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Human Perception and Objectivity
Posted Apr 16, 2012 - 13:51:20

Most of us like to think we're objective, and that we can see things clearly. We like to think we don't see the world through filters, and that our interpretations of events, people and conditions are the "truth" in any scenario.

But that's not how we work.

Entering any situation, we pile on our biases like Dagwood Bumstead building a sandwich. The mountain of predispositions we bring to the table slants how we view the world - and guarantees that two different points of view will likely not interpret the same behaviors the same way. One person's cold is another person's warm. One person may think an acquaintance is arrogant, while that same subject may just be viewed as merely confident by another.

But as I said, it's not just how we judge people, but reality itself.

It was over a decade ago that I drove along a country highway outside of Eau Claire, WI. It was a dark, foggy summer night - the kind of fog that seems to cling to you, making even an open field feel claustrophobic. The hairs were already standing up on the back of my neck when I turned the corner on the darkened road. The tension was already palpable as I slowly drove forward...

...and saw it.

It appeared in an instant, glowing in the sky. A white orb, shining with an almost gentle light. My heart jumped, and panic gripped me. I shot home as fast as possible. It wasn't the moon - as I would verify that the moon was new upon reaching my apartment - it was something else. I didn't know what it was, and it was terrifying.

As I often tell people, "I believe in lots of crazy stuff, but I acknowledge that it sounds crazy." My rational brain is fully functional, so my instinct was to find any rational way to explain what I had seen that night before making the emotional conclusion my brain already wanted to jump to. So, the next day, with the sun high in the sky, I went back out to that country road.

The first thing I noticed turning the bend by daylight was the large tree that covered the sky. And just past the tree was something that I'd never expected to see on that country road - a very highly mounted, spherical streetlight.

It "appeared" suddenly because it was behind fog obscured branches. There was nothing amazing really going on here at all. But because my own biases towards strange phenomena and the otherworldly took over that night, I hadn't considered this exceptionally mundane explanation.

We have to trust our judgements, it's true. They're all we have. But the one thing we must never forget is that it's entirely possible that we are wrong, and that our own biases have colored how we view things. The important thing though is that we are willing to re-evaluate that which our emotional centers leap to see as true.

In other words, that we'll be willing to go look for that street lamp.
- Traegorn

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