Sunday, January 14, 2007

Perception is the Only Thing that Matters… Depending on How You Look at It

I repeatedly am fascinated by the way people can look at the same object or situation and see entirely different things. At the university, for example, we have an old cliché that always brings a smile to my face: if you have three professors in the room, you'll have at last four different opinions.

The notion of “what you see is what is” comes from the concept of perception. In psychology and the cognitive sciences, perception is the process of acquiring, interpreting, selecting, and organizing sensory information. (And for those deeply interested in perception, you would enjoy looking at those philosophies associated with Phenomenology – the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view.)

In my recently published pop psych book, Mom and Dad’s Pearls of Wisdom… You Gotta Love ’Em, there is a vignette titled, “Perception.” In it I tell of an experience I had sitting at a biker bar, talking with a woman whose name was Alison. She and I were sitting at an outside table, sipping cold beers in the warm sun, appreciating the variety of motorcycles in the parking lot. To wit, I said to her, “These bikes are so different from each other. And assuming that every bike owner likes how his or her bike looks, I guess there’s a lot of truth to the cliché ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’”
At that moment, a bike pulled up whose owner announced proudly to some people he knew, “She’s new—just got her last week. Isn’t she beautiful?”
A minute later, a man sitting behind us said to his girlfriend, discreetly yet loud enough for us to hear, “I wouldn’t want that bike if you gave it to me.”
Alison and I heard him but were careful not to acknowledge our awareness of the comment. Then, out of the corner of her mouth, Alison murmured, “I love my father’s Vince Lombardi like quote:

Perception isn’t everything;
it’s the only thing.

So, what do you think of that?

Bill

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, I'll be darned! I suppose my post is rather synchronous with yours this day! (Structures of consciousness as experienced from the first person point of view-- indeed.)

I'm curious, though-- how DID you find my LiveJournal?

"Lucretia" of Lucretiasheart

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi Lucretia,
Thanks for the shout. Yes indeed... it frequently appears to me that as human beings we should remember that we are not the center of the universe. There are forces and influences operating in the world other than our own, and it is wise for us to recognize it. (Or -- and I have to say this per my Post -- maybe that's just the way we perceive things we can't see and/or explain?)
Thanks again,
Bill
P.S. I found your blog while surfing in "Technorati".

Cole said...

I once saw part of a show on witnesses and how 'incorrect' their supposed witness testamony could be... how different say 5 people all watching the same thing would remember things. It was extremely interesting. Everyone's POV is definitely colored by everything which makes us who we are. Great post!

Cole

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi Nicole,

Thanks for the tremendous compliment and for sharing what you had seen on that show. If I ever have to go through a jury trial (my own that is), I'll be as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers... trust me.

In the psychology field, we explain what you described as "projection" -- people project their experiences (including their beliefs, values, etc.) onto an object and/or into an event.

Thanks again,

Bill

DH said...

Perception isn’t everything;
it’s the only thing.
Yes, so true. The power of perception is incredible. I live by "my perception is my reality". Keeping that in mind...reality is not always as perceived:)

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello DH,
Yes, well said. And an individual's perception versus "reality" becomes ever more of an issue if the individual is in anyway impaired. For example, research in the area of alcoholism repeated has shown that "when under the influence" a person's performance actually deteriorates (it gets worse) AND AT THE SAME TIME the individual perceives his or her performance to be improving (getting better).
As I personally interact with people, I try to remain aware of the definite possibility that at any one time there are multiple realities (perceptions).
Thanks,
Bill