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Reality Is What You Make It or The Gorilla in the Room

Updated on April 11, 2016



The tree and the elephant

What's a tree?

How do you see it?

Is it the same tree when it is in bloom on a sunny spring morning as when it appears in silhouette against a stormy sky in the depths of winter?

A tree consists of many things: of leaves, of shoots, of twigs, of bark, of buds, blossoms and branches. There are unseen parts too, a network of roots reaching deep into the earth and whole worlds of fungal growth which nuzzle through its fibres.

There's not one tree, but many. Each tree is different depending on your mood, on the day, on which part you focus, on how you view it and from what angle. Which tree is the "real" tree? Is the tree you can't see any less real than the tree you can?

If our perception of such a simple thing as a tree can change so dramatically, then our view of reality itself must shift and change at least as much.

There's the famous story about the blind men and the elephant, as told in a number of different cultures.

It goes something like this:

Several blind men are led into a room and asked to touch an elephant and then describe it. One man touches the leg and says it is like a pillar. Another man touches the tail and says it is like a rope. The next man touches the ear and says it is like a fan. The fifth man touches the shoulder and says it is like a wall, while the last man touches the tusk and says it is like a pipe.

You could tell a similar story about a tree.

It's a parable about the way we understand the world. We are all constrained by our individual perceptions.

What is "real" reality?

Robert Anton Wilson:

"My own opinion is that belief is the death of intelligence. As soon as one believes a doctrine of any sort, or assumes certitude, one stops thinking about that aspect of existence. The more certitude one assumes, the less there is left to think about, and a person sure of everything would never have any need to think about anything and might be considered clinically dead under current medical standards, where absence of brain activity is taken to mean that life has ended...."

Inattentional blindness

You might say that these men were limited by their disability, and that is why they couldn't take in the whole elephant, but there's a famous experiment by Dan Simons and Christopher Chabris, first carried out in 1999, which demonstrates that we are all capable of not seeing.

The experiment involves a video of two teams passing basket balls back and forth. One team is dressed in black, the other team is dressed in white. The video lasts about a minute, and the viewer is asked to count how many times the white team passes the ball.

The teams are darting about, dodging in and out, circling and weaving, passing the balls between themselves. It's hard to keep a track on the action, but you count the passes and confirm the result, which is then displayed on the screen at the end.

After this you are asked to watch the film again, only this time you are told not to count the passes.

It is only on the second viewing that you realise that in the midst of the action a man in a gorilla suit had walked determinedly across the basket ball court, stood still for a few seconds, beat his chest vigorously, and then walked off again.

You were too busy counting the passes to notice the gorilla in the room.

I've seen this film myself, and it is startling. The first time you watch there's no one there. The next time you watch, there he is, a man dressed up like a gorilla, too obvious to miss. The process is called "inattentional blindness".

What this shows is that sometimes we see only what we are told to see. It is this mechanism that magicians use for their sleight of hand tricks. They divert our attention from the important action by focussing our brains on irrelevant details.

The War on Terror

So it is with the news these days and with the war on terror. It's not a real war since there is no discernable enemy as such. There's no army. No generals. No troops. No chain of command. No political leadership. No spokesmen. No one to negotiate terms with.

It's a catch-all phrase by which a diverse set of people with varying outlooks from different parts of the world can be lumped together to give the impression that they are all part of the same conspiracy, united in their common hatred of our values.

It is by this process that an Afghan tribesman, an Iraqi insurgent, a Pakistani militant, a Lebanese patriot and a dentist from Forest Gate can be made to appear as all part of the same movement.

The only thing they have in common is that they are all Muslims.

The irony is, of course, that by declaring this a war, and by acting upon it in ways that rip real people's lives apart - by torture and imprisonment and the indiscriminate use of force - we have made it come true. We have created the conditions in which terrorism can thrive.

And meanwhile, behind this smoke-and-mirrors facade, this noisy game of death and distraction, some people are doing very nicely thank you.

One man's loss is another man's gain. One man's crisis is another man's business-opportunity. The gorilla in the room is checking his share options. He made ten million dollars while you were reading this.


