Reality, Perceptions, And Distortions

Glass distortions by ~ahillo
Glass distortions by ~ahillo

Earlier I wrote about separating the wheat from the chaff but today a few sentences in comments of a post provided much food for thought. The lens of our minds often paint a very distorted picture of ourselves and, as a result, of others and the world around us. Unfortunately, since we only have a single point of reference, it is difficult for many of us to catch and correct this distortion. The distorted view, in turn, tends to cause us to dismiss ideas, thoughts, or points that could otherwise be invaluable (the wheat). We correct this distortion through constantly cross-checking what we see with what others see either via live experiences or via imagination enriched through education, reading, and other means of learning. For example, Dr. House in a popular TV show wants his team to challenge his thinking forcing him to see the same problem from different angles. Dr. Niederhoffer in Daily Speculations gets a real-time perspective from his readers while exchanging with them his perspectives. Another example is our ability to use past education, reading to relate to current events, or current people (mind applying past patterns to current ones). We are hard at work trying to correct the distortions created by our own upbringing, learning and experiences, yet often we end up with an even more distorted view if our subconscious corrective efforts are not using the appropriate models or people. If I had multiple lives, I would devote one to the study of the hypothesis above. The author of the referenced post says he never lets his “personal feelings for a person interfere with any good ideas they bring to the table” which is perhaps his effort to correct the distortions by forcing his mind to remain open despite the stimulus (dislike) to close.

There is another sentence hidden in those comments stating that “the person and his/her ideas are 2 different things.” Is this really possible? I believe that a Person = ideas + attitudes + habits + values + beliefs + qualities + character + roles + contributions + lessons + observations + legacy + other dimensions where it’s impossible for each dimension to be independent of the others. The key point I forgot to mention in the post comments is regarding the time dimension. While we are the sum of what we do, say, write, believe… these do change over time allowing us to change as well. I remember reading someplace Gandhi saying “A person cannot do right in one department of life whilst attempting to do wrong in another department. Life is one indivisible whole.” Humans are complex beings but one way to understand ourselves and others is to realize that we are multidimensional beings, with many parts to each equation. And, those parts are always changing. Some parts we hope change very frequently (experiences, observations, etc.) while some parts we hope remain fairly constant (good character, trustworthiness, etc.).

I have noticed that people who try to understand the market (or life) spend more time learning themselves as the market (and life) is unforgiving and doesn’t care about our distorted screens. There are too many opinions that can further distort our views causing confusion and doubt. Since our positions and actions in aggregate determine our success, we tend to focus on these trying to understand how the universe can affect them. In life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, an open mind and active efforts to correct our own distorted views are required.

For fear of having another very long post, I’ll stop here.


  1. Hi,

    Reading this post brings a smile to my face; the thoughts you expressed so vividly as the lens which every man realizes (at some point of his life) he is looking through, when before he had thought that there was nothing between him and the world/reality.

    I am reminded of an online conversation I had a few months back, which started innocuously enough from a tangential quote and the august Olympic Games, and progressively led (in a most delightful manner) to a discussion on perception, distortion and perspective (most interestingly where the developing themes of the discussion was mirrored unconsciously in the methods we were using to engage in).

    Thought I will show here the parts of that discussion more congruent to your thoughts above (and I especially agree with you regarding the issue of time):

    “More recently, I find myself thinking about the fractal nature of cultural/national/ethnic identities (through the use of language as both the lexicon for meaning as well as for expression), and how much this has facilitated, foundered, or biased inter-grouping exchanges. This invariably calls for consideration of man in his singular form (private language, or not at all?), man in his community (village, ethnic, nation, region, religious – public languages, but what’s the correspondence?), man in his entirety (no languages here, just divine consciousness, or if we evolved/devolved into Borgs, or perhaps after 10,000 years of Esperanto).
    And we have not even considered man across time: can we have a complete cognitive grasp of our language /cultural/national/ethnic identity from an earlier time? Does human nature scale?

    A fractal magnifying glass will be useful in examining shared principles (if any) between groups and time, without sliding into the domain of that bastard-child from anthropology, cultural relativism.”

