Saturday, 28 May 2016

Conjuring Your Perception

So recently I have been rocking out to "Termination" by Book of Black Earth on a pretty regular basis. I think my favourite part of the song though is the last minute or so, which closes with a rather intriguing sample from an interview panel featuring a Christian and a Satanist. As you would probably expect from this sort of setup, the Christian interviewee gets trounced in the debate:
Christian Dude: "To suggest that you can create your own reality, my goodness, that's what they did in Tiananmen Square. That's what they did in Germany in 1933. [...] These are examples of people who created their own reality."
Satanist Dude: "Everyone creates their own reality, the thing is, you speak for a consensus of reality that is acceptable. We speak for one which, at this point in history, is not acceptable."
Christian Dude: "Oh, so it's a question of who manipulates the media, who has the most money to put their reality forth? But would you pardon me for saying that I find the world where your ability to conjure your own reality that you perceive as being a very frightening world for people like me. Because you see, I am guided by some codified rules that tell me what is right and wrong. In your world, I'm not so sure I'd feel very safe."
Satanist Dude: "Well that's your problem. [...] In the Satanic world of the future, Christian churches will be allowed to continue, because they pose no threats to us. We don't need Christianity, Christianity needs us."*
The Christian interviewee's obliviousness to the fact that everyone is conjuring their own reality to at least some degree is just the first of many events that have occurred to me recently which have gotten me thinking about perception and reality. As the old saying goes, "seeing is believing", but it seems pretty clear that our perception is not necessarily truth. Maybe this is a pretty obvious statement when you really think about it, but it seems like many people just aren't confronted face-first with this idea, even though it plays a major role in much of human conflict (both on the large and small scale).

For example, one of my brothers didn't realize he was partially colour-blind until about a year ago when somebody asked him to grab them a flower with a specific shade of blue. When he wasn't able to locate these flowers, the person realized that my brother is actually unable to see this shade of blue, and that it actually appears purple to him. As far as he knew, the flowers were always purple and really, within his perception of the world, they still are - he's just aware that other people see it differently now. "The Dress" was a similar case of this on a larger scale, with a large portion of the "controversy" it created coming down to people realizing en masse that not everyone sees the world the same way that you do (and then trying to force that viewpoint on everyone else, naturally).

Hell, even animals perceive the world differently than we do, with some being capable of seeing in different spectra - a yellow flower may be lit up with neon signals for insects, or your brand new car has some sort of unseen signal which tells all the pigeons in the area to defecate on it constantly (okay, maybe I'm joking about that last one). Bloodhounds' sense of smell is so acute that they can essentially smell into the past at lengths of time stretching as far back as 300 hours.** We need to take into account that the world we see is just a small part which humans are only capable of picking up on.

Left: what you see. Right: what a bee would see.

One of the scientific methods that can measure differences in perception is through the "clock test", which is used to determine the severity of neuro-degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimers and Parkinson's disease. You might be familiar with the idea if you watched the first season of Hannibal. Basically, the test requires the subject to draw a clock - simple, right? Well the results can be pretty surprising as patients with neurodegenerative diseases draw their clocks lopsided, squeezed into half of the face or even just as a series of unintelligible squiggles. As far as they know, they're just drawing a normal clock, but to the rest of us their drawing appears far different than how they perceive it. Such imbalances can be chemical as well as physical. A similar idea went into that viral website of the man who took dozens of different drugs and drew a self-portrait for each one. This little experiment, while not exactly scientific, showed how chemical changes in the brain can wildly affect how a person sees the world.

