I have often heard it said that perception is reality. In fact, I have used that expression myself, and in many ways this phrase is true. From the time of our birth, and perhaps while still in the uterus, we begin to form a mental model of what the world is like. Our sensory organs are continuously feeding information into our brains about the world around us, and as we process that information we evaluate, make judgments, plan responses, and filter additional input based on our perceptions. To us, this is reality whether we are completely rational or are a paranoid schizophrenic.
What kind of world do we live in? Is it safe or hostile? Are the inhabitants friendly or cruel? Can I rely on others to cooperate with me, or do I have to continually struggle with them in order to achieve my desires? My perceptions regarding these issues and thousands of others will influence how I interact with the world around me. Furthermore, my behavior will impact those that I encounter, and their reactions will often serve to either confirm or discredit my preconceived ideas. So, are my perceptions about reality accurate, or is reality being influenced by my perceptions?
What if my perceptions are merely based on a narrow segment of information? Can I truly trust my perspective? And, if I don’t know something, how will I know that I don’t know it or how much information I am lacking? If we really carry this line of thinking to its ultimate conclusion, we won’t be able to do anything because we won’t be able to trust the validity of our perceptions. So, we content ourselves with knowing what we can and proceeding through life based on that awareness. However, this is the very reason why we need to be open to new discoveries and revelations.
Early man was quite convinced that the earth was the center of creation. Ancient religions were based on this geocentric perspective, and even early scientific theories reflected this errant belief. Beginning in the 5th century BC, Greeks developed elaborate mathematical models to describe how the sun, moon, planets, and stars orbited around the earth. It took men like Galileo and Copernicus to recognize that the earth was merely part of a vast universe. (see History of Astronomy)
Our existence is filled with amazing events that we do not perceive. Our understanding of reality is still primarily earth-bound and the way in which it appears to our senses, but this does not make our perception real. In fact, material reality is much different than what we think it is. One example of this constantly stretches my comprehension. It is the speed at which we are traveling through the universe. Our general perception is that the earth is merely lumbering along through space; however, the table below is an attempt to show what is really going on.
Time required to travel
from N ew
to Los Angles York City
Object Speed approximately 2,500 miles
Automobile 100 mph 25 hours
Jetliner 500 mph 5 hours
Sound 660 mph 3.8 hours
Earth rotation at the
equator 1070 mph 2.3 hours
.50 cal. Sniper rifle .5 mps 1.4 hours
Kinetic energy penetrating
round from M1A1 tank 1.1 mps 38 minutes
Earth rotation around the sun 19 mps 2.2 minutes
Solar system rotation within
The Milky Way 175 mps 14.3 seconds
Milky Way traveling through
the universe 300 mps 8.3 seconds
mph= miles per hour mps= miles per second
The next time you find yourself staring up into the night sky, try wrapping your brain around the fact that we are speeding through the universe 300 times faster than a shell fired from a tank. Even though I have known the reality of this for years, I still cannot fully grasp it.
Another area which reveals a gap between our perception and reality is the illusion of
matter. Everything around us appears to be solid; however, this is not the case at all. In fact, approximately 99% of matter is empty space. The illusion of solidity is the result of electromagnetic bonds among the subatomic particles comprising atoms, between atoms, and within molecules. The gaps make it possible for trillions of neutrinos and tachyons to pass through the earth and everything on it every second without causing any significant damage.
I am so glad that reality is not dependent upon my ability to perceive it. Because the composition of the cosmos simply leaves my comprehension in the dust. However, what I am able to understand about the material world reinforces my conviction that there is much more going on in this universe than what appears in the phenomenal realm. In light of these clear discrepancies between our perceptions and reality, in our search for truth, it is imperative that we remain open to rethinking traditional concepts of reality, God, humanity, even our existence.
Misconceptions remain misconceptions even if they are held by the majority.