A Perception of Reality
by Adam Easton
Throughout my philosophical meanderings over the past ten years or so I have considered and debated various perceptions of reality. So here is my take on the multifaceted notion of reality. to kick things off we need to consider these questions. What is perception? What is reality? Are they the same thing? The answer to these questions depends on the individual so let’s explore that notion.
Perhaps the more apt question is: what is perception of reality? But before we can answer that question we have to ask: what is the context of the perceiver? Who’s perception is it? And by asking these question we inevitably ask: Who’s reality is it? But still we are not done. The ultimate question when addressing perception of reality is: Who’s truth is it?
A rounded answer to all these questions is this: what people perceive is their reality and nobody can deny them that truth.
Now let’s put all this in context. The notion of reality is ultimately linked to perception. In fact, in my view, perception predisposes reality. The tricky part is identifying reality in context of the individual and the social construct.
When individual’s perceive, they make reference to whatever is going on in their environment and link these events to patterns of the mind that have been established over time based on previous perceptions. The naïve child who has had little experience in life and yet perceives a truck to be a tree is justified in acknowledging that truck as a tree. The child who knows no different that their construct of a tree does not actually meet the socially accepted construct of a tree is justified in claiming that, in their individual reality, the truck is a tree. Let’s assume that for whatever reason the word ‘tree’ matched the construct of a truck in some erroneous event in the child’s life. The point is that the socially accepted construct does not define the individual’s reality, child or not.
But reality is not a rigid notion. Reality can and does change over time when social interaction or interaction with an environment of any kind inevitably alters perception. This is the natural impact of ‘learning’ whether we like it or not. So through increased social interaction, the perception of a truck will likely change as experience and learning reveals that their construct of a tree does not match the social construct of a truck. They learn that what they have been calling a tree is actually a truck.
Confused? Yes, this type of philosophical banter usually does my head in too. But I hope it demonstrates how intricately our minds work in order to make sense of the world. Yet some authors have sort to make sense of this psychic soup through the narrative of philosophical fiction. Robert Pirsig through his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is once such author.
Pirsig’s work is based around metaphysics, or, how do people understand the world? In this quest he explores the notions of ‘subject’ and ‘object’. He investigates how the mind makes sense of the objective world. In the process of this he explores the notion of truth, among other things. But to loosely paraphrase, he says that truth is a function of time and since time is infinite, so are the number of truths.
Above all else, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is about Quality theory, which Pirsig says is ‘the response of an organism (individual) to it’s environment’.
In my view, perception and reality can be viewed in context of Pirsig’s work. To get back to the distinction I made earlier that reality is to be viewed in context of the individual and the social, we can link the subjective and objective respectively, which in turn is linked to perception and reality.
Now let’s distinguish between the individual and the social.
Individual patterns of thought are predominantly subjective. Our subjective perceptions frame our reality. But there is also a reality on a social level. Let’s call it the social conscience of human nature. In my view, this social conscience is what gives rise to the question of: what is reality? For the individual, reality is unquestionable. We just know our thoughts to be the truth. This truth, the individual truth, is the closest thing to truth we can get, as opposed to the social construct of truth.
If we go back to Pirsig’s notion that there are infinite truths and we acknowledge that two people can simultaneously believe different things about the same perception, than we can infer that two people can simultaneously have two different realities.
Stay with me. Here’s the punch line.
I have said that perception and reality lead to truth. I have also shown that Pirsig tells us that truth is infinite. So we come full circle. What is reality?
Reality is what you perceive it to be. While social constructs will inevitably influence your perception, these constructs are merely quasi realities. You are the master of your own truth.
In my second book, Quality Killers, I will be exploring the individual reality in more detail. But first I will be publishing Paradox of Freedom by Christmas 2013, which will deal more with the social construct. These are fictional works and I promise you not as arduous as the words above. But I guess a complex question inevitably requires a complex answer.
I wish you all the best and please keep an eye out for Paradox of Freedom in the coming months.