Vignette 1– While at church this past Easter Sunday, the Reverend gave the age old sermon of Jesus’ resurrection. In his sermon the Rev compared the resurrection to the sinking of Titanic. He posed a question to the congregation: although the last survivor of the Titanic, Millvina Dean, died in 2009, do we now doubt the legitimacy of the story of the ship? Of course not, for it is recorded in history for all time. He then asked why would we have any reason to believe the gospels written by the last witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, Peter & John, to be any less true?
It was at that exact moment, as the Rev was still preaching about the miracle of Jesus, that I, seated in the first pew, turn around to my grandmother seated behind me and, in a tone probably louder than it should have been, ask, “is there a literal translation of the Bible? You know, from the original Greek/Hebrew version? Because, well, there was a lot of political stuff going on when they translated the Bible and a lot of stuff was changed to suit the needs of the leaders of that time.”
My grandmother instantaneously shot me a look of shock and disgust.
Vignette 2: Julius Caesar was so loved by his people, that he became slated to be the king of Rome. In early 44 BC he was preparing to lead a military campaign against the Parthians, and planned to leave March 18th.
Before his departure he was to attend the last meeting of the Senate. En route he encountered a man with a letter warning him of his murder. Caesar refused the note. He was then approached by an old man who whispered in his ear, “It is the Ides of March”. Caesar took no heed and proceeded to the Capital.
On March 15, 44 BC, as he was stabbed no less than 23 times, Julius Caesar met his death.
Vignette 3: A cohort of mine, Jen, has recently become involved in a long-distance romantic tryst with a man who lives overseas. Although Jen is aware that this gentleman is 4 months out of a 20-year relationship, and has a new girlfriend as well, she maintains this affair nonetheless.
In addition, Jen is well aware that on many nights this gentleman is probably with said girlfriend, especially on the nights they do not speak to each other; and yet she has requested not to hear anything of it from him, and finds peace in this self-imposed ignorance.
What do these three vignettes have in common? Well, before we delve into that matter, let me give you a brief philosophy lesson.
Immanuel Kant and David Hume both agreed that the essence of reality is merely the perception that our senses present to us. We have no knowledge of the way things truly are beyond our impressions. Kant called this Transcendental Reality.
Bertrand Russell, after analysis and critique of the above axiom, built upon it to develop what he called The Principle of Induction. This Principle claims that the way things appear to us may be taken as reality until, and unless, we have some experience or reason that suggests we are engaged in an illusion. To him, what we experience is what we believe, and what we believe is our reality. If, and only if, we experience something which negates our current reality, will our reality alter.
And now, I will follow in Russell’s footsteps and build upon his Principle: Our reality is what we make of it, in that we choose what we perceive. We take in information from our senses, from that draw inferences about our environment, then make choices –conscious or unconscious– as to how we will perceive this information. If all our perceptions are merely illusions, we, in effect, choose which illusion we will believe.
In turn, we choose our realities.
For my grandmother, she perceives the tellings of the Bible to be true. She chooses to believe that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour. Her faith is her reality.
For me, I perceive that Jesus may or may not have been the son of God, or even a real person for that matter. I choose to believe that I will never know what God is, or isn’t, until my time on this earth ends. Because of my historical knowledge, I perceive that as long as dozens of centuries worth of revisions are contained within the Bible, I cannot discern fact from great storytelling. What’s more, I choose to believe that it may be very well possible that people the likes of David Koresh could have instead been God’s only begotten son (not that I condone the raping and murdering or anything). Rather, the quest for absolute truth and knowledge is my reality.
For Caesar, he chose not to believe the forewarnings. He perceived that in the love of his people, no harm would befall him. A false sense of security was his reality.
And for my dear cohort Jen, she has self-induced the perception that her gentleman is, indeed, out with his other gentlemen friends, as he tells her is so. Although I am certain in the back of her mind she knows otherwise, she chooses to accept this illusion as her reality.
One summer evening, while walking home from a cafe with bellies full and warm air caressing our skin, a good friend once said, “every day is a battle of perspective”. I liked this so much that I wrote it down and tacked it on my wall next to other quips and keepsakes I shall like to not forget. However, I think what was behind his words, his true meaning, was that everyday we choose how we will perceive the information our senses present to us. We choose our view of the world, our perceptions of our relationships, our personal truths. We choose our reality.
Whether we know it or not, we choose which illusions we will believe.
And as I draw this post to a close, I will share just one more vignette:
Earlier, as I sat here click-clacking away on my keyboard, writing this very post, something small and dark fell from my ceiling and landed right upon my lap. I let out a high-pitched scream and jumped from my perch to a higher location.
I searched my sitting space for any creepy-crawlies, but did not find a one. My faithful dog, following my command to “get it”, sniffed out the situation. She found no many-legged creatures either.
I had no evidence to the contrary, and so that I was able to resume my seating arrangement, I chose to believe it was a dust bunny that had fallen from my ceiling fan.
This is my reality, because I choose it to be.
“All things are subject to interpretation. Which interpretation prevails at a certain time is a function of power and not truth.” -Friedrich Nietzsche