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What is Perception?

Updated on February 28, 2016

The Concept

“We live in a world of beauty, glamour and excitement. A world wherein humans thrive on the happiness and love of others.”

“We live in a world of darkness, sadness and pain. A world that has been corrupted by greed. A world where evil lingers in the shadows and fibers of our every being.”

These are two statements that lie on either end of a scale. They are opposing ideas manifesting in a view of extremism in relation to the type of world in which we live. There are many points of view that lie in between these two extremes. Each individual forms his/her own view of the world. This leads me to the subject matter of my speech. The concept known as perception. So what is perception? The strict definition of the word is, “The way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted.” However we do not base our lives on strict definitions. The word perception has a much greater meaning that philosophers, scientists and academics have been trying to understand for centuries. Essentially, perception is how each individual looks at the world around them. Today, I will be analysing what influences a person’s perception, the consequences that this has on their actions and why I think perception is one of the most important psychological concepts pertaining to humans, society and the world around us.

A concept often misunderstood
A concept often misunderstood | Source

What Influences Perception?

What does influence a person’s perception? The truth is there is no definitive factor that can influence how we as individuals perceive the world. Our perception is an ever changing, dynamic phenomenon. There are several thousand factors that influence our perception. This is not a hyperbole. Every single thing that we encounter from the moment of conception until death influences our perception. When we leave the wombs of our mother and the doctor smacks us on our tooshies (we perceive the doctor as a big bad monster) until we grow up and realise the doctor is the one who helps us when we run into the big bad monster. This is where scientists put forward the theory that perception is influenced by our genetic lineage. This certainly is a contributing factor. Take the example, of an African baby being born during the Apartheid era. His/her genes defined their race and their race contributed to their perception of unworthiness at the time. In this way their genes defined their perception. However this is just one factor. Other factors could be background, lifestyle, financial circumstances, status in society and many others. These factors influence our perception which in turn produces consequences which materialize in a verbal or physical manner.

There is truth and then there is beliefs
There is truth and then there is beliefs

Consequences of Perception

Perception defines who we are, what we do and the actions that we carry out. The consequences of our perception can be marvellous or destructive. Take a look at Hitler. Yes you heard me right. I said HITLER! He waged war on an entire civilization because of how he perceived the world. He was the cause of World War 2, in which over 80 million people died. In his youth he experienced misery at every turn. He grew hatful and angry. Eventually, he genuinely convinced himself that he was superior. This one thought allowed him to justify every one of his actions. He believed that this gave him the right to inflict harm upon others as was done to him. I am just contextualizing the phenomenal nature of perception, wherein a simple thought in the mind can lead to such destruction. Think about the way in which we perceive him. Clearly we look at Hitler as a tyrant, a dictator, and a monster. Now, think about the way in which the Aryans perceived him. They looked at him as a leader, a role model, and a living God. Another example of how perception is unique to each individual.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is a man named Martin Luther King Jr. He conjured up the strength, the bravery and the heart to fight an oppressive regime in the United States of America. He solely led one the greatest revolutions of our time. He freed the black men of their shackles. He gave them their dignity and humanity. Remember, he managed to do this without committing any acts of violence. A true example of a role model. His ideology of peaceful protests was influenced by his religious affiliation to Christianity that preached peace. Another example of how a single thought, and his perception of the world, led to this marvellous piece of history. Now, think about how the white people perceived him at the time. They hated him. They fought him at every turn. They felt he was stealing their land and their food.

We each see the world in our own way
We each see the world in our own way

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, we can see how important the concept of perception really is. A war and a revolution. Both of which were the consequences of men with their own perception of the world. In this way we can see that perception is unique. My perception and your perception of different subjects will be differ in many ways. Hitler and Martin Luther King Jr. were idolized by some and hated by others because of perception. The concept of perception itself is a perception, of how what I perceive it to be, of what you perceive it to be, of what many others have theorized about it. Aldous Huxley, the famous writer and philosopher said, “There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” And remember, all that I have said is just my perception of perception.

What you see is What I cannot see

Your view of Hitler

Was Hitler a hero or a tyrant?

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Your view of Martin Luther King Jr

Was Martin Luther King Jr a savior or a destroyer

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© 2016 Yaseen Essack


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