Is Perception Reality?

Have you ever come across something you once purchased and said,

 “I can’t believe I actually bought that thing. What was I thinking?”

Well, you probably weren’t. In his book on small business, Michael Gerber describes how all buying decisions are made.

“.. the Unconscious Mind sends its answer up to the Conscious Mind, which then goes back out into the world to assemble the rational armament it needs to support its already determined emotional commitment. And that’s how all buying decisions are made, Irrationally!”  (“The E-Myth Revisited”,p.221)

Can you believe that? None of us has ever made a rational buying decision, even though we think we have. How can that be?

One of the two pillars of marketing is a science called psychographics. Gerber describes it as “..the science of perceived marketplace reality.” Through careful research, marketing professionals have learned to create a sensory experience that appeals to the unconscious mind of their target audience. By doing so, they create a perception that aligns with the psychological needs of their prospective customers. Once a potential customer unconsciously perceives that his needs are being met, he consciously takes the steps necessary to justify a purchase. All because the marketing professional was able to convince his buyer that perception is reality. 

But it’s not. As marketers know, perceptions are a reflection of how we think. So if our perceptions aren’t reality, what do they reveal to us and how can we use them for our benefit instead of being fooled by them?

In order to answer that question, we need to understand how our perceptions are formed. First we take in data through our senses. Of course, every magician knows that our senses are easily deceived. Then we process that information in our brains, largely subconsciously, to formulate our perceptions. Those perceptions become ‘our reality’ – the way we see the world ‘out there.’ But if our senses can be deceived, the input is questionable. And if our interpretations are biased, then the process by which we make sense of those inputs is flawed. The bottom line is that we will only see what we expect to see. Therefore, it is an error to call perceptions ‘reality’ or ‘truth.’ 

Yet even though perception is not reality, each of us believes that our own perception is reality. To make matters worse, different people have different perceptions.  And what those differing perceptions have in common is a tendency to engage in the blame game. We can see that in the story of Adam and Eve.  

After Adam and Eve meet the serpent and are convinced to eat the forbidden fruit, they see each other differently. 

“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” [Genesis 3:7]

Although they are still unified, their senses are deceiving them into believing that they are separate. Having sensed this change, they become confused. They become afraid and feel a sense of shame, so they hide their most intimate parts from each other. Worse yet, their fear drives them to hide from the Lord [Genesis 3:8-10].

When the Lord finds out that they’ve eaten the forbidden fruit, the blame game starts.

  “The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” [Genesis 3:12]

Adam is perceiving all of the ways that this is somebody else’s fault: God put Eve there, and she made him eat it. 

 “Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” [Genesis 3:13]

Eve is also perceiving all of the ways that this is somebody else’s fault: the serpent tricked her into eating it. 

Both Adam and Eve are perceiving the problem as being outside of themselves. But what they are doing is projecting their own perceived guilt away from themselves and onto someone else. 

We, like them, are accustomed to using perception to project guilt outward and away from ourselves. As you increase the number of people, not only is there more opportunity for conflict, but there is also a greater tendency for people to organize into factions with differing perceptions. It is these conflicting perceptions that are responsible for the hostility and divisions among us.  

However, in spite these flaws, our perceptions can be useful to us. How? They are an outward reflection of how we perceive our own inward condition. As A Course in Miracles states,

 “Perception is a mirror, not a fact. And what I look on is my state of mind, reflected outward.” [W-PII.304.1:3-4]

So if we look outward and see a violent, unjust, and evil world, we are perceiving ourselves to be violent, unjust, and evil. But the darkness that we perceive isn’t really there. God made us in His image. He is good, so we are good. He is one, and we are one 

What we’re leading up to here is the core message of Christ – forgiveness. Forgiveness is the process of removing those false perceptions and seeing what is really there.

We are as God created us, but we haven’t yet realized that because of our false perceptions. Forgiveness leads us to accept the truth about ourselves. 

So perception is a tool. But it’s a mirror, not a window. When properly used for forgiveness, it leads us out of conflict and back to the truth. However, when improperly used as a tool for judgment, it leads to error, conflict, and suffering. 

The bottom line is that we’ve misused our perceptions. Only by using them properly, as a mirror, can we benefit from them. When you look in a mirror and see something that isn’t right, you correct it and make it right. Then, you feel better. Likewise, by applying forgiveness to inaccurate perceptions, we correct our self image. And, as a result, we experience healing and peace of mind. This approach requires diligent practice and an acute sense of awareness, but the effort is worth it. 

Despite appearances to the contrary, the world indeed remains as God created it – very good. Otherwise, Almighty God is neither. It is our perceptions that need changing. That is the ultimate reason for forgiveness. It’s time to live the truth and leave conflict behind. Only then will we be at peace, lacking nothing, and never again to buy something that we don’t need.


“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” [Matthew 4:17]