Extendend Definition of ‘Perception’

Henry David Thoreau once said, “Rather than love, or money, or fame, give me truth.”  Thoreau felt that once we know the truth, we can face it and deal with it.  To him, deception is almost a sin against man and God.  However, how do we know what is the actual truth?  Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is truth.  This explains why the idea of perception is so important to understand.

Dictionary.com defines perception as “the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses”.  To perceive something through senses simply means to hear, see, taste, feel, or smell and ultimately understand what is being sensed.  This focuses on the facts (just the facts, ma’am).  What makes it interesting is when we apply the human experience to these facts.

In a report of an accident, an officer could interview three different people who were at the same scene and come up with three different stories.  The CSI tv series has capitalized on that idea.  Depending on where the witnesses were standing, what they saw, what they heard, what they smelled, what they felt, or even what they tasted was usually something different.  It is then the detective’s job to piece it all together to get the objective “facts”.  The key difference between objective facts and subjective facts is so complex that it is hard to pinpoint.  A good detective would consider as many of these factors as possible to understand what really happened.

The final definition of perception deals with the experiences an observer has been through.  The woman with an abusive boyfriend will perceive Sleeping with the Enemy differently than an innocent, naive teenager who doesn’t understand all of the psychological hell Julia Roberts’ character went through.  Or differently than the boy who was just out of a rebound relationship where she used him.  Here, perception is everything.  All of these are “truths” but from a different point of view.  A truly wise person will understand and not judge these truths.  It doesn’t matter what “truth” is, rather it is more important what is innately believed to be true.

As I was reading Into the Wild for the second time, I was discussing with a fellow reader how Jon Krakauer wrote this book as much for himself as for describing Chris McCandless’ journey of self-realization.  I realized myself that I understood the book much differently than the first read.  A lesson in perception.  In the five years since the first read, I have experienced much, mellowed out, and as a result I view the world differently.

Just because your truth may clash with someone else’s truth, who is to say which one is correct?  It’s all about perspective.  Another transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, said this in his essay Self Reliance: “Speak what you think today in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today.”  Your perception is bound to change.  If it doesn’t, then you will never find your own truth.



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