top of page

Does Perception = Reality?

What do you see?

We have spoken so much about perspective, what else is there to possibly discuss? How about how accurate our "vision" is, similar to an eye test. When was the last time you went to an ophthalmologist? It is amazing how much they teach you about the little seeing marbles you forget about. Yet, why do they have a job? Their entire professional exists for the abnormal. Philosophy textbooks such as "Epistemology: An Introduction to the theory of knowledge" speak wonderfully on this,

"As Aristotle already indicated, human inquiry is grounded in wonder. When matters are running along in their accustomed way, we generally do not puzzle about it and stop to ask questions. But when things are in any way out of the ordinary we puzzle over the reason why and seek for an explanation."¹

We rightly pay these professional's quite a salary because of Newton's 2nd law. The reason is that without intervention, most people's eyes would cease to function properly in their lifetime. Losing the ability to see is not the end of a meaningful life as many people demonstrate. It is however, the end of a common form of perception.

If a random stranger came to you and stated, "Look, Godzilla is about to eat the sun!" If this person proceeded to shriek and run away at full speed, how many people would you guess would believe this person and also run?? If your answer was "depends", you're learning. If it suddenly went dark behind you and your spun around to see a 300 foot lizard, your response would differ than if you turned around and observed a clear sky. Here is where we need to slow down. If the government took that random stranger in for "evaluation", what would they check? His eyes? Nope. They would check his mind.

Why? Does perception refer to the eyes or mind?

A coworker of mine displays a tattoo on his arm that states, "Perception is reality". Business meetings to personal dialogues bring me face to face with this quote often. Let's first discuss what it means, then we can take it in for an "eye exam" and see how clear or blurry this quote really is. The dictionary defines Perception as, "the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses." According to this definition, the tattoo could be reworded as "What you see, hear or sense is reality".

Is that accurate?

How many times a day do magicians prove this one wrong? They use simple illusions to show people that what they see, hear or sense often differs from what is going on. This quote is being deceptive in that we need an understanding of philosophy, language and one of my favorite ancient contextual interpretation methods to tease out what it is really saying. Philosophy teaches that in order for an argument to be valid, its conclusion must follow from it premises. That does not mean that the premises are necessarily true, but if the premises point to the conclusion and do not contradict each other, the argument is valid. Language teaches us two other things. Subjective or implied (connotation) versus objective or explicit (denotation) meaning. Exegetical interpretation of the world's most reliable ancient documents versus eisegetical interpretation is when you take connotation or denotation and expand it to an entire text. It is very similar to a modern debate around if there is meaning to be derived from the Constitution or if we need to apply meaning to the Constitution.

Together they teach us that we can either objectively seek to understand coherent information or subjectively impose meaning on nonsense.

What is the hidden within this quote?

We just discussed how the quote is flawed because the meaning or exegetical/denotation of the words is easily invalidated and would be considered an invalid argument philosophically. What happens however when you take our society's cognitive understanding of this phrase, what people picture when they think of this word separate from what it objectively means, and tease out it's implied meaning? When you do this, the tattoo could be reworded as "What you think is more important than what is actually happening" or "Subjective reasoning will be regarded above objective evidence"

Do you see it yet?

The wording is flawed and easy to disprove, yet the true danger is that the hidden message is pernicious. This is not a statement, it is a cynical declaration at it's core. The eye exam is over and this quote is not only blind, but proudly boast that it has 20/20 vision. Ancient sages, scholars and truly enlightened people have warned for centuries against this type of person. Perception not only does not equal reality, but to those who embrace this subjective lie, reality provides unpleasant "corrective measures" to their perception

Work cited:

  • ¹- Rescher, Nicholas. Epistemology: an Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge. State University of New York, 2003.

bottom of page