Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Truth of Perception

When I was in grade school I loved learning about the great thinkers of the past, people like Galileo, Newton, and Einstein. The thing I found most interesting about these people is that they discovered truths about the world around us that were contrary to common perception at the time. It blew my mind to imagine that there once was a time and place where people actually thought the earth was flat and all the celestial bodies revolved around it. I was confounded to learn that people once thought mirrors were demonic and bacteria did not exist.

I remember that when I was young I would imagine what it would be like to travel back in time to ancient civilizations and teach people about the world. What would it be like to be the only scribe who knew how to write with an alphabet in Sumer, the only mathematician to know calculus in Babylon, or the only scientist to know the secret of electricity in Rome. I imagined how easy it would be to become a famous inventor thousands of years ago, when there was so many things either unknown or never attempted.

Then I would think about our world as it was in the twentieth century. It seemed like we knew everything, and that it was impossible for one person to consume all the knowledge that the human race possessed. When I was a child, possibilities seemed endless. I thought that our math could solve any problem, and that our science could make any idea a reality. It seemed silly how many false facts our ancestors believed, and it seemed that everything generally believed to be true in the late twentieth century, was true. I never thought I would see the day when our perception would change. Because that would be the day that the truths about the world I knew would change.

We are a decade into the twenty-first century now and we don’t see cars flying in the sky, we can’t teleport objects over phone-lines, and we don’t have robots doing our chores. These things I expected to see in the future when I was a kid. But we can watch movies and video-chat on tiny cell-phones, go to college or even make a living on a computer screen, and talk to famous people on twitter. But these things haven’t shocked me. The things that have shocked me are the truths that have changed.

I woke up today and Pluto was an asteroid. I blinked my eyes and that long necked dinosaur, Brontosaurus, had a different head. I stretched out my arms and HIV was no-longer a deadly virus. I looked at myself in the mirror and realised that our generation and culture were not infallible. They are just like every one before it. Perceptions change; but does the truth change? I believed that Pluto was a planet when I was a kid, but did that make it true then? Can something be true because we think it is true? Or are perception and truth completely separated and different? And what is reality? Is it what we believe? Or is it only what is true?

It is my opinion that there are two ways to view the world. One belief is that things only exist if we see them and they are only true if we believe them to be; we can live in a sea of lies and still be enlightened because we have confidence in what we perceive. The other belief is that some things can exist without us even knowing about them and they are either true or not regardless of our opinion; thus we must know the truth to enlightened, and that truth will never change.

I think these two ways of perception go a long way to determine how we react to our circumstances. And I think both beliefs have their positive and negative qualities. If we believe that truth cannot be changed, we might feel like we can’t make a positive impact on our world, but we can also learn to accept certain things and not be blinded by our own possible misconceptions. And if we believe that truth is only our perception of the world, we might live a life that disparages other people because we don’t believe their emotions to be relevant, but we also can be motivated to change our reality and manipulate circumstances just by our perception of them.

In conclusion, I believe that the knowledge of what things are inherently and unwaveringly true and what things can be changed by our perception, is something that we continue to learn and seek out for our entire lives. I believe that both our understanding of truth and our perception of it determine our reality. So then one question remains. If we are always striving for harmony of knowledge and perception, will we ever reach perfection? Is humanity meant to know everything that there is to know, and to perceive everything in every way that it can be perceived? And is there one or multiple ways for this goal to be accomplished. Is it different for every person? Or is it the same for all of us?

It is my opinion that the best works are those that don’t answer all the questions for us, but the ones that inspire us to ask those questions and think about them. So I am not going to attempt to answer any of the questions I have asked in this work. All I have to say is this. At least once in our life and usually multiple times, we will have to make a decision based on what we think is true or not. And I do not think there is any one way to tell for sure what is the truth that will allow us to make the best decision. But I firmly believe that through our perceptions and experiences in life we will be equipped to determine what is true and what is not. And it will all come down to one thing, what is the selfish choice that ignores past mistakes and does not account for future welfare, and what is the unselfish choice that learns from the past and betters the future. We will all have the opportunity to see the right path, but we will not always chose it. Fortunately life usually affords us many chances to better our decisions, change our perceptions, and discover new truths. And to me, that is the truth of perception.

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