Perceptions vs Reality
Perception and reality are simple words that everyone understands and yet most people have never thought about what the implications of their differences can be.
Reality is always far from our grasp and people who think they know for certain what reality is are often ignorant of it.
In the Upanishads, (ancient texts of Hinduism), there is a quote that goes like this-
“yasyamatam tasya matam matam yasya na veda sah; avijnatam vijanatam vijnatam avijanatam.”– Kena Upnishad
It translates in English as ‘those who think they understand the nature of reality do not actually understand it, and those who know that they do not understand it, actually do.’
We think we know what reality is. It is everything that is around us.
The chair we are sitting on the phone we are reading this on. That is all real, is it not?
Yes and no. When we experience the world, what we perceive is called our perception.
Now, this perception is the closest thing to reality our senses can perceive but it is not reality itself.
In this post we will explore the difference between perception and reality.
Illustration of the difference between perception and reality
Let us try an experiment, I want you to take 10 seconds and think of a car. Think of all the details of the car that you can think of. Are you finished?
Awesome so now my question to you is, what was the car like?
What color was it, how big was the car you imagined, and what were its interiors like?
When I asked you to think of the car, I did not give you any specifics and yet your brain filled in the blanks automatically so you can have an image of a car for further conversation.
Now this car might have been the car you or a relative owns, or this car could have been the car you see most in the streets.
Maybe it is your dream car. In every case, it is one that comes from your experiences of the world.
It will never be a car that is rare or one that is not even out yet, because your brain needs your perception to be as close to reality.
‘In this case, though your perception failed because the car I wanted you to think about was the stone-wheeled car Fred Flintstone used.‘
What this difference between perception and reality leads to
The difference between perception and reality is what makes you and a friend look at the same poem and extract different meanings and why people that have spent almost their entire life studying law and now sit on the Supreme Court, interpret the same constitution differently.
We should always be aware of this difference since we are always short of true objective reality.
Even though we might think that we know what is correct we should always be skeptical of what we think we know and challenge our assumptions.
When everyone starts to believe that their perception is the objective reality, it leads to conflict and eventually violence.
“There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.”― Socrates
When you come to a higher understanding
One of the most famous stories in philosophy is called the ‘Allegory of the cave‘. This was an attempt by Plato to show the utility of philosophy.
The aim of the story was to show the nature of ignorance and the effect of education on our understanding.
Plato in his story describes people that are living in a cave.
The people that Plato describes have always lived in the cave and have never seen the outside world.
The only thing people there can see are the shadows on the wall that come from the light of a fire.
Thus people in the cave think that the shadows are a supreme source of knowledge. That is all they have ever known and are limited to after all.
One day a person from the cave escapes to the outside world and is mesmerized by what he experiences.
He now understands that what he saw on the walls of the cave were just projections of real-world objects.
His eyes have adjusted to the bright surroundings and now he can see the world in all its vibrant colors.
How ignorance works
Worried for the people in the cave, the enlightened man goes back in the cave and tries to inform the people there of the true nature of reality.
He wants them to come with him and experience a higher understanding of the universe than the shadows they worship now.
His eyes cannot adjust to the darkness of the cave and the others in the cave think that he is being delusional.
They eventually get angry with him and plot to kill him.
Even though the man was trying to help and educate his fellowmen, he did not understand the power of ignorance of the group.
All enlightened and rational people should expect this resistance when they attempt to share their knowledge to the people who are not devoted to thinking critically.
According to Plato we are all living in shadow, the things we are chasing like a high salary job, or a soulmate, money and fame are all like the shadows on the wall of the cave.
They are mere projections that society dictates are essential for our existence. The cave is just where we happen to begin living.
A person born in Japan has a different set of shadows he believes in than that of a person born in the United States.
They are just starting in different caves following the shadows society has projected on their minds from a young age.
Born into a cave
When we were born in this world we had no judgments or labels. We were innocent and genuine in our thoughts and actions.
However, the world is sick with orthodox beliefs or with ill-conceived notions. Thus, we too were born in a cave.
Here getting well refers to understanding higher levels of reality and coming out of the caves we have been living in for most of our lives.
Imagine living the life you live knowing you are sick, just like everyone else. How dangerous does it feel to get well?
If you get well, you feel like you are isolated from the world.
This is why most people live a life in conformity and stagnation and never rise to their potential.
Similarly, accepting that we are largely ignorant of the world takes courage.
That acceptance is where all learning begins.
If we stay ignorant and rigid in our beliefs and opinions we stay stagnant in our understanding of the world.
“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”― Epictetus
Coming out of the cave. Example of Stress and time, perception and reality
Most of our lives are spent constantly thinking compulsively. We are trapped in an endless cycle of thoughts worrying about all the circumstances surrounding us.
Growing up we saw our parents doing the same and now that we have matured we see even our peers living the same way.
If we stop and think about it, is this really the way we were supposed to live?
We have accepted that this is the way life works because that is how most people live. The kind of thinking similar to believing in the shadows of a cave.
If we step back and look at nature we notice that time is a concept only humans know of.
Animals do not spend their days worrying about the past or future, only humans do.
Perhaps the normal way to live isn’t to worry every second of every day but instead to embrace the present and flow just like everything else in nature.
“True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.”― Socrates
“In order to determine whether there is anything we can know with certainty, we first have to doubt everything.”― Descartes.
We now understand how what we perceive can be completely different from what is real.
Our ancestors believed that the shapes formed by stars were stories gods were telling us and imagined constellations.
They thought the earth was flat and that an eclipse was god being angry with them for their sins.
We now know the truth. Those were just the perceptions people had during their time.
If we did not question our beliefs, and challenge the assumptions our mind was filling in the blanks with, we would have still been ignorant.
“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom”― Socrates
This week try to question your assumptions.
Every time you are about to do something that you have taken for granted, pause for a moment, and introspect.
In the previous paragraph, we wrote that ‘we now know the truth’, but think about it, do we really know the objective truth?
When you begin to question your beliefs and try to knock them down. Only then can you discover stronger beliefs, that stand the test of time.
This is what will help you improve your understanding of the world.
In the next blog, we will take a further look at what objective reality is and explore how to be a Realist.
Well, that is all for this post. Have a good day and a good life