How Do We See Reality?

Meditations in Motion

My current favorite running route is this: two miles of sweet downhill on a gravel road, followed by four miles of rolling hills on dirt and stone doubletrack, then one grueling mile of singletrack switchbacks straight up the side of the mountain, and finally half a mile of level gravel road back to the car.

Seven-and-a-half total miles of trail running bliss.

The entire course takes place in a wooded setting within state game lands, so there is no traffic to contend with, I hear birds calling during the entire run, and the scenery is distractingly beautiful.

My hubby Bill and I did it yesterday on a morning so humid, it was like we were running through the clouds. We were dripping within 10 minutes of our first step.

It takes us a little under an hour and a half to complete the run, but it seems like no more than 15 minutes to me.

My perception of time during this run is most certainly warped.

Meditations in Motion

I watched a TED talk given by neuroscientist Donald Hoffman the other day. He asked the question “Do we see reality as it is?

The answer, according to Hoffman, was most emphatically “No“.

Magicians depend on this fact.

We construct reality in our minds based on our previous experiences.

Is the woman in the box actually sawed in half? Of course not, but that’s exactly what our mind tells us has happened.

We see a woman whose top half is apparently severed from her bottom half. We can see an empty space where her waist should be.

Logically, we know that can’t be the fact, but the signals our eyes are sending to our brains, based on our knowledge of human anatomy informs us we are seeing a woman lying in a box in two separate pieces.

Meditations in Motion

When you look at the picture of the cube above, your brain tells you it is three-dimensional. It can’t be three dimensional, however, because your screen is flat.

You have seen cubes before, so the picture of the cube that is made by thousands (millions?) of pixels on your screen to represent a three-dimensional cube is interpreted by your brain as an actual three-dimensional cube.

Our brains can be fooled.

Meditations in Motion

Most of the time, our brain’s interpretation of the pictures it receives from our eyes serves us well. Sometimes though, that process can go haywire.

Hoffman uses the example of a diminutive insect called the Australian Jewel Beetle to illustrate.

Male jewel beetles are colorful, iridescent, and ostensibly quite alluring, for a bug.

Female jewel beetles are “dimpled, glossy, and brown“.

Apparently, beer brewers in Australia were packaging their products in bottles that were also “dimpled, glossy, and brown“.

If these bottles were discarded in the outback by careless drinkers, they were quickly enveloped by hoards of amorous male Jewel Beetles.

The male Jewel Beetles preferred the large, stationary “dimpled, glossy, and brown” objects to real, live female beetles.

The species was in danger of extinction until brewers changed the color and shape of their bottles.

We are not much different from Jewel Beetles. Neither of us sees reality as it is.

Both humans and beetles have survived because we developed tricks and hacks to help us interpret reality quickly.

Meditations in MotionThose hacks are beneficial when, say, we need to decide to flee a charging rhinoceros, or bypass a venomous snake, or not make eye contact with someone trying to sell you something as you walk in a mall.

They are less beneficial when you look inside.

Self-reflection is a good thing, but only if you are willing to see what is really there.

Self-awareness helps us process our thoughts and recognize change. It can help us live with more intention.

We often go through a period of self-reflection at the end of a calendar year or as we approach milestones like birthdays.

We look at our lives, maybe note changes we would like to make and list some resolutions which we break, on average, within three weeks.

We select a word to focus on for the year but by March, many of us would hard-pressed to name that word without first searching our memory banks.

Authentic reflection is hard.

We sometimes get so caught up in doing something, anything, we minimize the need to slow down and examine the reasons for our actions and evaluate the outcomes our actions have produced.

Looking inside takes patience, stillness, and awareness.

Only by an honest look inward can we know our true values and core beliefs.

Only by a sincere understanding of our core beliefs can we make decisions that produce the best outcomes.

We must be willing to see what is truly in our hearts, rather than just a glossy mental photograph.

We must practice integrity.

We must be prepared to dislike some of the things we see and to celebrate others.

We must be willing to be vulnerable.

