Perception and Reality

Isn't it funny that a few people can share a day together and then go their separate ways. The next day two of the members of the group that shared the same exact experience can 'see' the experience so differently from the other person. In fact, if you didn't know better, you might possibly come to the conclusion that someone is lying to you. But in reality how each individual processes their day in their mind made the experience different due to their perceptions.

The word perception in regard to human psychology is usually defined as the process of attaining awareness and understanding of sensory information. How a person perceives their situation, environment, etc... is almost always affected by several factors- past experiences, culture, interpretation of past and cultural events, age, intelligence level and more. Rene Descartes hundreds of years ago conceived the idea of passive perception that can be described as a series of events; input (senses), processing (brain), and output (reaction). Today, many psychologists tend to subscribe to the idea of active perception as a more accurate way to describe the idea that there is a dynamic relationship between the brain and senses which create experience.

So even if every human being is exactly the same in all ways (which of course we are not), we would still find that people's perceptions will differ from each others. If our genes were exact duplicates – in essence, if we are clones- our experiences might be slightly different causing different perceptions and ideas. I find this idea so fascinating and frustrating all at once. It is fascinating because the world is an amazing place with so many differences in people, environments, cultures, etc... Look at the amazing people we learn about in history class and how our world has been shaped by their perceptions of the world around them? One example that springs to mind is Henry VIII of England. Even people who have no interest in history have heard of this king/man. His perceptions of himself, gender and reproduction changed the lives of his many wives (sometimes ending their lives), the lives of his children and the lives and culture of an entire country. One of his daughters Elizabeth I went on to rule after him and her perceptions of power and men again changed the course of her life, the lives of all those around her and the history and succession of an entire country.

However, one thing that really frustrates me about perception is that we as human beings can be so shuttered and trapped into poor perception. When we are born, our brain in many ways is a blank slate which we then begin to fill. As we get experience in life, this experience will change and therefore bias our perceptions- there is now a preconceived concept. This happens because human beings do not readily understand new information without the bias of their previous knowledge. So we can misinterpret others actions and behavior based on the actions and behavior of others that surrounded us in the past which can cause us problems in our present. Or,maybe even worse, we can fail to perceive something at all because our brains are unable to process the information in any way. So something can be explained to you a million times... and you can still fail to 'get it'. So essentially, our reality is biased and as such... boy, it helps to see why we are supposed to forgive people almost everything. If the human mind can only create reality from what it has been exposed, then misunderstandings must be so easy. The mind will just pull out the bits of perception that it recognizes so that we can have understanding or comprehension- even though that probably will not give us understanding and comprehension. “ That which most closely relates to the unfamiliar from our past experiences, makes up what we see when we look at things that we don’t comprehend.”

So know that I truly understand this (at least I think I do.... :), what do I do? If I have communication problems based on the abuse in my past and the way that I was treated early in life, how do I change. What I mean is, I can change outward behavior and I have in many ways. I no longer have a 'anger' problem- I just have to be aware of my emotions an understand that I have a penchant towards anger. By knowing this, I am able to control it. But how do you truly control thought patterns that have been a part of you for so long that I am unable to even recognize that they are thought patterns? How does anyone do it? David Pelzer is an example that I can think of. He had some of the most horrendous abuse I have ever heard of or read about... and yet he has been able to change his actions and his thoughts (at least it appears that he has). Clearly this is a loooong process. So...

How does perception effect you and your relationships? How does it affect your communication with others? How does it affect how you do.... everything!? If you have had abuse in your past or other major problems such as divorce, instability, etc.... how have you dealt with it? What has worked to help change the way you think..... has it worked? Carlfred Broderick talked about a transitional character- one who is able to purify their family line from the blackness and instability of the past and give future generations the ability to not have to confront the pain and scarring. In the past I have thought that I have been pretty successful at being a good transitional character and I have the best husband for that- his patience and kindness are a Godsend that I do not deserve. But... I suspect I have a lot more work to do!

1 comment:

  1. I don't know if you want to look into this further, but your sentence "As we get experience in life, this experience will change and therefore bias our perceptions- there is now a preconceived concept" covers more or less the same ground as my dissertation did. It's called "Bayesian perception," and the idea is that the brain combines the evidence in front of it with the likelihood of each possible interpretation based on previous experience. In choosing a particular interpretation of the evidence, the brain is biased in favor of outcomes that have occurred frequently in the past.

    Of course, in my work all the brain was doing was deciding which letter was hidden in a fuzzy image. We assumed that the brain would be biased based on the frequency with which each letter occurred in written English. However, within the last year, I've seen a LOT of articles that are applying a sort of Bayesian analysis to all sorts of higher-level decision-making.

    It occurs to me (and I'm REALLY glad I didn't think of this when I was in grad school... I probably never would have finished) that there is probably a recency effect too; that is, there may be a bias toward interpretations that have occurred more frequently RECENTLY, even if their lifetime average occurrence level is low.