We often disagree about what is reality. This causes us pain and leads to anger. Is it possible that we can resolve this dilemma by looking at what we know as reality?
What is Reality anyway?
If the majority of us are so certain that we know what is real then why do we disagree?
It is well known that when two or more people witness an event they often describe it very differently. Some times their descriptions sound like two different events. Why is that?
We take in the events from the world around us thru our eyes and other sense organs. But our eyes don’t see the same thing. Yes, we think we see the same things with both eyes, but the images our brains receive are actually different. Our eyes are located on two opposite sides of our faces. Thus they have a different angle on the object we are observing. This difference in the images allows us to track objects and catch them.
How we hear sounds is even more complicated. Our ears are located on two sides of our heads and they distort the sound. The shape of our earlobes helps us to determine if a sound is coming from in front or behind us.
IF you don’t believe this try an experiment. Close your eyes and focus your attention on a sound. Now turn your head and see what happens to it. Does it sound louder with your head in a certain position?
Next, cup your hands behind your ears. Focus on a sound and then move your hands. Does the sound change?
When I tried this I noticed that sounds coming from a few feet in front of me are loudest. This is the area where people who are visually impaired are taught to position their white canes. Positioning the cane in this way informs the cane user what is in front of the user’s feet so they can determine where to take their next step. Using this caning technique prevented me from falling down stairs a number of times.
Thus the distortions our eyes and ears make while perceiving the world can help us. Our eyes assist us to track objects and catch things. Our ears prevent us from stepping on things.
If our eyes and ears distort what our brain receives, what else happens to the world as we become aware of it?
In our brains the signals from our eyes, ears, and other senses move along various neural pathways. First, they pass thru basic parts of our brains to determine whether or not the sensory input represents a threat. If a threat is detected then those parts of the brain that signal survival responses get activated. Our hands are already withdrawing from a flame before we realize they are being burned.
It is hard to overcome such reflexes. If we have a pain in our foot or knee we walk with a limp. By looking at how someone limps I can determine where the pain is before I even speak to my patient. Try it next time you see someone limp.
Next, the signals go to the areas of the brain where more complicated responses are elicited. These signals also serve to protect us. These areas (when activated) prepare us to fight or flee. We stop and focus our attention on the source of the stimuli. Hormones are then released so we can decide to either run or defend ourselves. We call this attention to the brain signals the startle and respond scenario.
For example the toot of a car’s horn can elicit this type of a response. It draws the driver’s attention to the events going on around him or her. The vehicle operator can then sort out what response to the horn blast is needed.
The response a driver chooses depends upon how he sorts out the additional information he receives. If it came from a car next to him, he might need to swerve to avoid colliding with another vehicle. If we are driving an unfamiliar car we might over or under steer.
Once I flipped a new car because I over-corrected while making a turn. If I had been in my old car I could have swerved a little less and missed the bicycle safely. In the new car I was unsure of exactly how far to turn to the left.
Thus what we sense from the world gets changed by the time we are aware of it. Psychologists have studied this in great depth. As a signal travels thru our brains it connects with more and more of the memories we stored.
This connecting a new event with past events enables us to recognize faces and greet a friend or avoid an enemy.
When we see someone who reminds us of a friend we relax and are more open. If the new person reminds us of someone who we fear we shy away. This constitutes a pre-judgment. If that person turns out to really be hostile we call it a good judgment of character. When the person turns out not to be dangerous we regard our assessment as a Prejudice.
Since the events stored in my brain are different from anyone else’s, the way I understand an event will differ from everyone else. This means I experience reality in ways unique to me.
If we see sticks as snakes, or even worse see snakes as sticks, there are problems. We won’t respond in an appropriate manner. We call those situations hallucinations.
Knowing how our brains filter what we see in the world around us enables us to understand why others don’t see things our way. It can also give us a glimpse into why others see things the way they do.
Next time you find yourself disagreeing with someone pause and ask yourself, “Why do I see it in my unique way?” What might be prompting the other to see it their way?
If each of us did this what would happen to the issues that divide us?
Could we use our perceptual information to discover our Prejudices and confront them?
As All Ways, Seek Joy