YOU SEE THE WORLD AS YOU ARE

One day a traveler was walking along a road on his journey from one village to another. As he walked, he noticed a monk sitting on a boulder beside the road. The monk said “Good day” to the traveler, and the traveler nodded. The traveler then turned to the monk and said “Excuse me, do you mind if I ask you a question?”.

“Not at all,” replied the monk.

“I am travelling from the village in the mountains to the village in the valley and I was wondering if you knew what it is like in the village in the valley?”

“Tell me,” said the monk, “What was your experience in the village in the mountains?”

“Dreadful,” replied the traveler, “to be honest I am glad to be away from there. I found the people most unwelcoming. When I first arrived, I was greeted coldly. I was never made to feel part of the village no matter how hard I tried. The villagers keep very much to themselves, they don’t take kindly to strangers. So, tell me, what can I expect in the village in the valley?”

“I am sorry to tell you,” said the monk, “but I think your experience will be much the same there”.

The traveler hung his head despondently and walked on.

A while later another traveler was journeying down the same road and he also came upon the monk.

“I’m going to the village in the valley,” said the second traveler, “Do you know what it is like?”

“I do,” replied the monk “But first tell me – where have you come from?”

“I’ve come from the village in the mountains.”

“And how was that?”

“It was a wonderful experience. I would have stayed if I could, but I am committed to travelling on. I felt as though I was a member of the family in the village. The elders gave me much advice, the children laughed and joked with me and people were generally kind and generous. I am sad to have left there. It will always hold special memories for me. And what of the village in the valley?” he asked again.

“I think you will find it much the same” replied the monk, “Good day to you”.

“Good day and thank you,” the traveler replied, smiled, and journeyed on.

The monk knew we do not see things as they are; we see them as we are. Perception is demonstrably an active rather than a passive process; it constructs rather than records “reality.” Perception implies understanding as well as awareness. It is a process of inference in which people construct their own version of reality on the basis of information provided them.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

Take a look at these two tables. Which one of them do you think is longer, and which one is wider?

It might be hard to believe, but the two tables have the exact same dimensions! Measure both table surfaces with a ruler and prove it to yourself. Why, then, does the table on the left look elongated, while the table on the right appears to have a wider width? The illusion of two tables was first discovered by Roger Shepard at Stanford University.

It comes down to how we perceive the scene. Accustomed as we are to photography and Western art, we automatically interpret the scene as three-dimensional. The concept of perspective, first mastered by artists during the Renaissance, is one we encounter in our everyday lives, and our brains automatically assume that the further away an object is from us, the smaller it will be. To compensate, our brain interprets and “lengthens” lines that appear to be pointing away from us into the distance.

In this scene, the interpretation made by our brain extends the length of the table on the left by making it appear longer and the shorter side of the right-hand table by making it appear wider. Our brain constructs what we perceive based on our past experiences rather than what is there. We see the tables as we are, not as they are.

Perception is demonstrably an active rather than a passive process; it constructs rather than records “reality.” Perception is a process of inference in which people construct their own version of reality by how they interpret their experiences.

Suppose I am walking down a sidewalk and a woman barges into me knocking me off balance and rushes off. I could say she is an aggressive feminist consciously demonstrating her physical superiority over males, or I could say I am getting older and must be more careful how I walk, or I could say the architects poorly designed these walkways for the amount of traffic they bear, or I could say she is probably in a great hurry because of some personal emergency, or I could say I think she’s flirting with me. I give the experience the meaning by how I choose to interpret it.