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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

An essay on truth, perception and communication. Part 1: Truth is God, but we are just playing Chinese Whispers

It's not what you say, it's how you say it.

Perception is more important than truth.

I feel daring typing these words. Daring and disloyal. They are bald, unequivocable statements and I can hear the shouts of disagreement now: Truth is what matters; Truth is the holy grail; Truth is god.

I want to agree with you. You see truth is my god too. It's just that I am beginning to think that in the end perception is more important.

Reality (aka Truth) is perceived and filtered through our senses. And as such I think it is always distorted to some extent. If we were to live in complete isolation, with no human contact, then the truth might only be slightly distorted. Still distorted though because it is still filtered through our senses and our thought processes (which are probably slightly skewed and extremely self-centered from all that isolation). However, most of us don't live in isolation. Most of us live among many others and the truth is filtered through many perceptions

Aside/Footnote: I have just had a thought. The shrinking of the globe and the development of technology means that people today have access to exponentially more ideas, information, and different cultures than people just a hundred years ago. More pieces of the truth to discover and integrate, more pieces of crap to evaluate and discard, more voices and ideas and tools to confuse the issue. More accessibility. More truth. More smokescreens. But this is digression and an idea for another time.

Anyway, back to the idea at hand...that truth is filtered through many perceptions. For example, someone could perceive a "truth", filter it, process it, then communicate their version of it to someone else, who in turn perceives/filters and processes the "truth' with their different perceptions and cognitive system. They might even get the wrong end of the stick. And that's completely disregarding egos and emotions, which tend to confuse things and result in the truth being completely mangled up.

It's like a very subtle, very complex game of Chinese Whispers on an unimaginable scale played over centuries. Except this version of Chinese Whispers not only deals with random trivia, it also deals with life and death and power and emotions and egos and religion. Bloody stuff. Fascinating stuff.

Why am I thinking and writing about such things?

You may think it is procrastination, and you would be partly right. It is procrastination and it is also fascination. I have been procrastinating by trying to take an interest in politics. I have an aversion to both politics and traditional news sources such as newspapers, books, magazines, tv so "taking an interest in politics" roughly translates to "adding random political blogs to my rss aggregator and regularly skim reading a few interesting posts".

I would have given up on politics weeks ago if I hadn't been fascinated with the various little disputes amongst bloggers. I hate to say it, but the posts that interest me are the ones where people are heatedly arguing with each other, especially if the arguments have degenerated into personal attacks with the original issue long forgotten.

I guess that although I find the political issues boring, the interaction between the various personalities is fascinating. There are a huge variety of perceptions and ideas and communication styles. It also makes me think.

I guess reading"offensive" comments and personal "attacks" and not identifying with them or conversely reading "humorous" remarks that I find more offensive than funny have made me think about how I define certain abstract ideas like right, wrong, truth, and lies. They have made me think about why I find certain things offensive and certain things humourous. They have made me consciously consider how I perceive different words and what smokescreens I have up at the moment and why I put them there in the first place. Not a bad result from reading a series of childish arguments!

Maybe this is part one of a series that continues discussing these ideas. Or maybe this is the end.



Comments:
You can't expect everyone to have perfect communication skills, you should be trying to examine their real meaning rather than stopping at the perception level.
 
I think you're agreeing with me?
 
Perceptive.
Your filters, their filters.
Their intent, your interpretation of intent.
Their fears and hopes, your fears and hopes.
Everyone's response to those fears and hopes.

Personally, I think the word *should* is one of the most dangerous in the English language.
 
*should* is an interesting word. Especially when used by cute furry primates, who I suspect might be trying to bait me.

I try and ignore it when other people tell me I should do something. Otherwise I have a tendency to want to do the exact opposite. But I am trying to curb that tendency!

Hopes and fears are an interesting complication. I wonder how much misunderstanding is brought about by hopes and fears? I know there are certain topics where I am extremely blind to what other people are trying to communicate, and those topics are where I am the most insecure.
 
Who knows how a Lemur thinks? I can confirm however, that he does think, and think often.

Baiting is not an issue if you think right back, and decide what thoughts are the most useful in that situation.

That, to me, seems to be the closest thing to freedom we have: the ability to chose our thoughts. Not that choosing our thoughts is ever easy...
 
From what I have read I am sure the tree-swinging-one thinks more often and more rigorously than I do. I am a lazy thinker :-)

You're right about baiting not being an issue...but probably more because I very rarely bite. Thinking back seems too much like hard work and I don't mind if no one agrees with me.

Do you consciously choose your thoughts? It is so much easier to not be a free thinker. Actually, it is just easier no to bother thinking at all.
 
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