and vibration and sound are all proximate and intense. 60 mph feels insanely fast in a speed boat skimming across rough water. Riding a horse at full gallop feels faster than gliding down the superslab highway at 80 in your car. The tactile feel of the speed is what satisfies. I think that's why many people prefer big twin motorcycles, because their primal rhythms more closely relate to the in-born understandings of speed we pick up as children. The puslations of their firing sequence are calming, yet feel powerful and articulated.

I don't know where I'm going at this point, and it's a huge comment, so I'll stop. Cheers!

Dizzy Ms. Lizzy said...


Right now my reality seems to consist of nothing more than taking care of Dear Hubby - - that nasty flu has hit our house, poor guy. Fever, chills, terrible cough - - the works.

So I'm sure my perception of things is slightly "skewed" at the moment - - it SEEMS as if this flu bug of his will last forever . . . but in REALITY, it will end, hopefully soon . . . :-)

Great post, though - - really thought-provoking. I'll need to give it another read when I'm not so darned exhausted!


Bill said...

Cheryl - Is it so much a 'problem' as it is a 'feature' of life? I truly wonder sometimes.

Firehawk - Man, I can count one you to get into this stuff too huh?

you said: it's a wonder that we can percieve the world with as much commonality as we do

I very much agree. That we all, somehow seem to share a common 'reality', or mostly common reality, suggests, to me, that some of what we perceive, may in fact be common. If it's truly real or not, still has me wondering.

I've read dozens of studies, where folks who all witnessed an identical event, from nearly identical vantage points, all remember it slightly differently. Is that memory, or is it that we actually see it differently, that one has me thinking as well.

You also said: I don't know where I'm going at this point

Don't feel bad, neither do I!!

Liz - I've been home 2 days with a flu like deal myself... so you, and Steve have my empathy... I hope he's feeling better soon!

You said: it SEEMS as if this flu bug of his will last forever

Funny how one thing can push every, and any, thing else aside and totally consume your reality huh?

Yet another one of those things I can't seem to get out of my head!

Jay said...

Human beings cannot help but react to what we believe to be true - even if truth is actually the opposite. Very reflexive post today, I like that.

Jada's Gigi said...

What "problem" are we referring to?? :)

Bill said...

Miss Jay - You're right, we certainly can't control our emotional reactions, only how we act towards, or as a result of, those emotions.

It's those moments, when what we perceive as 100% totally, undeniably, "true"... is proven to be other than as we've perceived it, that fascinate me at times.

Cheryl - why the 'problem' (or as I prefer to call it the 'feature') with perception(s) of course :)