Perception and Function

Perceptions Differ.

A lot of speech is talking past one another.

We often don’t understand what other people say because it’s so easy to assume other people share our perceptions, which, of course, they often don’t. Perception and subjectivity are inextricably interlinked: you perceive because you are a discrete individual and unique.

…understanding begins where we are, not where we want to think we are.

Misery loves company.

Finding someone who shares your perceptions can be brilliant. It’s also rare; it’s also, often, a bit facile, too smooth. After the moment of brilliant connection, the conversation dies. What do we talk about if we already agree?

A polyphony of perceptions doesn’t mean there isn’t a thing in itself.

Although we perceive things subjectively, and the evidence suggests we do, it seems to me, that doesn’t prove there isn’t an objective reality to which we relate. 

The things we recognize in art and literature, in the context of representation, we recognize because of how they function. We can identify greed because it functions as greed. Love, bigotry, desire, friendship, or intelligence, all serve functions within our experience. None of the nouns I’ve listed exist physically, but we know them when we see them.

Function is the point of contact between our perceptions and reality.

Function contextualizes situations.

Even a bigot knows bigotry when he sees it. At one time or another, we’ve all been ostracized by a closed mind, and we’ve all closed our minds to something new. We close our minds because it’s easier to categorize than to engage the difficult task of thinking. Bigotry functions as a shorthand for ignorance, and sometimes we just don’t have time to transcend our ignorance.

This isn’t an excuse, and I’m not trying to reinforce the bigotry of popular culture or to echo the way in which popular culture reinforces presuppositions and oversimplifications. I’m merely saying that understanding begins where we are, not where we want to think we are.

Function can be bent but not broken.

No matter how we want to think about something, our thoughts are not reality. Our feelings are not reality.

Although our perceptions remain subjective, we’re still perceiving something outside ourselves. Function is the point of contact between our perceptions and reality. The way in which something functions impacts everyone. Function paves the way for understanding.

We can reorient ourselves in order to see a different side of an issue. Something different may be at stake for me than for you. Nonetheless, we can’t change how something functions.

Image by Naitian Tony Wang courtesy of Unsplash

Have you ever had to change your perception because of how something functioned? Were you developing a skill, learning to appreciate something new, or interacting with a new group of people? How were you shaped and what did you learn from the experience?

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