One day a traveler was walking along a road on his journey from one village to another. As he walked he noticed Socrates sitting on a boulder beside the road. Socrates said “Good day” to the traveler, and the traveler nodded. The traveler then turned to Socrates and said “Excuse me, do you mind if I ask you a question?”.

“Not at all,” replied Socrates.

“I am travelling from the village in the mountains to the village in the valley and I was wondering if you knew what it is like in the village in the valley?”

“Tell me,” said Socrates, “What was your experience of the village in the mountains?”

“Dreadful,” replied the traveler, “to be honest I am glad to be away from there. I found the people most unwelcoming. When I first arrived I was greeted coldly. I was never made to feel part of the village no matter how hard I tried. The villagers keep very much to themselves, they don’t take kindly to strangers. So tell me, what can I expect in the village in the valley?”

“I am sorry to tell you,” said Socrates, “but I think your experience will be much the same there”.

The traveler hung his head despondently and walked on.

A while later another traveler was journeying down the same road and he also came upon Socrates.

“I’m going to the village in the valley,” said the second traveler, “Do you know what it is like?”

“I do,” replied Socrates “But first tell me – where have you come from?”

“I’ve come from the village in the mountains.”

“And how was that?”

“It was a wonderful experience. I would have stayed if I could but I am committed to travelling on. I felt as though I was a member of the family in the village. The elders gave me much advice, the children laughed and joked with me and people were generally kind and generous. I am sad to have left there. It will always hold special memories for me. And what of the village in the valley?” he asked again.

“I think you will find it much the same” replied Socrates, “Good day to you”.

“Good day and thank you,” the traveler replied, smiled, and journeyed on.

Socrates knew we do not see things as they are; we see them as we are. Perception is demonstrably an active rather than a passive process; it constructs rather than records “reality.” Perception implies understanding as well as awareness. It is a process of inference in which people construct their own version of reality on the basis of information provided them.


Take a look at these two tables. Which one of them do you think is longer, and which one is wider?

tables largesst 001                                                A                                                                             B

It might be hard to believe, but the two tables have the exact same dimensions! Measure both table surfaces with a ruler and prove it to yourself. Why, then, does the table on the left look elongated, while the table on the right appears to have a wider width? The illusion of two tables was first discovered by Roger Shepard at Stanford University.

It comes down to how we perceive the scene. Accustomed as we are to photography and Western art, we automatically interpret the scene as three-dimensional. The concept of perspective, first mastered by artists during the Renaissance, is one we encounter in our everyday lives, and our brains automatically assume that the further away an object is from us, the smaller it will be. To compensate, our brain interprets and “lengthens” lines that appear to be pointing away from us into the distance. In this scene, the interpretation made by our brain extends the length of the table on the left by making it appear longer and the shorter side of the right-hand table by making it appear wider. Our brain constructs what we perceive based on our past experiences rather than what is there.

I once read a research report written by scientists who had studied a primitive New Guinea tribe. The tribe that believed their world ended at the nearby river. After several months one of the scientists had to cross the river to leave. When the scientist was safely across he waved, but the tribesmen did not respond. They said they didn’t see him as nothing existed beyond the end of the world. Their entrenched patterns of belief about where the world ended distorted their perception of reality.

You construct your own reality by how you interpret your experiences.


Michael Michalko


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