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    • CBartelmey profile image

      CBartelmey 5 years ago from Colorado, United States

      Interesting. I was intrigued by the first half of this but was also then a bit surprised by the conclusion focusing on terrorism? But nevertheless, I do think that “inattentional blindness” can paralyze a lot of individuals without their really even knowing it. Too often people only see what they want to see, or only see what they have always believed to be there without really even looking. We can condition ourselves to see what we want to see, we can see what we are told to see or we can simply try to perceive things as they are. Tricky proposition though as some seem to deviate more toward habit and the world is then forever seen only through the goggles by which they have created to view it. They construe more and more beliefs about how the world works and take no time to actually remove those goggles, clean them off and take a look at the world with a fresh set of eyes.

    • CJStone profile image

      CJStone 5 years ago from Whitstable, UK

      John, but there's no trickery here, unlike the war on terror. There are no fake facts or distortions. You are free to disagree with my conclusions.

      I agree with your last statement but would extend it somewhat. I would say that our own governments could by definition be called terrorist, and that some of the people we are killing could easily be our friends.

    • John B Badd profile image

      John B Badd 5 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      More of a mentalist CJ. You led us in with undeniable facts for the first 3/4 of the article then you associate those facts with your view of the war on terrorist, thus making those views also appear as facts. Of course you are using logic instead of fear to lead us to the conclusion you want, but we are still being led.

      I think terrorist need to be fought but I also think we are doing it the wrong way. Some of the governments we support could by definition be considered terrorist and some of the people we are killing do not necessarily need to be our enemies.

    • CJStone profile image

      CJStone 5 years ago from Whitstable, UK

      Thanks John. I agree about the two party system (the 3 party system here in the UK). Not sure what you mean when you say that my techniques in delivering my conclusions are not so different than the ones you I am writing about. Are you saying I'm some kind of a magician?

    • John B Badd profile image

      John B Badd 5 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      Excellent article. I like the way you used psychological facts in the first 3/4 of your hub to hook the reader and validate your claims so they would follow the opinions at the end as truth.

      Well done ;)

      I am not disagreeing with your conclusions, just pointing out that your techniques in delivering them are not so different than the ones you are writing about.

      I personally believe that the whole 2 party system is a smoke and mirror act, profit the goal, and that we will be slaves to the system until we take it back.

    • CJStone profile image

      CJStone 5 years ago from Whitstable, UK

      Thanks Mr Happy. Always happy to oblige.

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      "One man's crisis is another man's business-opportunity. The gorilla in the room is checking his share options. He made ten million dollars while you were reading this." - Haha!! Yup and another ten million by the time I am done writing this comment.

      Thank You for letting me know about this piece of writing Mr. CJ. I'll be sharing it with others. Cheers!

    • profile image

      DC Gallin 5 years ago

      Thanks! great hub:)

    • CJStone profile image

      CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK

      Joyus Crynoid: psychedelic shifts in perception remain a useful tool for understanding the reality that is out there. The JOY of RAW is that he remains joyous and playful with it.

    • Joyus Crynoid profile image

      Joyus Crynoid 7 years ago from Eden

      I really dig this hub CJ. If only more folks read (and 'got') Robert Anton Wilson! I read "The Cosmic Trigger" almost 30 years ago (a time in my life when I was still experimenting with psychodelic shifts in perception), and it changed the way I view everything. I came to see how important it is to embrace uncertainty....

    • CJStone profile image

      CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK

      Nice to read your views Lily-Wren: it is indeed "False Consciousness" that I'm describing, also known as "ideology". Marx has a lot to say on the subject.

    • Lily-Wren profile image

      Lily-Wren 7 years ago from Manchester, UK

      I have just found Hubpages now so my comment a couple of years since it was posted may seem a little late! I loved your Hub CJ!

      Reality and the construction of our own realities is something I find facinating and your Hub certainly brought that back for me.

      One of the most worrying things for me is how good the media are at constructing an alternate reality and how so many take this at face value readily and do not question.