    “I have to say that in our brief discussion on western/chinese thinking, pragmatic/idealistic thinking, we are largely in agreement. What is interesting is that these themes seem to also have been mirrored in the ways we approached this discussion. I believed you framed the themes within classic dialecticism in order to draw out the potential for western/chinese, pragmatic/idealistic thinking to complement and enrich the other. I confess that from the start, I intended for an inclusive, non-dualistic approach to engaging the discussion (never realizing the method to reference the theme so pointedly) as it develops.”

    Apologies if this is irrelevant.

    Don Chu

  2. Don – Thank you for stopping by. You provided much food for thought in a few paragraphs. I must admit that I had not thought of the distortions, realities and perceptions at different fractal elements beyond the person (family, community, region, nation, hemisphere, the whole human race), especially across time. This paper discusses similar concepts from a particular perspective and may be of interest. Is the conversation you reference online? If so, a link would be much appreciated. Thanks again!”

  3. Hi legacydaily,

    Just a thought – if we take the individual as our unit of reference, then the associations beyond the functional self (family, community, region, nation etc) may be considered as higher order linear derivations. And if we turn the other way, will we find integrals of a self-similar nature within the individual?
    I believe so, taking the obvious examples of individuals who straddle two or more distinct identity groupings, like children of mixed-ethnic parentage, 2nd generation immigrants and others, who have absorbed multiple identities in the form of languages, traditions, histories etc – a sensitive expression of which, I feel your site has conveyed.

    Of course, a little more thought reveals some inconsistencies in the line of thinking above: the history of the human race (what we know so far at least) has been one of increasing inter-group exchanges; in the current globalized era, it is easy to think of a person as an amalgam-man – extend this further and actually every man in history is made up of composites, to a greater or lesser degree. This seeming inevitable simultaneous ‘entropy’ of human identities would appear to make the earlier linear consideration of [lower order]-Self-[higher order] look woefully inadequate. But there may be a way out…

    Anyway, your post throws up many interesting areas for further thought, but as with your last line, I fear a long comment from myself.

    Appreciate the link to the paper you provided. As for the conversation mentioned, I have placed it here:

    [Apologies for the utter emptiness of the site. It was registered just to allow for commenting at other blogs. Am now envisioning its possible future as an online waste-paper basket or mess locker]

  4. Don – Thank you so much for the link to a very interesting conversation indeed. Let me see if I understand you correctly. Are my individual contributions (myself being a good example of the composite you mention) to the hierarchical groupings of nation, region, or community significant enough? How about at the family level? What about over time? Considering the humanity throughout history as the body, I am but one little cell in it. As a person, I am a world of my own but in space/time that world is infinitely insignificant yet somehow we are able to create a vast sea of culture, knowledge and wisdom, and everything else transferred from generation to generation. Does humanity represent a higher level person with its ideas + attitudes + habits + …? 1 Corinthians 12:12 – 14 and Luke 22:19 – 20 specifically state that it does. Thanks again for adding a number of additional perspectives. This has been a good example of distortions being corrected.

  5. Hi,

    Actually, rather than correcting, I’m afraid my comments may lead only to greater and discretized distortions. But I think you may have anticipated this already, from your quote of Gandhi’s “indivisible whole” above…

    [Just to note, the “hierarchical groupings” or linear consideration described in my previous comment is where the inconsistencies I alluded to lay. And to clarify an earlier statement: “This seeming inevitable simultaneous ‘entropy’ of human identities”, I meant to describe this simultaneous action occurring at the levels of, the universal/entire human race, at the discrete self-unit, and all the localized derivative iterations in between.
    I think that rather than a straight hierarchy, a more dynamic structure where each node interacts and inter-influence one and all may perhaps describe reality more readily.]

