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What you don't know - The Perception Gap

Updated on October 21, 2016
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Mohan is a family physician and a Postgraduate Associate Dean working in the UK. He has a keen interest in self-regulated learning.

Nature never deceives us. It is always we who deceive our selves
- Rousseau

The Tyranny of Perception

You looked at the picture above. Your brain recognised a swan. Your brain also noted that it was a painted representation of a swan rather than a real swan itself. Perhaps you also recognised that it was actually a hand posing as a swan with the aid of some clever painting.

All this happened in nanoseconds. By means of light perception your eyes took in the picture. The image was then transmitted from your retina through the optic nerves to the optical cortex. Here the brain cells quickly processed the image and compared it with your pre-stored catalogue of images and quickly deduced various interpretations. In this instance, for most, these interpretations would be true.

However, in everyday life, what we dont know is how much our perceptions rule our thoughts and actions. What we don't know is how much our perceptions control us even when they are not a true representation of reality.

The Tyranny of perception is what makes us fear a shark attack a lot more than getting into our car - there are a lot more people who have died from the latter than the former; it is what makes us panic buy radiation protection suits when there is a Japanese nuclear meltdown than invest in a healthy lifestyle - exponentially more people die from a heart attack than from radiation.

It is also the same perception that gives us joy when we collectively ooh and aah at a cute picture, share a musical moment and make a beautifully crafted book a best seller.

Do we trust our perception? Do we train, challenge and grow our ability to perceive well? Or do we fall into the trap of the perception gap where increasingly reality is vanishing into the horizon while our muddled perception rules our minds?

Are the horizontal lines straight or crooked? Optical illusions play with our perceptions.
Are the horizontal lines straight or crooked? Optical illusions play with our perceptions.

The reality as we perceive it is as much a product of our perception and may be at odds with the reality of another human being.

Reality vs. Perception

All we know about our reality is based on what we perceive - every sound a series of pressure waves that caress our ear drums; every colour a series of electromagnetic signals that bombard our retina.

As our perception is a construction of our mind, our state of mind alters what we perceive. Our perception as much as our motivation and behaviour are affected by changing states of mind.

Perception influences what we learn and what we know, and it is useful to remember this. Our reality is a product of our perception. It may well be at odds with the reality of another human being.

This may explain why we may choose to ignore facts and statistics and pay more attention to emotional cues. Emotions may play a large part in why dramatic but rare events portrayed in media may alter our behaviour and risk perception more than facts and figures.

The Amygdala
The Amygdala

What we dont know is that, we feel first and think later.

The Amygdala

Whenever we learn something, this doesn't automatically get converted into long term memory immediately. It happens over a longer period of time. There exists a part of our brain, called amygdala, that plays a substantial role in memory consolidation through emotional arousal.

We tend to remember more anything that aroused our emotion rather than a bland learning experience. Even what we learn is influenced by our emotional state.

The Amygdala, according to neuroscientists, controls 'emotional learning' and 'fear modulation'.

Apparently, what we dont know is that, we feel first and think later.

The natural world uses this to its advantage. The elements of camouflage are based on instilling an emotional response and altering perceptions.

The peacock butterfly gives the perception of the eyes of a predator through its natural camouflage
The peacock butterfly gives the perception of the eyes of a predator through its natural camouflage

Passion affects perception. What we sense when we are angry or when we desire is not the same when we observe dispassionately.

Awareness

Being aware that our subjective experience doesn't automatically reflect the objective reality is a valuable skill. It helps us to avoid making hasty judgements.

Passion affects perception. What we see when we are angry or when we desire is not the same when we observe dispassionately. That is why it is easy to see solutions to other people's problems - as a dispassionate observer- than our own.

Being rational retrospectively is easy to do. Being rational 'in the moment' in order not to colour our perceptions is much, much harder.

Are we aware of the ideas we perceive? Are they dispassionate observations or coloured by fear and desire?

Are we constantly falling into the perception gap?

Somewhere is the middle - between passion and dispassion- between emotion and apathy- lies the perfect state of perception.


Closing the Gap

We will always be collecting our subjective experiences and emotional responses. That is the human condition.

Closing the perception gap needs us to receive, reflect and respond to ideas while controlling our emotional responses within reason. All too often we may dismiss or embrace an idea as it evokes powerful passions. However, dispassionate machine like states is not being human at all.

Somewhere is the middle - between passion and dispassion- between emotion and apathy- lies the perfect state of perception.

Our continual journey exploring this territory is what makes us human.


© Mohan Kumar 2013

The illusion of perception
The illusion of perception

Thank you!

Thank you so much for reading this Perspective . Please do leave some comments and feedback below. And do vote as appropriate!

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Appreciate your time and interest, dear reader.

Do come again.

Docmo

© Mohan Kumar 2013

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