      Whenever I read or see any significant article, news story or piece of research I generally have to ask 'Where is this author coming from, politically, socially?' 'What are their experiences?' and most importantly, 'Who is funding this?' All of these, I feel, have a bearing on the outcome and the message being sent.

      But then I start to question myself and how my beliefs, experiences and values effect the way in which I receive information! Once that starts I lead myself onto a merry dance and run the risk of becoming paranoid and confused (probably my usual state though!).

      I remember doing an assignment once about 'False consciousness' an got into a bit of a paranoid mess! Whilst writing about the subject, I was droning on about how we are led blindingly into false consciousness and then started to question 'but how do we know false consciousness is not false consciousness itself...' ad infintim.

      The question of reality can certainly get me into a bit of a tizzy I can tell yer...

      Gosh, sorry I do go on and off track a bit...

    • Trips profile image

      Trips 8 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      Wow; I read your hub, CJ, with great interest, and then proceeded to read through 90% of your comments--and pretty much now feel like I deserve an honorary philosophy degree! Fabulous nutrition (certainly not junk or fillers) for thought. The only problem is, I am going to need my full Ambien dosage tonight, and/or a club to the head, because that's what it will take to turn my churning mind off to the infinite possibilities of reality (all that checking and rechecking). Thanks for the brain booster (and for not charging extra to have it added to my drink!)

    • profile image

      how to increase vertical 9 years ago

      Great Hub! Thanks for the excellent ideas in a good form.. I found lot of stuffs here..

    • profile image

      thequestfortruth 9 years ago

      good stuff, the gorilla thing is freaky saw it before, the important difference is reality is out there and is true, but it is our perceptions which are prone to error, but maybe you know i think this from looking at my book! and my god looking deep into the human psyche finds a bewildering array of errors, it scares me often. It would be great to see you write a lot more stuff like this, important stuff about big issues to help make a very largely insane world a little bit saner

      Alex Caldon

    • Earth Angel profile image

      Earth Angel 9 years ago

      Blessings to you CJStone!!

      I love the way you think!! Thank you soooooooooooooo much for not caving in to societal conditioning!!

      Blessings always, Earth Angel!

      Do you have the "basketball video??"

    • rarestone1 profile image

      rarestone1 9 years ago

      Of course what we 'see' affects our experiences and vice versa. Those who choose to see peace even in the midst of war will experience peace. It's all subjective, hence we have the choice of choosing what we see. What would you like to see?

    • Sterling Sage profile image

      Sterling Sage 9 years ago from California

      CJ,This is such an important concept!  I'm really glad you have made a hub about it.I think that, if most people knew when and how to disengage from their "normal" perspective, the world would be a much happier place.  People could then more easily understand each other's points of view.  Even for that reason alone, I think everyone should be taught that there are different ways of looking at the world.

      When it comes to the exploitation of common misperceptions, our society is disturbingly ready to blindly follow hidden directions.  I think a good portion of the advertising business depends on manipulating customers to act against their own best interest.

      The same goes for politics, of course.  If anyone wants to see an example, take a look at this letter I received back from Governor Schwarzenegger:

      If we don't get our heads out of the sand, we'll soon be covered by it.

    • Sterling Sage profile image

      Sterling Sage 9 years ago from California

    • CJStone profile image

      CJStone 9 years ago from Whitstable, UK

      Gail, I agree. Let's change reality now!

    • profile image

      Gail Jewel 9 years ago

      If everyone accepts that we can alter our reality and so our world. Lets do it ! Say bye bye to opppressive goverments and world poverty- forever! Because as C Walker say's we are all living in this BIG bang and only have seconds to effect a change.

    • trish1048 profile image

      trish1048 9 years ago

      Very much so. Actually a bit scary how the mind can be tricked.

    • CJStone profile image

      CJStone 9 years ago from Whitstable, UK

      Yes it's spooky isn't it?

    • trish1048 profile image

      trish1048 9 years ago

      Hi CJ,

      Great hub!  I saw that video where you were told to count the passes.  It totally blew me away!  I did NOT see the gorilla the first time.  Simply amazing to me.


