Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Distorted Perception

An excerpt from the book “Experiments with People”

An interesting feature of the psychological immune system is that to operate effectively it must operate discreetly. This raises an interesting question: Is psychological well-being associated with the accurate perception of reality or with a distorted perception of it? The traditional view is that contact with reality is essential for mental health. As the old one-liner goes, neurotics build castles in the air, psychotics live in them, and psychotherapists collect the rent. The alternative view is that, given how inhospitable reality is, human beings cannot bear too much of it. They must therefore endorse comforting illusions in order to function effectively. In an influential article, Taylor and Brown proposed that three classes of positive illusion promote mental health: holding overly flattering views of oneself, overestimating one's personal control, and being unreasonably optimistic about the future. The fact that most normal individuals manifest these illusions, suggests that an accurate perception of reality is not a prerequisite for mental health, and may even militate against it.

I cannot take my mind off this simplistic fa├žade behind which is concealed an age-old topic of debate. I will take you (and myself) on a journey of breakthroughs, disappointments, definitions and inferences in an attempt to answer to the above question

It must be said that psychology until today has remained an improper science, often interspersed with philosophy. Thus, it is quite normal behavior for one’s mind to associate with anything starting with psych, something that has got to do with abstract impractical philosophy, or alternatively, the study of madness (indeed, psychology and psychiatry has often been underestimated as being a field for treatment of maniacs, psychotics and criminals). Psychology can only gain practical credibility when it sheds off its inherent dependency on ancient hypothesis and builds its roots on quantitative experimentation, engineering and statistics. [I believe engineering is synonymous with application, without which a science loses its purpose. Engineering thus is an essential link between any scientific hypothesis and human progress, the ultimate aim of science]. For now, let us substitute the term “psychological well being” with, say, mental well being, or happiness. [Inevitably, every philosophical discussion leads to happiness, which (at least provisionally) is the purpose of our existence, and hence of paramount importance]

Next, we move onto the notion of perception of reality. One cannot possibly talk about reality per se, as the existence of a single absolute reality is yet to be testified. Hence, we can only speculate in terms of our percepts of what we believe to be reality, our system of reference. This fact is well documented by Albert Einstein: “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.”

Now that we are acquainted with the definition of our motion, I shall endeavor towards a solution to the question whole. I would like to point out that the question is not at all as trivial as appears to be. The simple sentence postulated by Richard Bach (and inescapably philosophers before him), that instantly makes our question a topic of significant deliberation is this: “The subconscious mind does not differentiate between actual experience and what is intensely imagined.”

The notion of your well-being being an illusion is indeed a concept uneasy to digest. Nevertheless, if happiness is what we do eventually seek, how does it matter if we actually achieve the things that would enable us to feel happy, or just believe that we have? This line of thought reminds me of any number of terms and phrases used in everyday life – “mind over matter”, “I think, therefore I am” etc

I have inferred, after reading, experiment and deliberation, that it is way too easy to delude people away from (provisional) reality, the tools to pull it off can vary from rational existentialist argument to force (legal, hierarchal, economic) to mind control (also termed meditation, NLP, hypnosis, voodoo magic, occultism whatever). Hence, it is preposterous (although not intuitively) to allow introspection as a deterministic factor in the attempt to answer our question – put in simple words, people do not always know what is right for them, their perception is often a result of mental manipulation than individual free will. The verdict is this: one cannot, as an absolute, believe one’s eyes, or any other senses for that matter, neither ones power of judgment, which inevitably are shaped by these senses, a scary proposition indeed.

I have forever been a follower of the motto “Belief is Existence,” more lucidly framed by PSS as “We create our own reality.” We have also heard and experienced the placebo effect that needs belief as a prerequisite for its function, as also hypnosis – the state of trance under which subjects can be made to believe and do things otherwise considered impossible. Some of us might have heard of faith healing, Zen meditation, out of body experience and so forth. Of course, there are innumerable citations, endorsements and evidences for the same in the form of psychological hypothesis, laboratory experiments, and certainly staged performances of the same. In case of further doubt, I urge you to read the book Mind Power (Ask me for the ebook).

My philosophy of life is modeled partly on one we have always used during lab sessions in college, “If you don’t get the correct value, make it.” I would like to believe that I could forge reality the same way. Why?... Because I Can!