Saturday, December 27, 2008


Disclaimer: This article is based on my understanding of my readings in the past few years - this writing draws heavily on the latest book that I have read titled, "What the Bleep (F---) do we know".
What is reality?

“What I thought was unreal now, for me, seems in some ways to be more real than what I think to be real, which seems now to be unreal”…..
- Fred Alan Wolf, Ph.D.

“I never questioned my reality. Why would I do something as silly as that? Then the reality I was in became a mess, and I began to question my reality – not necessarily the tables and chairs, but my perception of it. Once I realized that my reality was only the construct of my limitations, I realized I had to be willing to dream outside of them. What is it that I truly desire that I don’t believe I can have or become? The only thing “solid” in my reality is my perception of it. If I am willing to open my eyes to new possibilities, my reality can change”………..
- Betsy Chasse

We Indians have been very badly hurt after the horrendous incident of 26/11 at Mumbai. Our collective psyche has been bruised, and we want things to change. Isn’t our state quite similar to what is described above, by Betsy? How then do we help bring about the required change? The answer, as per Betsy, is to open our eyes to new possibilities. This would then help us change our perception of things, and this new perception will bring about a new reality for us as a nation. How do we open our minds to new possibilties, and how are new possibilities, perception and reality linked?

How many of us have heard the saying that goes something like this, ‘Sawan ke andhe ko, hara hi dikhta hai’ (a person blinded in spring can only see (visualize) green. Have you ever given this saying any thought? It is so true. Your reality is limited only by your own perception. Also, most of us must have heard the story about the four blind men and the elephant. Each of the blind man gave voice to his reality, as per his perception. Each of their reality was based on what part of the elephant they were in touch with. My spiritual readings always gave me a message that, "One see's everything in the colour that is based on colour of the glasses one is wearing". How does this perception come about?

Perception starts with the sense organs and ends at consciousness. Our sense organs detect, the nerves transmit the information on to the brain, which pattern matches the information, comes to a conclusion and our consciousness registers the existence of the object, as embedded in our brain. Heavy stuff?? Let’s get a little practical. Why is ‘A’ only written like this? It is because, when the English language was created, a few wise men got together and decided to give this shape to ‘A’; it could have been any other shape too. So, once a large number of seemingly credible people decide what is what, it is accepted by the rest of us, and it gets implanted in our brain as such.

Have you ever seen a child learning the alphabet? We keep making him do it until it gets imprinted on his brain. We then go onto ‘A’ for apple and so on. He now starts associating the alphabet to an object. He can now pattern match a, b, c….. We do the same with words thereafter and so on. Fast forward now, to the present. You are that child, now grown up. You are reading this post on my blog. Are you reading alphabets, words or just pattern matching? In case I had put in something that you had never registered in your brain, like say a Greek or Arabic script, would you still be able to pattern match? No. You will discard it as a mistake on my part, a corrupt message, or to just your imagination, depending on the circumstances. So, you perceive only that, which is already registered with your brain.

This perception is also based on the paradigm under which one operates. “Paradigm is a set of implicit assumptions that are not meant to be tested; in fact, they are essentially unconscious. They are part of our modus operandi as individuals, as scientists, or as a society”. What are our paradigms about our own religion, and that of our neighbours? What are our paradigms about our country? How does this paradigm affect our view of our perceptions, and thus our reality?

We start the perception process with our sense organs, which in any case are limited. A dog can hear and smell better than us, and so on. Our radio, mobile phones and television, etc. operate on frequencies that are not discernible to us, and can thus not be perceived by us. It does not mean that they do not exist. Even with this limited sensory input, we receive “somewhere (to) the order of 400 billion bits per second” from our five senses. A majority of this information is screened out, and wasted; only about “two thousand get through to our consciousness”. So, as Dr. Andrew Newberg puts it, the brain has to “get rid of a lot of extra data in trying to create for us a story of the world”. Ever seen a wedding video and wondered why you did not notice all those people and events on the wedding day that have been captured in the video??

I had heard of cancer, but it was never a part of my reality (perception) until my sister in law was diagnosed with it. After that I found that nearly every other family had someone suffering with cancer. Has it happened to you too? The brain screens out a lot of information that is considered extraneous ( remember only 2000/ 400 billion bits/ second can reach our consciousness) by us. So we actually don’t perceive reality; we see the image of reality that our brain has built up out of the ‘not screened out’ sensory input, plus the patterns already existing in our brain, which are based on our past experiences. Dr Newberg says, “It depends on what your experiences have been, and how you ultimately process the information, that really creates your visual world. The brain is what ultimately perceives reality and creates for us our rendition of the world”.

In case we operate from the paradigm that, ‘In India no body does his job without being bribed’, then we will only perceive every system as corrupt. Our thoughts and our actions will then start with how to neutralize the system and get one’s work done. The system will then respond to us in the same way as we perceived it. When one looks in to the mirror and smiles, the mirror image smiles back. It cannot start to smile without your face lighting up with a smile first. What paradigm do you operate from? Have you considered another possibility? What will it take, for you to make a paradigm shift?

Just a few weeks ago, we had a classic case where people’s perception nearly got ICICI bank bankrupt. People heard about the financial crisis, heard about ICICI being hit by $100 million dollars, and decided to start pulling out their cash. The ATMs ran dry for about 4 -5 days, because people had perceived bankruptcy and nearly made it a reality. Thank God for the intervention of the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister that we still have ICICI bank as a viable banking institution even today. All that the FM and PM did was plant new possibilities in our brains and change our perception of ICICI bank and it changed reality – from sure shot bankruptcy to viability. Satyam, a 2 billion dollar enterprise, is now going through the same perception – reality situation. Thankfully we did not have any paradigm problems with ICICI bank, otherwise the FM and PM's exhortations would have been of no avail. Next, we come to emotions.