Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Perception Theory

I just bought my ticket for The Dark Knight opening on July 18th. Anticipation and expectation are high for this film for several obvious reasons. I've been looking forward to this movie since the last scene of Batman Begins foreshadowed the return of the Joker. However, with the late tragic death of Heath Ledger, the film has taken on a whole new meaning, as not only the movie as a whole will be measured, but also his last performance. Seeing him on the screen will and could only be described as ghostly. Check out this exclusive on the film from Entertainment Weekly.

Perception Theory

Get ready because I'm about to get abstract on your asses.

Monday night, I decided to call it an early night and went to bed around 1:15 a.m. My head hit the pillow, and the next thing I knew, I was outside in my backyard, where some sort of army training camp was occurring. Men dressed in black tank tops and camouflage pants were practicing hand-to-hand combat with real guns and real knives. These two soldiers were in the midst of a fight when all the sudden, the one guy flipped the other guy over onto his back and shot him in the collarbone. The drill sergeant simply responded, "Accidents happen. Get him off the field." Then, they called me over, for it was my turn to duke it out. I can't remember who I was fighting, but I know it was someone I knew. My roommate said to me, "He likes to tackle from the knees, so pre-emptive strike him." Just as had been foretold, my opponent did just that. I kicked him in the head and fake-checked him with the weapons. As I celebrated my faux-victory, the drill sergeant came over and told me I had done a fine job.

The next thing I know, I'm in my bed, in my room. Everything is the same. Nothing has changed. It's pitch-black. Then, I see a figure in a white t-shirt emerge from the hallway. It walks slowly. Or is it floating? I can't make out who it is, so I take a guess. "Jason?" It mutters, and I can't discern if it's a yes or no. The figure disappears, and my bed starts shaking uncontrollably. I feel it shaking and moving, like someone is bouncing on it. I jump out of bed and run to turn off the lights. The lights on my fan brighten, and my room is empty.

The clock shines 1:30 a.m.

The scariest part is that in this dream/nightmare context, I don't know at which point I was awake, which point I fell asleep, and which point I woke up again.

Have you ever had this kind of dream? The dream-within-a-dream? The dream that feels like reality? There are people out there that say they have, and I believe them. They'll be able to relate to my experience, but they'll never fully understand it because my perception shaped my dream. My own subjective reality shaped it.

I began wondering how this dream came about, and I feel like it was heavily influenced by this long conversation about the nature of perception, time, reality, and dreams that my friend Gladly (pseudonym) and I had engaged in only hours before I passed out.

It's funny that, although only days later, I have a harder time remembering what exactly we talked about. I know the gist of it, but a word-by-word replay would mean my own "filling in the blanks." Which leads me to two very interesting points that Gladly made:

1. Gladly states, "In my lifetime, I'll forget more things than I experience."
2. Gladly states, "All my memory files are corrupted."

Allow me to clarify:

We began by discussing a disagreement that had recently occurred in his life with someone else. Although the other person and him are the best of friends, lifemates if you will, there are some things they will never see eye to eye. Although they grew up relatively together (same town, same group of friends), their collegiate experiences have started taking them down different paths; therefore, their outlook, their perception of life is changing. As it turns out, different perceptions of the same thing start arising. To give you an example, I pointed out a helicopter to Gladly and told him, "Dude, look at this chopper. We are looking at the same chopper but because of our different experiences in life, the multi stimulants that have come across our paths and influenced us, we are going to have vastly different thoughts about it. We will never truly see the same chopper. The best we can do is compare and relate to each other, but we won't be on the same level."

Rereading that last line I typed struck me as a very lonely thought. Is the whole basis of reality an isolated experience? There are no two same, exact people on this earth. Every single person is a unique individual in their own right. That's why in all those time travel films (see: Back to the Future, Southland Tales), there's the whole time paradox that if your future self runs into your past self, a universal catastrophe will take place: no two exact souls can thrive in the same time and space.

Now, be it true, that my examples come from film, so they are not real examples. But, can't cinema be the only true time travel method we have in today's society? Time travel hasn't been proven. We haven't built a time-traveling DeLorean or created time portals or even confirmed the existence of wormholes, yet all these methods live on in celluloid form.

Not only that, but the cinematic form even manifests time travel itself. Think about it. When one watches a film, they are experiencing three different times at once: the time you watch the film, the time the film takes place, and the time in which the film was made. If you want to probe further, you can consider that film is the congregation of multiple times--the director's time, the writer's time, the producer's time, the actor's time, the PA's time, the set designer's time, etc. All these people are experiencing their own time, and the video camera is recording every moment of it. Harkening back to my chopper example, when you watch a film, you'll be interpreting it differently from someone else. One person can think that Vince Vaughn is the funniest man on the planet, another can think he's as boring as a history teacher older than the subject he's teaching. The way you spend your time is perception. The way you think about your time is through your perception.

If perception is time, and time is subjective, then perception is subjective.

Is there an objective truth? Is there any objectivity at all?

Objectivity hopefully comes about in retrospect. When you think about it "after the fact," when you are able to remove yourself from the situation and discern it from an outside perspective, the objective truth comes out. Relating to time, when the present becomes the past, objective truth becomes clearer. The present changes every single second. The minute you lose focus of the present situation, it becomes the past. When an event becomes a memory, it becomes the past, because it is no longer currently occurring. The trouble with this engagement is that with the ever-increasing bombardment of stimuli in today's modern world, it gets harder to differentiate and filter the past from the present. Slowly, selective memory works its magic, and you really only remember the things you want to remember or had more impact. Hence, Gladly's statements of forgetting more than experiencing and the corruption of memory.

Where am I going with this whole rant? Well, I guess, it comes down to acceptance of perception. Whatever someone does, whatever someone says, is all because of their perception. Their environment, their parents (the basic learning foundation), their experiences have all shaped and influence the person they have become. No two people experience the same life. Even twins, who are of the same genetics, who look alike, have the same parents, same family environment, will still have different thoughts, different perceptions. Their consciousnesses will be self-aware of only what they can see, hear, taste, touch, smell. Perception goes hand-in-hand with personality and character traits. It goes hand-in-hand with thought and emotion. If someone wrongs you, while it is still wrong and hurtful, one should understand that it was their perception to perform this action. This person may not even consider their actions wrong. It is still individual to them.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm talking about the soul.

At least, that's my perception.

Suggested Readings:
The Psychedelic Experience by Timothy Leary
The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas
The Phenomenology of Perception by Merlou-Ponty
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

POSTSCRIPT: My buddy Jake messaged me an interesting thought after reading this entry, and I totally dig it. Although we are all individualistic, "The one perception I feel we should all agree on: 'And we are all as equally important as those who came before us, those who are next to us, and those that will come after us.'"

True that, dude.


E.N.D. said...

as always, great stuff kage. if you like this stuff, you might enjoy Alan M. Watt's THE WISDOM OF INSECURITY & BECOME WHAT YOU ARE. they're both short, quick reads but totally deep. keep on keepin on friend

real_Drea said...

word... perception is most definitely a fine topic to explore.