Cuestión de percepciones

A matter of perceptions

Picture of Silvia Albert

Is it all a matter of perceptions? How do we perceive, act? To talk about this concept in the context in which we are living at the moment, I do not know if it is a little absurd or even sterile. I have been meaning to write these lines for some time, but they are blurred by events, surprises and the lack of time to delve beyond my own perceptions. This paper serves as a foretaste of something I intend to explore further. Perhaps it may be banal and simplistic, even naïve. The reason that led me to write this post arises from two anecdotes. The first was listening to a television news programme in which the spokesperson of a political group congratulated himself on the “high turnout” of his members in a key vote for the group’s future. The participation rate was 12.3%. I cannot deny that such a statement surprised me. In relation to what did you consider this participation to be high? What was the expectation? How could I defend this assessment?

The second happened a few days earlier, reading a post on LinkedIn from a professional, whom I know quite well, who congratulated himself for the excellent work he was doing and for being the cornerstone of his company. Those of us who know the company and the work of the aforementioned person know that, in addition to being an artist of the scrooge, he is more of the heap than of excellence. What drives someone to speak publicly about themselves in such a strong way? What does he see that the rest of us don’t? Is this just a self-marketing campaign?

Both situations caught my attention as hooks for writing these lines, although I cannot deny that the day-to-day life we are living is full of examples that could well serve as hooks. Do we perceive the world as it is? How can the world be understood from another understanding than our own?

Talking to the philosopher Mª Ángeles Quesada, taking advantage of the fact that we have interviewed her for our podcast The Green Elephant, I asked him how such a divergence was possible within the framework of the philosophy of perception and he spoke to me about naive realism.

Philosophy of perception

A Question of Perceptions - Plato and Freud

Philosophy of perception is understood as that which studies how and to what extent our mental processes depend on our internal and external world in order to be perceived. That is to say that, as we are, so we perceive. I am not a philosopher, nor would I dare. But I am attracted by this approach at a time when society is so polarised, when we assert events interpreted as absolute truths and, more dangerously, impose our view as unique and non-negotiable on others. From there to post-truth, fake news or (outright) lies is a very small step.

This leads us, unwittingly, to regroup socially according to these perceptions, either friends or enemies; either moral or immoral; either acceptable or unacceptable; either true or false… No half measures. Resounding in our so many by the way, in our accusations, in our accolades or in our annihilations. A video is circulating on social networks and on our whatsapps in which it is claimed that half of Spanish society “is a plague” and encourages its annihilation. Which half should survive? Depending on who sends it, I understand, don’t you?

According to Plato, the objects we receive through the senses are reflections or shadows of the Ideal Forms and, therefore, inherently deceptive; therefore, they are not conducive to true knowledge, which can only be attained through reason. Within the framework of psychoanalysis, Freud stated that perception is a biological but also a psychological process and therefore influenced by unconscious desires, previous experience and inner conflicts. In short, we perceive according to our internal needs, experiences, fears and desires, which leads to a subjective and partial view of reality.

Borja Vilaseca assures that reality is neutral and I find it hard to disagree. What is, is, and how we take it is how we are.

Therefore, perception is not just an accurate reflection of the world as it is, but a construct created through the inner psychology of each of us. How, then, are we capable of such assertions?

Naive realism

A Matter of Perceptions - Daniel Kahneman

It is certainly naïve, not to say puerile, to consider ourselves in possession of the absolute truth. There is no reflection, no criticism. What leads us to claim that our labour competence is the best in the world? Innocence? Egocentrism? Self-deception? Realism?

Naïve realismconsiders that our perception of the world is mediated neither by interpretations nor by mental representations; that what we see is what it is, without distortion. Can anyone think that this is 100% true? I find it hard to believe, but my day-to-day life gives me more than clear proof. A self-analysis is in order here. If others see it that way, am I not doing it too?

I will not delve into discussions about the challenge of this conception in coexistence with certain properties that are real because it would seem bold of me to do so. My intention is simply to call for self-criticism, attention, doubt… with the sole aim of providing an alternative to the bluntness: reflection and awareness as pointed out by Kahneman.

How you communicate

Communication has a lot to say here. How we talk and speak to each other shapes our reality. How we interpret what happens to us, what we see, what we are told through words… and how we respond to our environment and to ourselves, situates us in a certain perception. Cultural differences obviously have an impact as well. We are what (we) tell ourselves.

We should review our discourses, our narratives. Internal and external. Periodically analyse what we base our assertions on and challenge them.

But is this contradictory to, and therefore in conflict with, security, confidence and decisiveness? Is it a characteristic of conscious leaders or, on the contrary, of a lack of leadership? Our perceptions can filter the information we select to share or withhold, which has a direct impact on affective communication. It is perception that will help establish the context in which we develop communication.

Yes, I am getting into gardens that divert me from my initial purpose. Perception, moreover, has to do with the echo chambers in which we have settled convinced that this is the right place from which to analyse the one true reality from which I interpret the world. The only one. Mine.

A more conscious life of our biases would help us identify that single-minded model in which we tend to move. That flexibility that we increasingly demand from the companies in which we work and from our environment should come back to us in the form of the ability to accept that we may be wrong; that my statements, my thoughts, my actions, my judgements, my opinions… may be right or, on the contrary, totally wrong. Or both at the same time.

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