By Dr. Ken Larsen
If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear, does it make a sound? This question has been posed to countless students in Philosophy 101 through the years.
It points us to the distinction between what Dr. Glasser calls the “real world” and the “perceived world”. Having a “sound” grasp of the difference between these two is a big part of mental health and happiness.
The real world is where the tree falls and generates a moving molecular wave through the air.
When that wave strikes the auditory apparatus of a person it is perceived as a sound. If there is no person to hear, the wave still happens. So the question is answered by how we define “sound”. Is it the wave or the perception of the wave? This is the way that I suggest we think about the often repeated statement that “perception is reality.”
Let’s say that we agree that what we call “sound” is the perception of the wave moving through the air. The person does not respond to the sound wave, but to the way that sound wave is interpreted by the brain as a perception. This is what is “real” to the person. The recognition of that sensory stimulus as a sound is the reality that enables the person to choose what to do about the sound of a falling tree.
Let’s use another sensory example.
We know that our visual perceptions are an adapted interpretation of what our eye registers. The lens of the eye follows the laws of optics and inverts the image of what the eye is seeing. We don’t “see” the inverted image do we? The wonderful apparatus we carry in our skulls adapts the sensory data to a perception that more closely represents the image in the real world. We “see” the candle upright as it is.
A perception is what our brain tells us about the information gathered through our senses. It is an interpretation of the real world. It is a constructed representation of what the senses pick up. If we remember that my perception is a different interpreted construction than what your brain has constructed, we might take a step toward overcoming the conflicts that lessen our mental health and happiness. It’s good to understand that many of these conflicts arise from assuming that we all experience the world in the same way.