“You are what you eat.” So if I eat too many nuts, then I’m a nut. Can’t I be a nut without eating any? I mean, most of those who know me probably would agree that I’m “nutty.” However, this connection, meant to be figurative rather than literal, is at best superficial and more likely a gross overstatement.
Yet, how often do we hear how “perceptions are reality”? And even more disturbing is how many people subscribe to this mindset. So, if I perceive you to be tall, you must be tall. Well, perhaps. If I’m 5 foot, and you are 6 foot, then yes, you are tall relative to me. But what if you are lying down, and I’m standing up? Are you taller? Well, no, of course not – but you have the potential to be. But now that I’m taller, that makes you short – doesn’t it? So my reality trumps yours – at least till you stand up. Very transient these “realities” aren’t they? But even if you were the tallest person alive, would you be tall? Tall to people perhaps, but to a giraffe? Probably not. So realities are relative to perception, but if they are, they aren’t realities, are they?
Fundamentally the problem is one of causal confusion. If I think you are a child molester then you must be. Right? Obviously not. You might be one, but my perception doesn’t make it so. And the often quoted phrase “I can’t believe he was capable of doing such things” indicates it works the other way as well – a person can look like a saint but in reality be a murderer.
That does not mean that perception cannot be reality, or that it can’t happen in some inevitable fashion, like a broken clock indicating the correct time, or a rock becoming sand. And it also does not mean we can’t make perceptions become realities. “Balancing the budget is too difficult, so I won’t do it” guarantees failure without effort. Perhaps the most egregious example of this is in politics, where you are sold perception in hopes it will become a reality, like politicians voting for things their constituents want (endless tax breaks), and not what they need (fiscal discipline), with the expectation they will be elected, or that by selling voters on the idea of “change” we ignore the idea that not all change is progress.
Even more disturbing are those marketing their perceptions to become your realities. Just look at the commercials during your favorite TV shows, and the contents of your email spam folder, and consider the nightmarish “realities” in store for you – that you’re balding, impotent, afflicted with chronic pain and loose bowels, have relatives in Nigeria, have won the UK lottery, and need a Russian mail order wife. Perhaps one of these is a reality, but most likely not without collusion.
So reality does not follow perception unless you make is so, or through divine intervention, or simple dumb luck. Thus, if someone insists that perception is reality just reply, “I perceive that you are an idiot.” Your perception is their reality.