In addition to my taste in black death metal, another occurrence which has gotten me thinking about perception is that I have recently finished reading John Keel's The Mothman Prophecies. The book was significantly more out-there than I was expecting - I was just looking for first-hand accounts of the Mothman legend, what I got was lots of theorizing about extra-dimensional entities and accounts of people who were contacted by aliens. It was incredibly strange and unbelievable, with a large percentage of my reading time being dedicated to trying to figure out what the hell was up with John Keel. There's really only a few ways you can attempt to rationalize the claims in The Mothman Prophecies: call Keel a compulsive liar (which I don't really think is the case) and just dismiss it all outright, take his claims at face value (mischievous extra-dimensional beings are totally real I guess), or try to figure out what sort of skewed perception he has which is putting him at such great odds with rational society. This is harder to parse than you'd expect, since he has a very level-headed, analytical personality and is careful to note that he almost always has some sort of witnesses to his first-hand experiences. It's almost convincing... until you step back for a second and remember that all his claims of extraterrestrial contact and shifty conspiracies are completely unsubstantiated in our modern world, and especially with the modern proliferation of cellular technology. Did he have schizophrenia or some sort of mental illness? Were his contactees suffering mass hysteria? Was every Ufologist on PCP in the 70s? I honestly have no idea, but the conviction with which Keel lays his unbelievable case forward is one of the more extreme examples I've experienced of how irreconcilable perception can be between two people.

This disconnect between perception and reality has repercussions on religion as well. Christianity (along with many other religions) likes to claim a monopoly on the singular truth of the world - in fact, "The Truth" is a bit of a dog-whistle term within Christian culture. However, if even a mentally-sound person isn't able to perceive the world quite the same as anyone else (not to mention the countless individuals with physical impairments), just how concrete can we consider The Truth to be? In regards to sin and punishment, Christianity likes to assume that everyone is on an equal footing, but the "reality" of the world shows that this is clearly not the case. What about the woman who insured with my company who suffered a traumatic brain injury which drove her to commit suicide? Is she responsible for the actions of a clearly damaged brain? Or what about the man in my grandmother's retirement home who fell off a roof and hit his head, eliminating the man's entire personality and mental acuity in the process? When you are essentially transformed into an invalid, can you even be held accountable anymore? I'll be honest, these sorts of questions trouble me quite a bit, and if we're going to insist that we have a just God, it pushes me closer and closer to a universalist perspective.

Naturally, this wouldn't be an IC2S post without some sort of ideological commentary, and as you can expect, it plays a part in perception as well. Ideology acts as a sort of cognitive filter, whereas a person's physical limitations (mental illness, colour blindness, etc) represent a more fundamental structural base. As I have discussed on a number of occasions on the blog, ideology becomes a framework through which we understand the world. This is how we get unintelligible people like Matt Walsh or people who believe Lego Wheelchairs are a slippery slope into publicly accepting wolfkin. And yes, this is how someone like me ends up writing a ton of blog posts about feminism and social justice.

So we've established that everyone only sees an objective perception of the world and not "the truth" - what do we do with this knowledge? Well ultimately that's for you to decide, but I have a few recommendations. Be aware that other people may feel differently from you and treat them with due respect. Be open to other peoples' ideas. You don't necessarily have to accept their views, but don't dismiss them outright. This is the basis of tolerance and an enriched life. Also, be aware that if someone is peddling a monopoly on "the truth", they're probably full of shit.

Oh, but be sure to read I Choose to Stand religiously, because I'm always right.

Only throwing this in here because I know I'm going to have to explain that was a joke eventually...

*Obviously this last statement is pretty much bullshit. Satanism is a counter-cultural movement, but if it suddenly became the dominant religion then it would begin consolidating power just like every other popular movement in history.
**In doing some of the research on Bloodhounds, I came across this stinker from the always-entertaining Answers in Genesis. In it, they state that the Bloodhound's nose is so amazing that it could only have been created by God. However, this is ignoring the fact that an evolutionist would not claim that the Bloodhound came about by accident - if we accept that dogs are descended from domesticated wolves, then the Bloodhound would have been designed through successive breeding. Is it that difficult to picture the best trackers amongst the wolf-dogs being bred together to produce an uber-tracker? Of course, this is AIG and they aren't exactly known for their amazing debating skills.

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