Friday, December 10, 2010

is perception reality?

“Perception is reality” is a phrase I do not like. You see, whenever someone utters this completely clichéd and overused phrase, I think back to one of the biggest assholes I ever worked for (it was his go-to mantra). I acknowledge that I am a total hypocrite as I have a tonne of overused phrases – pull yourself up by your bootstraps, if it doesn’t kill you it will make you stronger, and if I don’t laugh I’m going to cry to name a few. “Perception is reality” is one that makes me want to kick the person who has just said this.

Because it is not.

Perception is not reality. Perception is just that – what you think or perceive to be happening. Guess what? You could be wrong. Really. Just because you think it is so, doesn’t not make it so. Sometimes you need a reality check. Can I get a witness? Sheesh.

The only times this phrase holds water is if you are completely out to lunch, unable to comprehend this and there is nobody around with enough sense or compassion to help you pull your head out of your own derriere. I often think that doomsayers fall into the “perception is reality” pit. It helps them feel in control of their universe – as if by assuming the worst, you have made it so. No surprises – everything sucks, no bones about it, yay I win!! Should the situation not turn into the sh!t show you declared it would, you say “oh yeah, well, I’m prepared for the other shoe to drop”. What does that even mean?

I got to thinking that my own personal situation could be looked at in a few different ways. I have a son with Autism. There is no clear answer as to how independent a life he will be able to lead. I could look at that and think “oh my god, I am trapped. I am going to have to care for this child for the rest of my life.” I would be lying if I sometimes don’t get overwhelmed by this thought. When I start down that path, I pull myself back into the here and now. Nobody knows what our future holds. Max may be able to live an independent life. Perhaps if he needs support he would prefer to live in an assisted living situation. Or maybe he will live with me for the rest of my life. The situation will unfold as it will, one day at a time, and I will deal with it as it comes. So far I have been able to handle everything that life has thrown at me (not always gracefully mind you, but most days I give it my best).

How you choose to perceive something can be positive or negative. Whatever you decide, that does not change reality. All that changes is how you feel about it.


  1. Caroline11:09 a.m.

    Oh, girl, you are talking my language! I think people often use these little cliche'd sayings when they are at a loss for something meaningful to say, yet either want to offer comfort/enlightenment/support or just feel a desperate need to be the last one to speak in any conversation. Mostly just a minor, passing annoyance, if I even bother to take notice.

    But this PARTICULAR saying particularly riles me. It is dismissive, and implies that the sayer actually knows (controls) what reality is, and you are free to live in your little tiny delusional reality, even though your clearly erroneous perception is a million miles from and so much less real than the (superior) perception of the world of the one so "graciously" saying it. Pah! A pox on them, I say!

    I still subscribe to that old maxim about not saying anything if you haven't anything nice to say. It doesn't hold for all situations, of course, but in most, if not all, little convos held between a supervisor and an employee, or in those relationships in which we are not invested very thoroughly,it is definitely best to keep things nice and easy for everyone. Makes everyone's day go a bit better!

  2. Anonymous1:35 p.m.

    Interesting how sayings affect different people, although I'd never heard this one before. My pet peeve is "everything happens for a reason". No it doesn't. My grandma didn't die for a reason, the cat didn't puke on the new carpet for a reason (at least a cosmic reason...that one is more attributable to the reason of his sampling the Christmas tree). I believe that you can *choose* to create purpose out of things that happen, but that things don't happen for the reason of making you do certain things.

    Sorry, I'll get off my soapbox now...


  3. @Caroline - so glad I'm not alone!

    @Anon - oh, I despise that saying with the passion of 1000 hot suns. I've even blogged about it.

  4. I hate the phrase, but not the idea behind it. I'm a bit of a radical empiricist... if I can't sense it, it doesn't exist. William Blake is sort of my go-to mantra man on this one.

    But it is not so simple. It is way more complex than anything else being 'reality'. First, if it is true, then all reality is subjective and personal, and then it is useless in any social context. SO, to hell with reality. All we've got left is the shared fictions glued together by our perceptual delusions.

    And we cannot have a 'truth' or a "Truth" to fight over or kill people with or believe. So we're back to sharing stories and negotiating temporary localized truths that we all admit are just temporary tools to get things done.

    Then again, how do we even know what we perceive. We may perceive it, but not be aware of or remember the perception, or not know how to interpret it.

    Perception may be reality, but that sure as hell doesn't help or solve anything.

    And that thought makes me happy.

  5. Anonymous9:35 p.m.

    An interesting site that looks at the role of perceptions vs. reality is

    Some very useful stuff there by top scientists.

  6. Good post. Happy to have found your blog.

    I think there are two ways to look at the idea, or perhaps the phrase, that "perception is reality".

    It appears to me that your take on it--a valid one, I agree--is that the idea does not work--more, it is inexcusable--when used as a crutch, or an excuse for selfish or unthinking behavior.

    On the other hand there is ample proof in the sciences that all of reality is perceived by us through our senses, and further, filtered through our experiences and opinions.

    It has been shown that one person's weighted perceptions are often at odds with those of another.

    You can even take it further: Stare at something you call RED with one eye closed for 30 seconds, then switch eyes. For most people there will be a perceptable difference between the experience of "red" even between the person's own two eyes. Which of the two experiences is reality? Which is perception? Both? Neither?

    I make these comments not to disagree with you, but rather to point out that not every time you hear that phrase, it may not be meant in quite the subjective way it seems.