    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      I smiled at the elephant story. I remembered that one vividly. Our perspective does make up our reality. Now I need to go and ponder about this one. Thanks. :)

    • Research Analyst profile image

      Research Analyst 9 years ago

      I enjoyed reading this hub, and I like the way you have presented the material, my opinion on the subject is that reality in our society is just propaganda, it is set in unreality, through movies, media, radio, books, tv, video games, virtual reality (no pun intended) its just not real, celebrities, news, sitcoms, its all a role or performance being acted out before us. Growing up with disfunctional perception of reality is why we have serial killers, drug addicts and depression. So that is why having values and belief systems are so important.

    • profile image

      Custodian Joe 9 years ago

      I am new to writing, about three years now, and yes it is a lot of fun. As you pointed out, things do become real when you write them down. Enjoyed your work, thank you.

    • CJStone profile image

      CJStone 9 years ago from Whitstable, UK

      I agree about the trees.

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      pgrundy 9 years ago

      Coldwarbaby, I think you are on to something with that tree thing.

    • betherickson profile image

      betherickson 9 years ago from Minnesota

      An enlightening hub. great work. whats concieved in the mind if it hurts others should be kept there and those that benifit should be nurtured as to hate. everybody should learn that despite of religion and status.

    • starcatchinfo profile image

      starcatchinfo 9 years ago


    • profile image

      ColdWarBaby 9 years ago

      Very nice work CJ. Personally I think trees are the most advanced life form on the planet.

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      Jeanette M 9 years ago

      I've come to the conclusion, that subjective, personal reality is where a series of coordinates intersect on a universal grid. For example, time, space, mass, composition and physical local are all separate coordinates.  We are also subject to the laws of our physical dimensions as they exist along the continuum of our life spans. That is not to say that time is strictly linear, but our experience of it may be because of our cycle of birth to death.

      We are also finite creatures in terms of our size. We are a small creature on great expanse; naturally our view is limited because of that. We see that which is in front of us and things that are in our personal past. We are also capable, of integrating the collective knowledge of the human race through reading, observing and conversations such as this one. And thereby we can share other perspectives vicariously. Those too become part of our reality. 

      We are all connected by many of the same coordinates. Hub pages are an example. While we aren’t all here at the same time, many will pass through here and in the process share in our reality, albeit briefly. We share a common space coordinate, and in terms of perspective a shared time frame give or take a few minutes, hours or months.

      Other less concrete factors are also coordinates, but these are perhaps too abstract for reason. The existence of the spirit is one. If in fact a spirit exists, what is its composition and what qualities does it possess that modifies that perspective of reality? Does the spirit lead us beyond our physicality in dreams, and visions? Further, how does that essence interact with the spirits of those around us and beyond? Are there spiritual intersections along with the physical and intellectual ones as well? Are those hypothetical intersects, where we are all connected part and parcel to a still a larger presence, that of a creative force; perhaps even the creator.


      We have control over our reality by altering our views. We shift, and a ripple vibrates the fabric of the universe. 

      Ok, I'll stop now : )

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 9 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      I'm not feeling like the brightest bulb in the box at the moment...Your Honeymooners picture up there really got me. I took a mental note of Ralph and Alice (... OK, Ralph and Alice ...) and then moved right on into the body of your article. I'm not sure when it was that I realized the neat doctoring, including the ape. Nice job! (I can't be the only one who missed it the first time, can I be?)

    • marisuewrites profile image

      marisuewrites 9 years ago from USA

      I had a professor in college that I've never forgotten because I have to maintain at least a sense of reality and he was always taking that away with questions:  "Is this real, or do I just think it's real, and if so, does that make it real?"

      God!!   there was no answer for that in my

      Are we just going to wake up one day, and find out we were all just dreaming?

      In Robin William's movie "What Dreams May Come" that was also explored...

