Sunday, September 18, 2011

What do We Live? ....The Reality or Mere Perceptions?

Some time back, I received an e-mail forwarded by one of my friends. It contained some humorous stories. Since I can’t trace that mail and since it anyway did not acknowledge the sources, let me paraphrase one of them here:

There lived a couple- married for over 20 years.  Like most of them who are married for that long, they were also bored with each other and with their life in general (before you ask, I used 20 years as a distant enough bench-mark so that I don’t have to answer my wife, about what I meant when I used the words ‘like most of them’. But, if you are already there, feel free to push it further by a few years).   As you know, such boredom manifests in different ways- for the husband it was a loss of libido while for the wife it was a constant migraine.

Then came a day, when wife was so happy, as she had finally conquered her migraine.  With all the enthusiasm, she informed her husband about her meeting with a therapist who advised her to stand in front of a mirror and say aloud to her image in the mirror, three times, that she has no migraine and she was happy.  She followed the advice to the last letter and immediately felt relieved.  She then suggested that her husband too use the same formula for any problem that he wants to solve. 

Husband took the cue, got up from the bed and walked into the bathroom.  In about 5 minutes he came out and headed straight to his wife and initiated something out of ordinary for them that became the best sex session of their life.   Soon after he again walked into the bathroom and the whole process repeated.  When he got up and walked again towards bathroom, the wife who was by now tired and curious tiptoed behind him.

And there she listened in horror- he was yelling to himself; “that woman in my bed is NOT MY wife”!

The message in this story is very clear.  We have heard the simpler version of the message in the recent movie, Three Idiots, in the form of the ‘All is well’ call.

I have personally adopted this strategy for quite some time now- whenever I have a seemingly difficult problem, I just look at my image in mirror, smile and tell - ‘everything gonna be all right’, to a great relief each time.

Why does this happen? Are we really fooling ourselves by turning away from reality? Trying to create a make believe world? The answer is Yes and No!

Our life is a result of two sets of perceptions- one that we unconsciously perceive, from our surroundings based on the social conditioning and the other set that we consciously try to inculcate into ourselves. The instances we discussed above fall under the latter.  We teach, advise, condition ourselves with certain message and our mind begins to perceive them as reality.  After a while, we don’t even recognise that the perception was only a result of our own conditioning.

What about other aspects of the life? Are they THE reality like we tend to believe? Or merely our perceptions, that fall under the former set of unconscious conditioning?  Lets us look at some real life situations.

We find a large number of people loathe religious conversions, because they consider it as an attack on their religion. I am not looking at the social, constitutional, economic or ethical aspects of such conversions. I will limit my enquiry into the perceptional aspects of conversion from the point of view of the converts and those who feel offended about it.

Conversion presupposes a religion by birth.  Why should it be so? When we take birth are we coming into this world with some pre-conceived notions about our religions? Or is it merely the parental and social conditioning that determines our religions? Answer is obvious.  Our parents and the society tell us what our religion is.  Thereafter, the entire effort is channelized into learning and living our religion.  Often this conditioning is coupled with lesson about how our religion is different from other religions and how we are different from others.  And the child develops into the religion of his parents.

None of us have learned what each religion is, what each religion teaches, which one is more acceptable to our own core beliefs etc.  We accepted the one that was thrust upon us by the system and faithfully abided by it.  In my opinion, those who convert out of conviction about a religion (even if that religion is the one that was prescribed by his parents to him) is the true religious ones. Rest of us are merely using our religious tags as a status in the society!

Same is the case with love.  We love our parents, our children, our friends, our spouses.  Do we really love them or do we perceive as loving them?  If we love them in reality, what makes that love to change ever?  I have had the misfortune to be in family courts for some time and have keenly observed the venom with which erstwhile loved ones fight each other.  Believe me; the fights between enemies are often dignified than the fights between loved ones!  Do we exercise a conscious choice as to whom to love and whom to hate?   Or do we just follow what we have been conditioned with- one got to love so and so and not so and so?

How many of us have done a SWOT analysis before we took up a career? Did we chose what we wanted to be or we took what we perceived as the best option at the given time?  I admit that more and more people are answering their call of hearts in the matter of career these days.  But even those calls are not just the product of hearts but alsoof our perceptions of what is good and what is bad.

Now take the example of politics.  How many of us study and compare all the available political choices and then decide one that we want to join? Again, how many of us constantly monitor the parties so that we are sure of matching of our thoughts and the policies of the party we are in, for the time being?  We don’t... right?  We just decide on some initial perceptions (including the choice of our own parents) and subscribe to an ideology or a party. Then it is an effort to condition our perceptions to match that of our ideology of party.  This process happens very unconsciously, so that we may not even realise it and end up believing many things as gospel truths, simply because that perception suits us and our party!

I can go on with such examples from all facets of life.  But, I guess these are enough for our purpose.  And what is the purpose? It is to make us aware that what we perceive as reality is only our perception and may not correspond to the actual reality.

Well, I agree that the process often makes life easier for us.  We can escape from the need to exercise constant alertness and to do analysis of all the facts that we are confronted with, at all times.  We just have to fit into the pigeonholes of our choice or the ones that we inherited through our birth.   Rest all have already been defined for us to merely conform to.  We blindly follow the leaders/ gurus/ scriptures of our pigeonhole and close our eyes and ears as far as feasible to those of others.  That surely makes life simpler; irrespective of the pitfalls associated with such a life.


