Seeing is Misleading

You make your world.

By John Haslam (based on a machine described by James Tilly Matthews) — “Illustrations of Madness” by John Haslam, 1810, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3479627

(Expanded from an article in the Nederland, Colorado newspaper, The Mountain Ear)

The world is not what is seen, it is what is perceived. We each look at the world and we understand it differently. It is likely that we see the same objects in the world; but, our worlds are not the same. You may see a man talking to a woman and you think, “How sweet, two people getting to know each other.” Another will look at the same scene and think, “A black man seducing a white woman.” Notice, please, that the objects of the world are the same but the relationships (the associations between the objects) are fundamentally different. Why does this happen?

The philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, once wrote, “The world is the totality of facts, not of things.” I‘m not an expert on Wittgenstein, but I think that is consistent with my claim. We look at the things and yet, those things do not really enter our brains as pure images. The visual image is filtered and everything is assigned a value. At the very least, the filter responds with “good” or “bad”. You liked it or you didn’t. That filtered image is your perception, the soil from which your personal fact was harvested.

If that soil has been nurtured with reason and compassion, the fact of the above encounter is innocent and hopeful. If fertilized with anger and prejudice, the encounter is corrupt and vile. The point is that we all may see the same things but we perceive them differently. The objects are the same, the relationships different; but, it is the relationships that are crucial to understanding the world.

I always like to ground my understanding of words with the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

Reality n
I. The quality or state of being real.
1. Real existence; what is real rather than imagined or desired; the aggregate of real things or existences; that which underlies and is the truth of appearances or phenomena.

… and it doesn’t help at all. So what is real? Let’s look into the root word, real.

Real adj
I. That actually exists, or relates to this.
1. a. Having an objective existence; actually existing physically as a thing, substantial; not imaginary.

OK, so it’s only talking about the things. It implies that there may be only one actual collection of things that exist outside of our imagination; but, it doesn’t express what our imagination does with those things in order to form our world. So, these definitions are culturally barren. They don’t tell us anything about how people experience that reality.

For instance, most Progressives will tell us that the Federal child tax credit will help people to survive by compensating for the disproportionate effects of the Covid-driven economic downturn on the poor and middle class. Senator Joe Manchin perceives differently. He is recounted by colleagues to have said that “parents would use child-tax-credit money to buy drugs and workers would abuse the paid-family-leave program in the legislation to get out of work and go on hunting trips.” Here, there is no real statement about the reality of the case but a prediction based upon a tainted and hopeless perception of the world. His understanding of the government stabilizing an economic collapse is all in terms of his own warped perception of a world of lazy takers, a perception contradicted by most research on the subject.

The facts of studied research are not the facts of Joe Manchin and yet his perceptions drive the results of his unbridled power and that power does damage. His world becomes your world when he blocks essential legislation.

From the Small to the Large

Anyone who has listened to the freely broadcast Nederland, Colorado Board of Trustees (BOT) meetings understands that many citizens attend those meetings and directly participate in their governance. They identify problems as well as constructive solutions. These citizens are inspiring and their statements often result in action by the BOT. Others speak regularly in order to inform the BOT that it is failed and wretched. They remind this town’s government that it is ineffective and incapable of serving the people.

This phenomenon is repeated across the country. Those whose world is hopeful and constructive, help their communities to construct. Those who abide in a world of waste and loss try to bring their neighbors into their desolation. How we perceive the world drives how we affect the world; and, the world over which we have the most control is the world of our immediate surroundings: our neighborhood, our town, our city. The world of the nation looks pretty inaccessible. We do not steer the massive ship of state, but every improvement we make in our community will contribute to the ultimate course of our nation. For that reason, we should build our world from the small to the large.

Each of the citizens in our communities see the same things: the same people, the same buildings, the same streets, the same traffic. The things are the same but the relationships (the perception) are different. Those who work constructively with government recognize that we are all imperfect, but that we strive to be at least competent. What more can be expected of any human institution? Our relationships, when honest and hopeful, will eventually yield value and progress. When relationships are seen as corrupt and false, nothing in the world can be trusted and nothing constructive can be done. Our perceptions are our world; and, to some degree, we can adjust those perceptions. We are able to choose whether we perceive a web of lies or a community of people trying to make the world better.

A community of people: flawed yet striving, imperfect yet mostly competent, working together to form a world which may be honestly perceived as good and worthy of hope. We individually cannot make the whole world right; but, we can make this little part of the world right. We can agonize loudly from the periphery that everything is corrupt and that people are not fit to govern themselves. We can strengthen everyone’s perception of a world without hope; or, we can perceive the world as basically good. We can step into this community as a productive participant. We can join in public meetings; we can volunteer for advisory boards; we can run for public office. We can play a constructive part in improving the world, community-by-community.

Julian S. Taylor is the author of Famine in the Bullpen a book about bringing innovation back to software engineering.
Available at or orderable from your local bookstore.
Rediscover real browsing at your local bookstore.
Also available in ebook and audio formats at Sockwood Press.

This work represents the opinion of the author only.

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Software engineer & author. Former Senior Staff Engineer w/ Sun Microsystems. Latest book: Famine in the Bullpen. See & hear at https://sockwood.com

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Julian S. Taylor

Julian S. Taylor

Software engineer & author. Former Senior Staff Engineer w/ Sun Microsystems. Latest book: Famine in the Bullpen. See & hear at https://sockwood.com

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