    • CJStone profile image

      CJStone 9 years ago from Whitstable, UK

      Hi Marisue: William Blake said, "All of life is but a fiction, and is made of contradiction." What I've discovered is that whenever you write something down it turns into a kind of fiction. It acquires a mythological quality, simply from the fact that you selected this aspect as opposed to that aspect. But sometimes there is more truth in fiction than in non-fiction, and I refuse to define my work so rigidly. Thanks for being my fan.

      Hi sixtyorso, I like the Matrix too, and see it is a kind of metaphor of our relationship with reality. Robert Anton Wilson talks about the difference between dogs and humans. Dogs are colour blind. So you ask, "where is the greenness of the grass?" and the answer is, it is in the human nervous system. Do we "invent" reality, or is it a kind of dance of energy, us and the cosmic divine out there? Oops, I'm slipping off into one of those stoned conversations again! Pass the tranquilisers.

      Constant Walker: you're right about the explosion of reality. The more I think about it and look around at our world, the more extraordinary I think it all is, the more I think it is such a privilege to be here.

      JamaGenee, you're right, this is a bit like one of those stoned conversations we used to have late into the night isn't it? You know, "hey, like, what is reality man?" But the stuff about the Gorilla experiment is true, and worthy of consideration, and I've been thinking of the propaganda system as like a slight-of-hand trick for some time. It's how they cast their illusions over us.

      Paraglider, you're right about the need for certain beliefs. The trouble is when the belief system gets so rigid it gets in the way of the truth. We need to re-evaluate our relationship with the world. Is it a world of fixed objects, or a world of dynamic processes, a world of iron certainty, or a world of change? I think we are in the midst of big changes right now. We need to learn how to adapt.

    • sixtyorso profile image

      Clive Fagan 9 years ago from South Africa

      Reality or not is one of the great philosophical arguments of our time. The question is do we each live in our own reality "inventing" everything around us? In other words do we each inhabit our own universes  which are peopled by characters and events of our own making? On another note perception is greater than reality and unfortunately only perceptions matter whether they are true or false. This is what drives almost all of us. the movie "the Matrix" illustrates the pint quite well. The phrase "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" illustrates this very well. Show me your reality and I'll show you mine!

      Great fascinating hub!

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 9 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Hi CJ -

      At a subconscious level, we need certain 'beliefs' to survive, but mainly I'm talking about perception sets that let us recognise objects from incomplete sense data. Without this ability, we'd only have noise, colour, movement etc. But the trick is to know it's happening and to be able to unhappen it as an act of will. This is what the haiku masters did. All successful poets and writers have to learn to fear the phrase and love the word, for the phrase is a pre-thought thought - someone else's. Thanks for this one.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 9 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Wow! NICE hub! Did this one come to you recently, or is it perhaps left over from your "What is Life?" days? =)

      Since giving up pot...only because I haven't a clue where to get it now...I keep the brain cells limber by pondering whether "real life" really is real, and what we experience during REM sleep really is dreaming. Or are "dreams" the Real Deal and what we experience while "awake" only dreaming with our eyes open? (I know...pass the wine.) =)

    • Constant Walker profile image

      Constant Walker 9 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

      Great hub, CJ.  The slight of hand of our government has fooled us all for a very long time, hasn't it?

      Then, completely off the subject: The explosion of reality.  The Big Bang occured and out poured our reality.  We literally live within the occurance of an explosion.  It completely scrambles my brain to dwell too long on that fact. 

      An explosion.  At the age we are now, each of us, how long did it take us to get here?  Just a flash?

      Could it be, our millennia of endless Time, billions and trillions of years, could be just a milisecond explosion, in a much bigger "reality"?

    • marisuewrites profile image

      marisuewrites 9 years ago from USA

      I don't know pgrundy, I think you do a great job with reality and truth is stranger than fiction...tho' I love fiction and am a constant reader. 

      Cj, You have opened up the eyes of all of us who tie ourselves to "apparent" reality and I feel challenged to look below more frequently.

      The government's wag the dog approach to getting our attention is not to be trusted.  As you pointed out, reality is based on our experience, and is changing with each new experience.  What we know today, changes tomorrow, and an intelligence demands we understand that and accept how we influence reality.