Let us look at this picture.  What do we see as the reality? Are we seeing a young girl looking away or are we seeing an old lady looking down?  Well, which ever may be our perception it is true in this case but other perception is equally true as well.

So long as we admit that ours is only a perception and do not insist on others that they must conform to our perception or do not insist that no other perception other than ours is feasible, it is perfectly all right.  But unfortunately, we take our perceptions too seriously for such gracious admissions.  We combine them with other members of our particular group and convert them into status symbols.  Thereafter, it reduces to a We vs They or Us vs You affair and the reality get sacrificed for the sake of perceptions.

The conditioning sometimes goes to such extent that we are forced to give up all connections with the reality and become puppets in the hands of those manipulators who are conditioning us for their own agenda.  We become parties to violence, we become suicide bombers, we become trolls- anything to protest/advance our ‘reality’, including by doing anything to pull down other dissenting voices.

Our world is paying the price for the lack of this understanding.  We need to understand that no rational human being consciously adopts an illogical view.  If he is doing so, it is merely based on a perception that he considers rational, either through internal or external conditioning. 

Understanding this aspect of human behaviour helps us in deciphering the logic behind seemingly illogical actions and take necessary corrective steps. It also helps us in respecting different perceptions of members, be it in society, family or relationships and displaying better tolerance.

Remember, we are living in a world of which we can’t even perceive the shape. Shape presupposes an edge and an edge presupposes something beyond the edge (even if it is only vacuum).  If world is surrounded by emptiness or vacuum where does that vacuum ends? Can a material thing be indefinite?

With such limited knowledge about our larger home itself, our claims to have control on and absolute knowledge of all realities sounds very hollow.  So, let us be aware that what we perceive as reality may only be our perception and other human beings may be equally right in arriving at a different perception.  That awareness would make this world a better place to live, irrespective of that life itself being a mere perception or reality.


  1. An interesting post to read ! Reality is a concept unique to each of us. Our perceptions too differ greatly on so many things. Just because we see something in a particular way does not make it so. We can be so insistent sometimes that our way of seeing something is more right than someone else’s way.I feel that we should keep an open mind and remember always that each individual has a right to value his own point of view. That what you believe to be true is only as true as your experience and it doesn’t go any further than that.
    There are certain aspects in my which I give lots of importance as I feel , they are worthy of giving attention to..but at the same time..others might perceive it as a silly obsession of mine..For eg. importance of Cleanliness, importance of time, Perfection in my work..many such smallest of things which I give lots of importance are laughed off by a few around..Can I do anything about it?
    It is our power of choosing the way to perceive things..and it makes it appear that way.

    It is.."To each his own"

    “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are” – Talmud

  2. this is the second time i am writing this comment. the first one for some reason got wiped out due to some error.

    well, i totally agree with you on this jay, about our way of life not being our own, and how its just handed down ideas!

    let me speak for myself,
    i am a doctor, not by choice or chance. my parents thought that being a doctor was the best profession. they made me cut down on all my activities when i was in plus 2 and made me slog like a maniac for the hallowed entrance examinations.

    and finally when i secured a seat in a prestigious medical school, they proclaimed to the world, that their daughter was successful.

    even now, even though i have a won the suffix and prefix, my parents do not understand why i burn the midnight oil after my work and struggle so hard to write articles.

    for my parents change is a poison, a vile thing to do. sticking to traditions, beliefs and practices, which are handed down is the right thing to do.
    according to my dad, " they are tried and tested, and you have to stick to the beaten track"

    so what i think, what i feel is just rebellion, and all rebellion has to be curbed.

    according to him, the "following your heart concept " is an opium, to coax people out of hard work.

    i do not agree with my dad, but however much i argue with him, he is not going to change. his ideas are hard and fast, and set in iron over the last fifty years.

    however, we the neo-thinkers, should agree to give breathing space to our children. so that they can decide for themselves what they want to do , who they want to be with etc.

    we should let them read and imbibe, think and decide, if we do so , no place will be far, no religion will be greater, no occupation will be better.

    we as parents should only guide them in broadening their horizons.

    and if we all start doing this, the earth will surely be one global village, peaceful to live in!

  3. It all comes down to choices doesn't it? In many cases we dive in head first and then some with heart first.

    Some of us are objective and logical, and hence will do the SWOT and pros and cos, and some of us are instinctive, will measure the pros and cons as we cruise along, till 1 day 1 outweighs the other, to ditch or keep moving forward

    Is anything/can anything in this life *ever* really be black or white?

    Look at the basic reading genre. We don't read no-more, we skim. We are a race in a hurry.
    Hurry from? Hurry to? Are we more than not, running away from ourselves:)

    Despite knowing fully well, we live n the material world, we make believe the indefiniteness of our existence- our folly - *till* we learn wisdom someday/one day:)

  4. Thank you all for the comments...

    Yes you reinforce my thought that life becomes much easier if we all realise that what we hold often as gospel truths are only our perceptions.. and that requires us to respect others' perceptions as well- howsoever they may seem illogical.

    What is seen as illogical yesterday are today's science!

    Also, trying to understand different perspectives only help us to widen our own, thereby taking us closer to the real reality!

  5. We have become a society where for some reason, 'getting the other to agree to my pov' is becoming paramount! Its all about the 'ego". In turn creating intolerance....vicious cycle...

  6. I will possibly go a step forward. To promote, propagate, convert to you perception is also quite justified, infact ones's right to do so. AS long as the exercise is not coercive or violent. Excellent.