The heart’s real intentions are like deep water; but a person with discernment draws them out. Proverbs 20:5 (CJB)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

72 comments

  1. Wow, Laurie, you really inspired me to do some deeper reflection into what makes me tick. Yes, what we perceive as reality can truly be deceiving. And it does take some slowing down and honest introspection to get to the bottom of who we are, why we believe what we do, and how to live that out in our day to day lives. Thanks so much for your wise words here today, my friend!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your very kind comment, Martha. Patience and stillness are not strong points of mine. I have to remind myself often to slow down and think! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  2. I admit I got a little stuck at “7 1/2 miles of trail running bliss.” I have long loved the quote from Socrates that says, “The Unexamined Life is not worth living” and I will be honest enough to tell you, I just googled who said it because I can never remember if it was Plato or someone else! I often “borrow” that quote to talk about faith. But no matter what it takes time and determination and a good mirror and maybe some good friends. Thanks for sharing this timely post.

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    • Ha! 7.5 miles on the trail is better than a therapy session! ๐Ÿ™‚ That is a great quote and I would have had no idea who said it. I think sometimes I tend to go too far in the other direction – pouring over minutiae until I have overthought things.

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      • I am almost paranoid about giving proper credit. But details are important. I listen to a lot of audio books and sometimes the words are so incredibly delicious. I often think that writing, and playing with words is like the die shaker cup in a Parcheesi game. You put them in the cup and swirl them around and see what combinations come out. M.

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  3. Well said Laurie! Reflection is always a worthwhile pursuit both self reflection & reflection on the wider world around us.
    I saw a documentary on those Jewel beetles of ours too, stunningly beautiful little creatures they are. ๐Ÿ˜€
    Blessings,
    Jennifer

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  4. Hi Laurie – that was a lot of interesting thoughts that you pulled together (although the run that you loved did not excite me at all – I just read humidity and up a mountain on a dodgy trail – preconceived notions!) Interesting about the jewel beetles – something I didn’t know. I think Midlife is a lot to do with changing our preconceptions to a reality that is authentic and belongs to us – not what other people have created for us. I love that I can begin to accept myself (flaws and all) and own who I am these days.

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    • I think midlife changes how we view reality too. We have had more experiences to base our views on by then. Thank goodness for self-acceptance that usually comes with maturity.

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  5. Excellent post, Laurie.
    That’s why I think it’s important to have long-term goals (what kind of a person would I like to be 10 years from now) and to review these goals regularly.
    My husband and I review our goals every 90 days. It’s quite amazing what kind of discussion this 90-day review triggers!

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    • Wow! Good for you and your husband. That is an excellent exercise. While we don’t have a set schedule, Bill and I do take a look at where we are and where we want to be periodically. It makes for good dinner conversation! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. Laurie,
    The poor, duped, male Australian jewel beetle…I agree that we can be duped into seeing and believing what we want to see – especially when it come to introspection. Discernment requires pulling away the veil and really looking at our motivations and Who is guiding us. Thought provoking post…
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

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  7. Oh this is such a powerful reflection, Laurie. And many of us don’t want to be bothered with going there because it can be hard, scary work.

    It’s easier to just go on our way without taking the time to look deep.

    Until we lose our way and realize we had no idea where we were heading or who we are …

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  8. that was wonderful in it’s simplicity and intricacy. I thought at first, looking at the cube, that we think it’s a cube because it IS a cube and we know that from handling it in life… the image represents the real object, the image is flat but we know the real thing to be a cube. But I dated a man once who said, “reality is what you make it” when I blustered about someone being “stupid” and not seeing things as they were. He and I broke up but I often remember that phrase these days, and wonder at the energy it must take to continue to change reality into what you want it to be instead of what is… LeeAnna

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    • Yes, you are right – I am sure experience plays a big role in our perceptions. That is an interesting philosophy. If that were true, I think I would make reality be that there was more social justice in the world.

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  9. I didn’t know that about beer bottles and jewel beetles…most stubbies (small bottles) of beer are still brown. I tell myself that I keep as relentlessly busy as I do to fill the holes of restlessness within me. I wonder now though whether it’s also to avoid the need to stop and see reality…which is interesting in that my concept for this year was Get Real. I know that I’ve said it before, but your posts always make me stop and think – and that’s a good thing.

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    • Patience and stillness do not come easily to me either, Jo. That’s why I am such a failure at meditating. So glad you thought about this post. Thanks for letting me know. It means a lot!

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  10. It’s a little scary when we realize how easily our minds can play tricks on us. All the more reason to live with community so others can help us see our blind spots, and to stay mindfully conscious as much as we can. Be vulnerable and practice integrity–these are two great takeaways!

