Reality is Perception

“Life’s what you make it, so let’s make it rock!” – Hannah Montana, 2007.

Our nervous system is what allows us to think, to plan, to make decisions and take action based on our perception of the world. Our brains are able to process massive amounts of data from the universe we inhabit, and the combination of chemical signals and electric potentials allows us to interpret the environment in which we live. Despite the large amount of data we are able to process, we are not directly connected to the universe the way single-celled organisms are, through a simple membrane. Instead, all of our sensory input is organized and processed by specialized areas of our nervous system. There is an absurd amount of information incoming all the time, so a significant portion of our brains are devoted to determining what’s worth processing. We are only consciously aware of the input we attend to. Subsequently, our world view is determined by the input we attend to, which form our observations of the world. The decisions we make are based on our respective interpretations of the world. The images we remember are conjured by our brain, not accurate reproductions of the universe. Since unattended sensory input is not remembered, it cannot factor into our perception of the world, and it therefore cannot have any impact on our decision-making process. Awareness is key because it determines our outlook which determines the actions we take which impact our environment are based on the decisions we make.

The only objective truth we can know is that all we know is what we experience. Everything we know about the world is from induction – we assume it’s true because our experience is all we have. We make assumptions and, if our experience never contradicts these assumptions, we accept these assumptions on lack of counterevidence. This is possible because all the information our consciousness is exposed to is interpreted by our brain.

Information comes in through our five sensory organs: touch, smell, taste, hearing, and seeing. Each is experienced in the sensory cells, then the information is transmitted to nerve cells in the brain. All of the sensory imagery except smell is then processed in the thalamus, a specialized part of the brain. In the cortex of the brain, there are many different areas that process and organize sensory imagery, especially visual and auditory imagery. Our brains alter the incoming information, organizing it to form a worldview. Our belief systems compose our worldview – we see what we think we are going to see. This is why outlook is critical. We process information based on what we attend to.
There are many interesting related psychological phenomena – inattentional blindness is a process whereby people don’t notice something, often something obvious, in their environment because they are busy attending to something else (demonstrated in this video).

Life, which is composed of your personal experience, really is what you make it to be. This is the single most important lesson I’ve learned over the past year, over and over again. I still forget sometimes, but my life is always better when I’m able to remember that I have the power to create the world I inhabit.

Expectations vs. Reality

Something I think a lot about is whether or not expectations are a good thing. Some people say they forgo them altogether, but that doesn’t resonate with me. It’s true that by having no expectations you will never be disappointed, but how can you create anything new if you only accept the world as it is? I think that there are definitely situations in which having expectations are favorable, and this is me rationalizing that process.

Emotional suffering is created by the disparity between your expectation of what the world will be, your “ideal reality” and actual reality, the world as it really is. To alleviate suffering, the two have to be reconciled. There are two ways to do this:

  1. Change your current situation to resemble your ideal reality
  2. Change your ideal reality to suit your current situation

If you can change the world to suit your ideal reality, do it!! We have an incredible ability to change our environment to suit us, and the people who believe this and take advantage of it are way more successful than those that don’t. If you can change the world in a positive way as a result of your expectations, create something new that is different and better than the world used to be, that’s incredible. However, I think this is the only instance in which it’s good to have expectations – if they are realistic enough that you can actually change the world to mirror them.

If it’s not possible to change the world to fit your expectations and you’re suffering as a result, this will make you unhappy and upset. Unhealthy attachment to unrealistic expectations can definitely have negative repercussions. If your expectations are negatively affecting your life, you should let them go by pursuing the second option: changing your ideal reality to suit the real world by accepting what is. Eckhart Tolle is a spiritual teacher whose principle philosophy is to be in tune with the present moment. In many situations, this is a really good thing. It increases your awareness of your environment and greatly reduces the possibility of experiencing emotional suffering. When you are immersed in the moment, in the real world, there is no issue, no conflict, no reason for the disparity. However, there’s no motivation for you to change the world either.

I believe that the only instances in which you can’t change your current situation are those that involve other people, because you can control a lot of things, but other people’s actions are not one of them. This is why relationships are really good at teaching people to have faith and let go: it’s the only option left to alleviate suffering.

inspirations for this post:

– Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

– a failed relationship or two