On last week’s podcast we looked into the definition for the word perception. And it went something like this:
Perception [Oxford English Dictionary] 1) The ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses. 1.1) The neurophysiological processes, including memory, by which an organism becomes aware of and interprets external stimuli. 2) The way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted.
[Cambridge Dictionary] a thought, belief, or opinion, often held by many people and based on appearances 2) an awareness of things through the physical senses, esp. sight
You may have heard the phrase “perception is reality.” But what exactly does that mean? It used to be believed that reality was a static empirical truth. Now some scientists believe that reality is more of a dynamic concept. For example, I watched a TED talk (maybe it was a TEDx talk) that illustrated an experiment. The experiment went something like this: People (cohort) in the study were asked about walking up a steep hill. One cohort had a sugary drink, one had none. Another cohort had friends to climb the hill with them another did not. The result was the cohorts that had a sugary drink (energy) and the cohort that had friends to climb with them (support) Believed the hill could be climbed. The other cohorts did not believe it would be easy to climb the hill.
How does this relate? Let’s go back and talk about placebo effect (Here’s a link to my placebo effect YouTube video https://youtu.be/8FqxKe0vyfs (please pardon the audio quality)). Placebo effect is basically the thought that something is working but nothing has changed. Okay, looking at that last sentence shows me that I have explained nothing. Maybe because I am still sick with a bug.
How about this? In a clinical study for medication one group/cohort is given the real medication to be tested. The other group is given something that is nothing more than inert ingredients. Then there is usually a control group who gets no medication and knows that they are getting no medication. Placebo effect is when the cohort who took the substance of inert ingredients believes and expresses they have experienced an affect that was being tested by the actual medication such as weight loss, headache relief or the like.
An easier example is wearing your lucky socks. Your socks aren’t lucky. You believe they are lucky. You mindset is different. You see things differently because you are in a mindset to believe that you are luckier when you are wearing this particular pair of socks.
How does this have anything to do with perception? EVERYTHING. How we think about things matters. It impacts our lives in significant ways. If you want to watch movie that illustrates this concept watch the movie Memento a 2000 Mystery Thriller http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0209144/. As humans we are susceptible to suggestion to varying degrees. So it is possible to plant a thought, idea or even memory by talking to someone. A particularly damaging version of this is called gaslighting (but that is another blog post).
There are multitudes of books, videos, classes, courses, mental health providers that espouse words similar to this: change your thinking, refocus, keep a journal, etc., etc. But the truth is it is hard to change your brain chemistry. Yes, our brains have neuroplasticity. Yes, we can increase white matter…and even grey matter. It takes a lot of effort and time. For example, a person who is sleep deprived loses a certain amount of brain function. The hypothalamus shrinks and other bad things happen. Some of these effects can be reversed but it can take a year of concentrated work AND sleeping seven to nine hours a night to recapture that functionality.
Sometimes it is not easy. But it is worth it. Because if you are able to perceive things in a more positive light it changes how you react to stimuli. Instead of shouting expletives to the person who cut in front of you, you may be able to take in a breath and go on unaffected by the meaningless shit that is not worth your time to worry about.