Monday, March 14, 2011

On Perception and Realilty

I don’t know how many of you have seen the recent movie, starring Leonardo DeCaprio, titled Inception. I did. And the symbolism blew me away. It’s about a man who specializes in entering other people’s dreams to steal information. He’s the best in the world at this science. In his last big job, he is given a new twist to his abilities. Instead of going inside someone else’s dream to take information, he is hired by a wealthy man to enter into the dreams of the son of a dying competitor in order to plant an idea inside the heir’s unconscious that will break up his father’s empire and later make decisions which will benefit the heir’s wealthy rival. When an idea is implanted into another individual’s unconscious, that process is called Inception.

The viewer spends a lot of time between dreams and reality in the movie. The makers of the film made it difficult for us to know when we are viewing a dream and when we are viewing reality. They allow us to think we have it straight, but then leave us with a nagging sense of doubt that we may have it wrong. How, then, do we tell what is real and what is not? What is the difference between reality and perception? This question becomes the real essence of the movie.

It explores the harsh notion that, not only can an individual get things wrong; an entire society can get things wrong. We need only to look at the inequality which brought about the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s to see how large group psychology can be in error. It wasn’t until 1954 that blacks were paid the same as whites. It was not until 1977 that psychiatrists finally got around to declaring homosexuality was not a disorder. It was not until 1984 that widows were given rights to their husband’s pensions.

Closer to home in our own fraternal society, we all know there are good and well-meaning Christians who still cite Albert Pike as once claiming Freemasons are all worshipers of Satan. Never mind that this claim was actually made by a notorious atheist and pornographer named Leo Taxil in 1894, three years after Pike died.

The point is that group consensus often gets things wrong, and it can take a long time to fix things. So how do we know what is real and what is not real? Fortunately, the journey of Masonry helps us respond to this difficult inquiry. In the progressive path of our degrees, we learn some remarkable things about perception. Here is how our process works.

We start off learning the world around us by direct touch and taste; by what we see and hear; what we perceive and smell. In the process of learning, we run into a lot of walls. Our journey is not always forward and direct, but oft times torturous and winding. As we grow intellectually, we have to overcome our subjective reaction to things. At some point we begin comparing notes, we discuss our perceptions with others, and we attempt to come to a consensus of what is real and what is not; not always realizing that we are only comparing our own subjectivity with that of others. This is where we often decide what is right thinking and wrong thinking in our culture. Yet, realizing that our world view is not the same as the world view of those who are raised half way around the world, we have no other way of declaring what is morally right or wrong except by consensus agreement.

But then, if we don’t question our inner nature; that is, if we don’t investigate how we personally feel deep inside our own soul about all the group consensus we encounter, we will never become objective unto ourselves. We will never learn to think for ourselves. We will never know there are times when the world must go on without us. And that this realization is actually an affirmation of one’s self. The assumptions that are born out of our experience are not always born out by our experience. We can and do make mistakes about what is reality and what is not. Philosophy, psychology, psychiatry, the sciences; all are inspired to enable each individual to distinguish for himself between what is real and what is not.

I found the movie, Inception, to be about love, betrayal, possessiveness, having to cut loose from a willfully death-bound person or relationship. It’s a story about life and how confusing life can be without affirmation. I think the bottom line message is that if we never get inside ourselves, overcome our subjective impulses, get to know who we are, and become comfortable in our own skin, then life is a like living in a dream. It is a poverty stricken limbo—all buildings, all city, all streets—and no changing vistas of reality.

We must never forget that, for everyone, perception is reality. But it never hurts to test the reality of our perceptions. I believe that is the nature of the Masonic journey. It calls us at all times to reflect on where we are with our perceptions of things.