We often believe the expression that ‘perception is reality’, is an absolute truth. In many ways that’s correct, but in just as many ways it’s incorrect. If you want to improve your interaction skills with others, it’s important to understand the difference between them. Misunderstanding what perception and reality are will inevitably lead to failures and mistakes.
Why do we think perception is reality?
What we perceive is not reality. It just an interpretation of our experiences. Just about all research from neurology to behavioral economics and everything in between shows that. Just take a look at a few experiments to confirm that. You could take the rubber hand experiment, or take a look at the TED talk of cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman.
So much for reality. But the phrase ‘perception is reality’ often indicates that what others think we’ve done or said, how they interpret our actions and communications, becomes a reality about us, that becomes how the ‘profile’ us. An thus, it becomes the bases of all their interactions with us.
If looked at this way, it sounds true.
But is it? How often do we feel misunderstood? Has it ever happened to you that when you are explaining something to someone,, you realize that they get it all wrong? That they are even thinking about a completely different subject? I’m sure it has.
Now, in that case there are two different realities. Your reality (your intention, your explanations…) and the perceived reality of the other, that exist in exactly the same place and time. How is that possible? Shouldn’t reality be a fixed truth that exists independent of anything else?
And yet… Perception is reality, we say. What we are actually saying, is that people’s perception becomes their basis of action, feeling and communicating. This much is correct. Even if reality is an illusion, or at least our perception of it is, it’s at least a guiding illusion for our behavior.
How can we use this?
If what the mind believes to be true, becomes a reality, we have uncovered the main tool that’s used by marketeers, salesmen, conman, manipulators, politicians and you and I to influence other people’s behavior. Almost all of our communication has but one purpose, to communicate our perception of reality (things we see, we notice, feel, discover…) or to influence other peoples perception of reality (when we attempt to change their mind about one thing or another).
Influencing people, is changing their perception of reality. Motivation people, is changing their perception of reality. Comforting people, is changing their perception of reality… Why? Because in some way, perception is reality. And in this way, all communication is in one way or anther manipulation. Manipulation of other people’s perception of reality.
Right or wrong?
And yes, we hate the term ‘manipulation’. It’s however all we do, when we communicate. We construct a common illusion of reality. The effort to have a common perception of reality is one of the corner stones of group forming. A society without a shared perception of reality would disintegrate. Without this shared illusion, we would all pursue incoherent goals an construction a world as we know it would be impossible.
So you can dislike many things about our world (our shared perception). You can hate the situation you live in. But you cannot deny it. At best, you can try to change it. How can you do this? By trying to change other people’s perception. To do this, we’ve invented concepts. These concepts, good and bad, right and wrong, useful and dangerous and so on, are only important in a relative way. They indicate only if something is coherent with our desired perception of reality, or not.
Perception is reality
What the mind believes to be true, becomes a reality. It will steer our perception and interpretation. Mentalists, marketeers and other manipulators call this ‘priming’, creating a framework that lends credibility to the idea you’re about to propose.
We’re all ‘victim’ to this. Our brain is wired that way. Whether it’s the idea that the earth is flat, the existence of God, the good or bad of a certain sexual orientation of the believe in a certain leader… Once these concepts take root and a common perception is created, it becomes a predominant certainty in our society. It becomes an indisputable truth. A dogma. It becomes common sense and he who dares to defy it becomes a heretic.
So in a verry real way, perceptions actually is reality. And in another verry real way, reality is absolutely different form our perception of it. The one who can best influence the perception of others has the best chance to succeed in this world. But, also something to consider; he who can see the world as it is, and not as he hopes, fears or wants it to be, has the challenge of a lifetime. But he could also reap the incredible reward of insight. Those who can look beyond their perceptions of the world are the heroes of the millennium, people like Newton, Einstein, Hawking, Galileo, Bohr and many others that have looked and are looking today beyond our perception of reality are those who made progress possible. Reality – on which we can build to make progress – therefore, lays beyond perception