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  11. Very interesting and well put as always! It is really difficult to see yourself as you are, maybe one of the hardest things to do.
    I really enjoy these posts of yours – they remind me of sermons from the pastor of the church I grew up going to. His sermons always made you think about things in new and profound ways.

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  12. I am realizing that one of the reasons life seems to be racing by me is that I fail to stop and reflect on “now” while it’s happening. It’s a habit I’ve neglected — thinking I don’t have time for it.

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  13. Wow, Laurie. There’s so much truth here! When I was younger I struggled with looking inward but becoming too introspective . . . to the point where it became unhealthy and self-defeating. As I’ve grown older and hopefully wiser, I’m learning to bring my heart and my thoughts before Jesus to be filtered through His truths. Feelings can impress our perceptions in unhealthy ways, but when Jesus is our standard, feelings can lose their power. And I love what Lisa said. It’s good to have others in our lives who can help us see reality as it really is and not as we perceive it.

    You’ve got me thinking on this one, Laurie!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. That is crazy about the Aussie beer bottle! Running in the clouds creates a magical picture in my head until I realize how difficult and uncomfortable that would be. Good for you guys, I’d sell my soul (or what’s left of it) to be about to run a course like that.

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  15. What an amazing post. We need to ‘undupe’ ourselves. I absolutely agree. Deep inside is the pristine oneness. That is the only truth and the only journey which must be performed. Thank you for such a wonderful post

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  16. Well-done on your fitness and runs! I find that I can be seeing something at the same time as my husband and each of us will have a differing memory or view of it. I think so many times, people are prosecuted because of ‘eye witnesses’ and how many times do eye-witnesses get it wrong. It’s something to think about..as is your post!

    Thank you for linking up for #lifethisweek and I look forward to seeing you again next Monday when the optional prompt is 26/51 Best Time Of Day. 29.6.2020 Take care, Denyse.

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  17. Inspiring miles Laurie. I’m starting again after a few lazy years and although I have ran a few half and full marathons before I am only up to 3 miles now. Can’t wait to get up to 7 miles ๐Ÿ™‚

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  18. Authentic reflection IS hard! I would like to think that I invite the Lord to examine my heart regularly – and that I am open to honest evaluation…but I know the hard truth. It is hard…but I am encouraged to press on!

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    • I would like to think I am open to honest self-evaluation too. I think I sometimes see the world through rose-colored glasses. My hubby is a realist. We balance each other out. Keep on examining, Jennifer!

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  19. I am in awe of your running particularly in hot weather. Definitely your perceptions of the exercise and mine would be very different. It is interesting how are brains are wired to make the same mistakes processing images.

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  20. How odd about the Jewel Beetles! The first church we were in when we were married had an extended time of silence before communion for people to examine their hearts. I miss that. With other churches since, I’ve needed to do that heart preparation before we even get there. I think we’re too afraid of silence these days, especially in church. But it’s necessary to turn other noises and voices off to really look into our hearts honestly before God.

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    • Oh, I love the idea of extended silence before communion. Our church has communion at least once/month. Or at least we used to. Before the coronavirus shut down in-person services.

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  21. There was much to ponder here Laurie. Reality is sobering and sometimes it is better to put on the rose-colored glasses and see things the way we want to see them. Too bad that idea is so far from reality. “Adulting” in this new normal is tough and I think it will get even tougher.

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  22. Whoa–and this, I suppose, separates the Running from the Jogging. 1.5 hrs would feel like 3 HOURS to me–I am so impressed that it fees like 15 MINUTES to you! (This was still at the top of my mind even at the end of your thoughtful post. Damn, you’re in amazing shape.)

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  23. So many people keep themselves in constant motion because they simply don’t want to look inside, or they do & they don’t like what they see. Of course, too much self reflection, OTOH, is not good either.

    That’s a fascinating — and sad — about the beetles. It’s so sad how humans have managed to mess up this world.

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  24. It is very easy to fool ourselves! It is good to have those times of reflection when we can slow down and look inside to get a better picture of who we really are, and to ask God to show us our blind spots!

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  25. A fascinating question, Laurie. Our perception and recollection came up recently in our family. Different versions of an incident even though we were all present many years ago. Also very interesting on how your time is warped during this blissful run. A great story about the dimpled, glossy, brown objects and the male Jewel Beetles.
    You make a great point about โ€œauthentic reflectionโ€ and honestly looking inward. Thank you for a fun, interesting and thought-provoking post.

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