    What you said of the self and its various forms influencing humanity to “create a vast sea of culture, knowledge and wisdom… transferred from generation to generation” is probably the functional aspect of cultural memory in history (leaving aside the important idea of “significance” for now).
    Here I think a quote from the Russian cultural semiotician, Yuri Lotman may be helpful:
    “if history is culture’s memory then this means that it is not only a relic of the past, but also an active mechanism of the present. … The interrelationship between cultural memory and its self-reflection is like a constant dialogue: texts from chronologically earlier periods are brought into culture, and, interacting … generate an image of the historical past, which culture transfers into the past and which like an equal partner in a dialogue, affects the present. But as it transforms the present, the past too changes its shape. …
    Just as different prognoses of the future make up an inevitable part of the universum of culture, so culture cannot do without ‘prognoses of the past’.”

    Thank you for the reference to 1 Corinthians Chap 12. Indeed, the apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, especially with Chap 12 on the one and all of the body of Christ, remains one of the more important texts for the edification and building up of church communities.
    Here is a non-canonical text, looking at the same idea, but stepping from the other direction. From the so-called Gospel of Thomas from the Nag Hammdai scrolls, we read:
    “(A man said) to Him: Tell my brethren to divide my father’s possessions with me. He said to him: O man, who made Me a divider? He turned to His disciples, he said to them: I am not a divider, am I?”

    Which brings us back to Gandhi’s “indivisible whole” once again…

  6. Discrete distortions? I think of a Dali painting where parts are distorted but “indivisible whole” mind sees more than the parts with the size of the visible picture being a function of the depth of the mind.

    [I appreciate your further explanation of the “simultaneous ‘entropy'” which is crisp and very relevant.]

    While in my earlier comment I really meant culture (cultural memory being a part), Yuri Lotman’s words match with my perspective with a vivid example among others being Turkey’s and some Turkish people’s current denial of the past Armenian Genocide. Furthermore, I find it applicable to the markets where the present is affected by the past (or at least people’s distorted interpretations of the past).

    While the body of Christ is often mentioned in cementing relationships in church communities, for me it represents the ideal of all humanity being one across all time.

  7. State-orchestrated systematic killings and even worse abuses, chills the heart. Even colder, is the brusque denial of the events, or the shrugging off of accountability.

    One-half of my family tree was removed from their ancestral home in North Asia to South-east Asia by the conditions and events leading up to the Nanking massacre. Ironically and sadly, the same East Asian oppressor continued on their ‘benevolent’ Greater Asia Co-Prosperity mission and brutally annexed most of South-east Asia; many families who fled southwards across thousands of miles and tens of countries once again faced oppression and abuse at the same hands.

    The forced diaspora resulting from such oppression does lead to the burgeoning multiple identities of the removed latter generations, whether they like it or not.

  8. To add to my last comment:

    Sometimes, we dont need official historical accounts, well-investigated research or textured semiotic analysis to remember well.

    The pain and hurt in the eyes of a grandparent who cannot speak of certain events, visits to sites of remembrance of relatives you’ve never seen and who left no bodies to bury – all these speak more truthfully then any officious denial or acknowledgement can muster.

  9. Don – Unfortunately, I understand every sentence in your last two comments all too well. I very much appreciate your invaluable contributions to this post.

  10. Apologies for my slightly emotional excursion in previous comment.

    On a more light-hearted note, here is an interesting facet on the Armenian presence in my country – the oldest church on the island:

    More pictures here of the small but beautiful palladium-styled architecture, where I spent many lazy afternoons sketching the doric columns in a previous life as an architectural student:

    I have just seen the Armenian script for the first time. It is most exquisite.

  11. Hi LD,

    Thank you for the link to that beautiful hymn.
    May I know what the title “Sourp-Sourp” means? My best guess is that it means ‘blessed’ and/or is an honorific prefix like ‘Saint’.

    Interestingly, I have been listening to the following song these two days with a similar alliterative title, “Nada Sou Sou”, performed by the Ryukyuan/Okinawan singer, Rimi Natsukawa.

    The actual title “涙そうそう” or “淚光閃閃” has a transliteration as “Tears-Bright-Shimmering”. The lyricist (Moriyama Ryoko) apparently wrote the song for her departed brother; the lyrics appearing in kanji in the video is truly, melting.

  12. What a beautiful melody, Don. I really wish I could understand the words. You are absolutely correct “sourp” means “saint”, but in this context it is closer to “holy”.

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