Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Truth. Reality. Perception. Facts: Which of these is the most important?

Truth. Reality. Perception. Facts: Which of these is the most important?

These words pop into my mind with irritating frequency. I keep pondering about various events or the versions of the events I hear from others in order to get at what is the ‘truth’.

These days I am realizing that there are several versions of truth or reality or facts.

What about truth? ( I am writing what I can of truth…I know it is easy to Google and write better but I want this to be mine!) Truth is the opposite of false and truth supposedly gives a ‘real’ or ‘true’ picture of any item. Truth can be a fact. But when I recall talks I have had with people, I realize that truth is simply the perception of a person who believes he is being honest or ‘truthful’. When a person lies he is deliberately giving a false account of events  but when he is saying or thinks he is saying the truth, all he is doing is giving his perception of the events….the extent of the truth of his version is dependent on the extent of his objectivity and touch with reality. (‘In touch with reality', is a term used in   psychiatry and clinical psychology;  the person who has touch with reality is not insane or delusional while a mentally ill person has lost touch with reality and believes in delusions i.e. false ideas and  illusions or believing non-existent things) with And the truth is only as true as his perception or grasp of reality is !

Some more facets of truth I discovered over time and experience….
  • Truth has many many facets: The story of the blind men and the elephant may illustrate this point.
  • Truth may or may not be universal. That is, what is true at one place may not be true at another.
  • A statement may be true at a certain period of time. Truth is not permanent.Some laws of physics may be a bit more permanent than others but I would not commit that the laws of physics are a permanent truth!
  • Truth is often(and in my opinion, always) contextual. What is true in one context may not be true in another.
  • What is true in one culture may not be true in another. ( I am talking of a very very broad kind of truth here….. I am not sure if this is the right example I am giving here to illustrate this point but I am giving it anyway…Should women receive education? The west believes that it is true that women should receive education but a orthodox Muslim from Afghanistan may say it is not true;  )
  • Truth is not necessarily right. OR truth (or telling the truth) is not always useful or helpful or good. To illustrate this: my grandmother's story about dacoits chasing a man who hid in an ashram; the dacoits arrived and asked the rishis if they saw a man running; the elderly rishi told them, he did not see anyone come this way; the dacoits went away and then the Rishi's student asked, why he lied to the dacoits when he had taught them to tell teh truth. The rishi then explained  to his moron of a pupil that saving a life trumps telling the truth.

Reality: I am trying to figure out how to describe reality!. And I am also trying to explain the difference between truth and reality. God! It is such a temptation to simply Google, “Difference between reality and truth” instead of sweating my medium sized, under-worked brain!
Ummmm…. Reality could probably be  defined as what truly exists. Unreal could probably mean what does not exist or it could mean illusion or Maya.
What have I learned about reality? I have learned that perception is the greatest influence on one’s experience of reality. Therefore, different people experience the same reality in different ways. The greater the similarity between people, the greater is the similarity of their perception and ergo, their perception of reality.

Let me start with perception. (If you want definitions of these terms, dear reader, please Google! )Every one knows that perception varies from person to person, even of the same situation. Each person’s perception is influenced by the person’s past experiences, personality, current state of mind and so on.

Previously I thought that perception of only emotional events would vary. For example a quarrelling husband and wife would give two entirely different version of the same quarrel they had to the therapist and both parties swear they are telling the truth! Both honestly believe they are telling the truth but the therapist hears two different versions of the same event from both of them!

Now I am beginning to realize that Perception of even the most concrete mundane things can vary ! My perception of how big a car is different from that of someone who owns a fleet of huge cars. My perception of internet speed is different from someone whose computer is faster than mine or slower.

How important is each of these in comparison with each other?  When I was younger (and less experienced) truth and reality trumped everything else.
But after years of counselling (and living!) I am coming to the conclusion about the importance of perception over truth, reality and everything else.
I have found over time and after several experiences in my life and others lives that often, if not always, truth and reality don't matter as much as what one perceives as truth and reality.

So should one search for truth? Is it a waste of time…as all one will find is one’s perception of  truth and it may not be the ‘real’ truth, uncontaminated by one’s perceptions.
Would I accept someone else’s perception as truth because I respect their “objectivity’ or ‘honesty’ or ‘intelligence’ or whatever? No. Because I am again accepting someone’s perception over my own perception as truth.

If truth is contextual, transitory, variable, then is it worth the time to pursue it?

When illusions are more pleasant and comforting, would not illusions be nicer than the truth? When illusions give us hope, give us the strength and drive to pursue our goals, arent  illusions   more beneficial than stark reality which would probably make us stop in our tracks??? Are we not achieving more by pursuing illusions? Truth and reality would probably make us cut down our activities by 90% ! For example, I do not dust my house as the truth is it will become dirty and dusty again!

Hope and Belief are two other concepts I would like to mention in the context of truth, reality and perception. Hope and belief are two very very important human experiences which influence our behaviour. In some people, they may be so strong that truth or reality cannot shake these two!
In many events, they appear to have been more powerful than truth or reality! While reality says something cannot be done because of insurmountable obstacles, a believer may simply go ahead and do it! The story of a mother who rescued her baby from the top of a cliff comes to mind. Another example is the question about the existence of God. The truth or facts about God’s existence does not matter as much as the belief of people in this truth/non-truth. The truth is  irrelevant. What is powerful and relevant is people’s belief in God.

What triggered me to write this piece is that I am constantly perplexed by rediscovering that perception, however warped it is trumps reality or truth!

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