If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. ~ William Blake
I am curious about perceptions and how they serve (and do not serve) each of us individually and collectively.
So, I must dive into what we know about the development and function of perception as well as my own lived experience with it. (there is a time to learn from external research and a time to learn experientially)
It seems that most of the ways we interact with the world and ourselves is affected, based upon or influenced by our perceptions. For the most part, the relationships we have with other people, events, ourselves and our environment begins with a concept. These general notions of our ‘world’ and all within it then become facts of awareness in our mind/consciousness. This mental state/consciousness is also called perception or rapid cognition. This ‘quick thinking’ is a function of the brain that skips over any analytical thought process and jumps to immediate retrieval of stored information. It isn’t necessary to do any actual thinking because you or someone else has done the ‘thinking’ in advance to have the information ready to apply in an instant. All you need to do is jump to that ‘file’ so to speak.
Perception is a process by which we interpret and make meaningful sense of the world based upon an abundance of stored information and memory. Currently there is still much debate over how much of this information is innate and how much is learned. Both science and philosophy continue to delve into the nature of perception and what informs and affects it.
It seems that this stored information is in essence how we define things and it is our definitions that create our perceptions and it is our perceptions that direct our behaviors and personality. Depending on the nature of the definitions it can lead to a wide array of perceptions that both bring us closer together as human beings and also can create huge divisions. Perceptions based on limited definitions (where one must seemingly suppress the conscience) can lead to many forms of -ism: racism, sexism, classism, and the fueling of various forms of oppression, prejudice and exploitation.
Perceptions/rapid cognition can be helpful when we don’t have a lot of time……but our tendency to fall back on our perceptions/rapid cognition when there is abundant time for consideration can perpetuate limiting conditions and divisive patterns of perception. It seems that perceptions, once formed, create a ‘resident’ tendency for quick and automatic response to people, ourselves, places and events. This leads to non-deliberate decision making and can often lead to unconscious prejudices. We would need to discern between:
situations where quick, unquestioned thinking is necessary
situations where we don’t need to engage the ‘quick thinking’ pre-assigned perceptions and can actually deliberate and question.
We see too often throughout history how acts of violence and atrocities carried out by humans stem to a large degree from the definitions these people hold. Then, when we look more closely we see similar issues played out on smaller scales day to day in social circles, families and in society. We have definitions based on gender, skin color, economics etc…….seemingly innocuous definitions that are rooted in each one of us about ourselves, other people and the ‘values’ by which we operate. Definitions can allow people to subjugate conscience (or even basic kindness)in many situations where actions or behavior would otherwise not be acceptable. Again, we see this in spheres of the global and local, strangers and family, subtle and gross.
How does the ordinary and fundamental expressions of perception in society and social groups lay the ground for larger and more divisive ‘definitions’? When does perception become social expression?
Definitions are powerful in the sense that they can determine the perceived essence of a person or group. The perceived essence can then determine the ‘value’ or ‘worth’ we might assign to a person. In this way, definition can utterly diminish or enhance the ‘essence’ of the person and can simultaneously limit or suppress the true essence of the person being defined. Think of the implications and affect this has in your smaller social circles, family and society at large. With definitions left unchecked (and how they feed our perceptions)……how does this influence our basic human relationships, interactions and dynamics??
All of this to keep suggesting that a simple practice of questioning can be an unexpected form of personal activism in this world where each of us, to some degree, preserves stigma, prejudices and divisions. Every time I allow myself to perpetuate and act from perceptions without any questioning…….I potentially add to this pool of prejudice. Some perceptions are benign……absolutely. But what harm is there in taking a peek at the canopy of perceptions that compose you? Why not get to know them and perhaps the origins of definitions that live within you? Our perceptions unquestionably shape who we are and from there shape the world. Aren’t you just a little curious?
It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.
~ Anais Nin