On Sunday evening October 1, 2017, our Fellows took part in an activity and discussion related to the nature of reality, perception, bias, and culture. It was our fourth live session dialogue of the year and a major landmark in our journey through "Stage I: Identity, Culture, and The Search For Values." The lesson was entitled: "There Is No Spoon." In what follows, Sameer Sridhar (a junior in the House of Ono) continues to meditate, question, and explore this age-old question.
Perception is literally defined as, “a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.” To me, the word “mental” really stood out. The mind is such a complicated thing. It’s so crazy to think that everyone has a different way of perceiving the world. That’s what makes us all so unique; it is why some of us are able to solve complex equations, or paint vivid scenes, or play an instrument beautifully. They are able to perceive some things differently than the rest of us.
Sometimes, these things can be trained. For example, we can teach someone how to play the piano, and with enough practice, they can become a maestro. But what about the things that can’t be touched, taught, or experienced? What about things like color, sound, taste, etc.? What do we use to qualify them? Isn’t it crazy to think that my perception of the color blue could be completely different than someone else’s? Their blue could be my pink, or something that I can’t even recognize.
But, as of now, to the naked eye, there’s no way to tell because we just point to something and say, “that’s blue”, without giving any reasoning behind it. Yes, we could go into science and say that the wavelength of the color blue is different than that of pink. But how would a child know that? When a child is learning about colors, do we pull up the wavelengths of each to teach them? No, we don’t. We simply point and that’s that.
This can transcend even simple things like color. It can reach the heights of even racism and homophobia. Racist and homophobic individuals carry their beliefs because of what they have perceived through their lifetime. They might have been taught these beliefs, or they could have experienced something firsthand, but nonetheless, it is not ingrained in their brains. It will take something extraordinarily powerful to wipe it away. These statements dealt with the intangible aspects of perception, but what about the tangible aspects of it?
Learning a language is said to have many positive effects on your brain. One of which, that relates to perception, is the way we see the world. As a kid, I grew up learning English and Tamil, a language native to south India, where my family is from. I didn’t really notice any difference when I spoke those languages until now, because I truly see a world of a difference. When I speak English, I feel like I see the world in a very straightforward way. But when I speak Tamil, I can feel my brain “expanding” a little because there is just so much more I can say. I notice more things around me because there are words for each and every single one of them. There are countless things that I can’t describe in English because sometimes, the right word doesn’t exist. Similarly, when I learned Spanish, I ended up seeing the world in a different, yet descriptive way (if that makes any sense). Romance languages are known for being extremely detailed and descriptive. There is a certain vibrancy to describing things with a romance language that you might not get elsewhere.
Physically speaking, your brain will literally grow and form synapses based on the languages you know because that’s how you perceive life. Isn’t that crazy? This fact might explain why certain cultures see things in a certain way. Their brains have LITERALLY GROWN based on the language they speak and the words they have learned. This might also explain why certain people are stereotyped for being a certain way. Germans are stereotyped for being harsh and cold because their language “sounds” like it. What makes us think that their language sounds harsh? To them, it might be the most beautiful thing in the world. It’s your PERCEPTION. (Okay I’m kind of breaking the fourth wall here, again, BUT THIS IS SO COOL TO ME LIKE WOW. THE WAY YOU THINK AFFECTS THE WAY YOU SEE THINGS, WHICH AFFECTS THE WAY YOU ACT, WHICH AFFECTS THE WAY YOU THINK. It’s like an endless cycle.)
Basically, perception is something that is as wonderful and intriguing as it is complex and diverse. It is because of our perceptions that we are who we are. Can you imagine a world where we all thought and acted the same? There wouldn’t be any progress! No one would have questioned the norms of their time! No one would have dared to step out of their boundaries and create! No one would have been able to find a better way to do things!
Yes, the concept of perception is something that could be talked about for hours and hours upon end, but I would like to come back to a point I made previously: perception is what makes you, you. You are who you are because of the way you think. Your effect on the world is determined by the way you see things. The choices you make depend on the way you see things. These may seem like simple and obvious statements, but they can be taken to any level, whether it comes to examples of historical genocide, and why some events happened, or even to why someone believes in animal rights.
Sameer Sridhar is a junior at Somerset Academy High School in South Florida. He loves to engage in thought-provoking discussions with people because he thrives on that established mental and emotional connection he gets with the people he converses with. Besides loving to talk to people, he is academically at the top of his class while still maintaining his extracurriculars, such as volunteering at the hospital, playing tennis, doing MMA, and tutoring special needs children in math, science, and English. Besides all this, he loves long walks on the beach and learning all the languages he possibly can.