      I am energized to do so...and not let these power pullers make me look away.  We can take our government back, but we first need to realize we've lost a great portion of it.

      =)  another outstanding piece, cj!  I remain your fan!  

    • CJStone profile image

      CJStone 9 years ago from Whitstable, UK

      $42! How much does that work out an hour? But, like they say, you can't put a value on love. Good luck with the fiction.

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      pgrundy 9 years ago

      What a sweet thing to say CJ! I taught college part-time for two years and hated it. I'm more of a perennial student than a teacher. There's a saying about academics, "The reason professional academics is so vicious is because the stakes are so low."

      I think I'm going to work on fiction for awhile. I haven't been winning bids on freelance projects lately--no doubt the thousands of financial industry lay-offs each week are ramping up the competition for that kind of work. Unless I fall into a puddle of money I'll be around forever here atHubpages--I'm up to $42 on Google Adsense! Whoo hoo! Thanks for another great hub, I love your stuff.

    • CJStone profile image

      CJStone 9 years ago from Whitstable, UK

      Hello Pam, well I wouldn't like it if you became a hermit and you dropped out of civilisation cos then I wouldn't get to read your hubs any more. I think you'd make a great professor, and it's the sign of the terminal corruption of our civilisation that you're not teaching in some University somewhere giving the kids the benfit of your intelligence. That's my view anyway.

    • profile image

      pgrundy 9 years ago

      This is so good. I think about it every time our electricity goes out and we are without internet, TV, or other conveniences for several days. I always find that I like the world better during those times, I feel more hopeful. The days actually feel much longer but in a good way. I have so much time and peace and get so much done. I wonder sometimes who I would be without 'civilization'--I think I would be happier and a better person too.

      The media has become a Jedi mind trick on a grand scale, and we all are mesmerized, but I think not in a good way. It's all lies and "look over there" so we don't look where we ought to be looking. I could easily become a hermit, I would not miss any of it.

      The US government right now is evil, plain and simple. I used to excuse Bush on grounds of stupidity, but now I see that it is possible to be both stupid and evil at the same time. The whole lot of them should be executed for treason, and I am not exaggerating for effect either. At this point impeachment is way too good for them.

    • CJStone profile image

      CJStone 9 years ago from Whitstable, UK

      Jeanette, Robert Anton Wilson talks about "reality tunnels", the habitual way we are inclined to view the world. He also thinks that it is possible to reprogramme the human nervous system to absorb new realities. Reality is not a noun, it is a verb. Not an object, a process.

    • profile image

      Jeanette M 9 years ago

      PS. There are those that manipulate our natural proclivity to catagorize, and they are indeed evil in doing so.

    • profile image

      Jeanette M 9 years ago

      Cj, your assessment is so true. This is based to a large part on the anatomy and function of our brains as well. We form associations naturally. We band together with those we see as most like ourselves, and organize all others according to categories that best meet our limited experiences. For some, the only experience they have of other cultures or people is based on the opinions and feedback they get from our peers. Every individual we see is filed neatly under the proper stereotype. It isn't evil, per se, its biology. We are habituated. Our brains naturally file away information according to the path of least resistence.

      On the positive side, we are quite capable of establishing new patterns. Your hub is insightful and intelligent. It also challenges the reader to see beyond what is expected of them. Great job


    • CJStone profile image

      CJStone 9 years ago from Whitstable, UK

      And hooray for Hui-neng, the sixth Patriarch, too.

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      Ananta65 9 years ago

      Two monks were arguing about the temple flag waving in the wind. One said, "The flag moves." The other said, "The wind moves." They argued back and forth but could not agree. Hui-neng, the sixth Patriarch, said: "Gentlemen! It is not the flag that moves. It is not the wind that moves. It is your mind that moves." The two monks were struck with awe. (Zen Koan)

      Great hub! 

    • CJStone profile image

      CJStone 9 years ago from Whitstable, UK

      Yes, Steve, hooray for Robert Anton Wilson, God rest his soul.

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      Steve Andrews 9 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Another excellent hub, Chris, and I just enjoyed the RAW video!