Sunday, August 1, 2010

Pieces and Perceptions

We perceive the world in pieces. This is something that doesn’t occur to most, but it is very true of everyone. We don’t see a complete picture, our brain selects what it will show us, and ignores 99% of the rest. It does this to avoid an overload of information. It is a useful thing, as we would never be able to process everything around us all the time. Because we process everything in pieces, though, we all perceive different things. There is an old story of the three blind men and an elephant. I forget now an exact version of it, but the basics will do. Three blind men are asked to describe an elephant, and one touches the trunk, one the body, and one the tail. They all describe three completely different animals. Yet, despite the fact that their descriptions seem completely wrong to each other, they are all correct in their perceptions. The large snake like trunk is just as right as the bulky large animal, which is just as right as the wispy tail. All three are correct for the pieces they are examining, and oftentimes arguments break out over differences like this. We may say that the one feeling the body is most correct, but that is not actually true, he is only correct for his piece. For someone with vision, their piece is different, they see the whole animal. It doesn’t mean that what they see is any more correct. People get caught up on things like this. People like to be right. And on some level our perceptions are always right. If someone says, “Hey, I heard something…”, and someone else says, Well, I didn’t.”, neither person is wrong. One did hear something, whether it was something outside them or something generated internally, they heard something. They are not wrong, but neither is the person who heard nothing. In another way, if I was to describe what I see, being someone very familiar with the insides of computers, when I open up a desktop computer, versus someone who has never opened up a computer and knows nothing about them, the descriptions would vary greatly. In fact, so greatly, that if you didn’t know we were describing the same thing, you may never realize it. I would be looking at something familiar and ordered, whereas the other would be looking at something strange and messy. Their brains would not isolate out what is important simply because they don’t know. This is true of all facets of life. Life is a selection of pieces. No one sees everything. We can’t.

If you want to take it a step further, what we all really see is waveforms. Vibrations. The physical objects we think we see are not what are really there. And since we can’t jump behind someone else’s perceptions, we don’t know if what we call a couch looks anything like what they call a couch. Their red may be our green, we just agree that such a vibration is the same. If we were behind their perceptions, we may see what we see as green when looking at something red. If that makes sense. Reality is agreement. Those vibrations are red. That is a chair. Somewhere inside our brains convert perceptions of waveforms to vision, sound, feel, smell, etc. We have no idea how this happens, but it does. Our reality is a loose agreement between us. Right and wrong perceptions mean that much less in that understanding.

We all know the type of people who think they know everything. You bring up a subject and they will comment or criticize despite their obvious lack of knowledge. Once again, though, this is a perception. When someone, lets say, less than very self aware, which is most of the planet, gets enough information to form an opinion, they then think, quite innocently, that they now know something about said subject. With some people, this is enough for them to comment, argue, whatever, but it falls to a level of perception again. There are subjects for which, if you look at them for the first time, one may say, well there is not much to learn about that. So they learn a little and feel like they have a grasp of it. The problem comes when the initial perception is wrong. They may have learned 5%, not realizing that there is another 95%, and will readily argue with someone whose knowledge of said subject encompasses 50%. No one can ever be at 100%. The assumption that ones knows more than they do it common. It usually takes a certain amount of wisdom to truly understand how much we all don’t know. This comes with age, sometimes. Too often, it never comes. A 22 year old who has some life experience thinks they know it all. It is common, and understandable from their perspective. They don’t realize that instead of 90%, they experience encompasses 2%. From their perspective, they have experienced a lot. From a 50 year olds’ perspective, they have experienced nothing. Schooling is not a substitute for life experience, but from the perspective of one who has had lots of schooling, they may see it that way. Look at all they know! Look at all they have been told and remembered! Unfortunately, only experience can gain a level of wisdom, remembering what someone taught you does not. Ever. We often dismiss elderly people, we think they have nothing of value to us, because they don’t get that the young already know everything. Culture may change, but that doesn’t invalidate experience and wisdom. Someone in their 50’s may really not understand why there are people who post their entire lives online. In detail. They may also believe this is a very bad thing to do. A kid doing it thinks that they don’t get it. That they are just out of touch. Until someone robs their house when they post online that they won’t be home for a week. Until someone starts easily stalking them because they are posting where and what they are doing every minute. Until they get turned down for a good job because of their facebook page. Until they get their identity stolen. Suddenly the wisdom of the 50 year old who clearly didn’t get it becomes a bit clearer. They’re had much more time to learn their lessons in this world. Good and bad. Their perspective is wider and richer than a 20 year olds’. You can’t skip that part of life, there is no shortcut. Life is pieces, at 20, your piece of perception is so much smaller than at 60.

For anyone who truly wants to understand other people, these things are mandatory. Understanding the difference in pieces and perception, and not trying to force yours on others. People care about different things, perceive differently, assess differently. The trunk of the elephant is very different than the body, but describing either still correctly describe part of an elephant despite their obvious contradictions. There would be far less arguing in the world if we truly sought to see the others perspective. To see what part of reality they are focusing on. One may say, hey that is red, and someone may pipe up and say, no, it’s magenta. Neither is wrong. The former is just focusing on the general color, the latter on the specific shade of that color. Yet an argument may break out about it. We share this reality, on loose agreement, and that is something we need to understand and accept, and remember.

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