What is reality? Just because we see something a particular way does not make it reality. The science of perception is a fascinating work in progress. Every moment of our lives, our brains are turning sensory data into what we believe is reality. Yet, there is no provable link between “this is what I see” and “this is what is real.”
Your brain determines your perception. Different brains perceive things differently.
As humans, we have no conceivable way of understanding the perceptual world of other creatures. Humans, in general, have five senses that operate within a limited band of reception. For example, we can’t hear frequencies that bats and dogs hear. Constrained by our perceptual tools, we have no measure of reality outside of our limited perception.
Stephen Hawking belongs to the camp of physicists who believe that reality exists as a material fact, but he concedes, as did Einstein, that science doesn’t claim to know what reality is. Even believing in a fixed reality is an assumption—perhaps the greatest assumption of all time. Einstein called it, “my religion” to denote that this was an article of faith for him. He could not prove that reality exists as a fixed state or material fact.
Other quantum pioneers, like Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg do not share Hawking’s and Einstein’s faith, declaring that if atoms and molecules had no definite position in time and space and no solidity, then the reality perceived through the five senses has no privileged truth behind it.
In other words, the fact that you perceive something doesn’t make it real.
These scientists suggest that reality may not exist at all as a material fact. What we mistake for reality may simply be a product of our perception—an illusion, nothing more. There is no such thing as provable reality. There is only ‘your’ version of it, which is essentially your perception.
Every day, scientists are making new discoveries that are forcing them to disregard that which they previously thought was true. The philosopher Thomas Nagel, who has studied how different species view the world, speculates that current notions of evolution “will come to seem laughable in a generation or two.”
In labs across the world, research on aging is currently underway with a compound called rapamycin, a hormone called klotho, a protein called GDII and telomeres, the final segments of our DNA. All of this research may lead to significant increases in longevity.
Aubrey de Grey, who founded the SENS Research Foundation, is trying to develop regenerative therapies that can postpone aging, possibly indefinitely. Dr. Grey believes that the first human who will live to be 1000 is probably already alive today. Crazy, right? Or is it?
Stewart Brand is a futurist who says that biotech is accelerating four times faster than digital technology. In Brand’s opinion, this means that we will one day be able to bring extinct animals back to life. Brand has said, “We will get woolly mammoths back.” Crazy, right? Or is it?
“Singularity” represents a school of thought that hypothesizes that accelerating progress in technologies will cause a runaway effect, wherein artificial intelligence will exceed human intellectual capacity and control, thus radically changing or even ending civilization in an event called “the singularity.”
The capabilities of such a technology-based intelligence may be impossible for a human to comprehend. The technological singularity is an occurrence beyond which events may become unpredictable or even unfathomable.
Stephen Hawking said in 2014, “Success in creating AI (Artificial Intelligence) would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks.” Hawking believes that in the coming decades, AI could offer “incalculable benefits and risks” such as “technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand.”
Hawking believes that “full development of AI could spell the end of the human race”.
Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX, has referred to AI as “potentially more dangerous than nukes”. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, has said, “I don’t understand why some people are not concerned”.
Clearly, more should be done to analyze, plan and prepare for “the singularity”.
As technology continues to evolve in areas like advanced genomics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, space travel, renewable energy, 3-D printing, cloud computing and the Internet of things, we will gain increased perspectives and our perceptions are certain to undergo radical transformations. We really have no way of knowing how limited and inaccurate our current perceptions may be.
Our perception is not only limited by our senses. Our perspectives and our biases also limit it. “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are (Talmud).”
Take war as an example. Is war ever right? Is killing ever right? What if you need to kill an intruder to save your family? Is it right then? Most of us see human life as superior to other forms of life. Is it? Is a human life superior to the life of a majestic polar bear—how about a stray dog?
Is President Obama doing a good job or a bad job? Is Edward Snowden a hero or a traitor?
How we answer these questions will depend on our perspectives and our biases. It’s important to be conscious of your perspectives, your biases and your perception, because if you’re not someone else may manipulate them.
Things aren’t always what they seem. Companies, marketers, politicians, journalists, employers, even your teachers and professors rely on this fact to make you see things the way they want you to see them. We often confuse perception with reality. We mistake how we understand things for the way they really are. Our thoughts and feelings seem real to us so we conclude that they must be true. They must be reality.
What if even our most deeply held beliefs were not true? What if what we think is reality, is not reality at all?
We often don’t realize how our perceptions cloud reality. It is extremely important to be aware of the effect perception has on our beliefs, and how this influences our conclusions, decisions, behaviors and actions.
The media provides a good example of the influence of bias and perspective on perception. Mark Twain once said, “If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.”
Fox News and The Wall Street Journal have a conservative bias. Information delivered to Fox viewers and/or WSJ readers, therefore, comes from a conservative perspective. This can affect the perceptions, conclusions, decisions, behaviors and actions of its viewers.
CNBC and The New York Times have a liberal bias. They deliver information to their viewers and readers through that liberal prism or perspective.
Think about this. The same news—the same “reality”—delivered, explained and understood in two very different ways. The consequence is that “reality” for a CNBC viewer or a New York Times reader, may be very different than “reality” for a Fox viewer or a WSJ reader. Yet it is the identical objective “reality” that each are reporting on. They are simply reporting on it in a very different way.
So how do we know which is true? How do we know who to watch or read? Watch and read both. Also seek out additional viewpoints and perspectives from multiple online media outlets and publications. Only when you have considered multiple informed perspectives, should you decide what to believe is reality.
Politicians are notorious for their strong biases. Democrats and Republicans see the world through their respective biases and perspectives. Some of this is ideologically driven. Some of it arises out of self-interest in perpetuating their tenure and consolidating their power base. Regardless of their motivations, these biases and perspectives often cloud their perceptions.
This can result in their becoming inflexible and entrenched in their positions. This, in turn, can create deadlocks and dysfunction. We are seeing more of this today than ever before. It is actually a very troubling development that has already had serious negative consequences for our country. It illustrates, perhaps better than any other example, the power of bias, perspective and perception.
Personal relationships provide yet another example of the influence of bias and perspective on perception. Have you ever thought someone you dated was a perfect match, only to later ask yourself, “How could I have ever dated that person?” The reality may have never changed. Instead, what may have changed was simply your perception of that individual.
At the beginning of your relationship, you may have seen the person you wanted to see. You may have wanted to be in a relationship. You may have had a strong physical attraction to the person, which blinded you to their other, less desirable, traits. In the end, after the fog lifted, you may have seen the person as they really were. Prior to that, your biases and your perspectives may have influenced your perception.
Our expectations can also have a profound impact on our perceptions. If you’ve grown up in a home where no one has ever gone to college, you may believe that you never will either. If you’ve applied for jobs and been rejected time and time again, you may come to believe that you will never get a good job. If you’ve never been asked out on a date, you may think that no one will ever ask you. You would be wrong on all counts.
Your perspectives, biases and expectations shape your perceptions of each of these events. Perception is an extremely powerful and important concept. Our reality is shaped by our perception. Our perspectives, our expectations and our biases shape our perception. By controlling our expectations, considering multiple perspectives, and by being aware of our biases, we can control our perception and see reality more clearly.
Chopra, Deepak, Murali Doraiswamy, Rudolph E. Tanzi, and Menas Kafatos. April 27, 2013. “Time to Get Real: The Riddle of Perception.”
Huffington Post Healthy Living. HuffingtonPost.com.