Friday, July 8, 2011

The difference between projection and perception.

Most people are familiar with the idea that what one sees around themselves in the world is to a certain degree a projection of their mind. That if you see someone as angry, it could be that you’re angry and “projecting” it on them, or if you feel certain that a certain outcome is going to happen for another person, it could be that that’s the outcome you had in a similar situation, and you’re projecting your experience on them, etc.
Certainly, people do project. A lot. The average person hardly ever perceives anything clearly, always projecting their own insecurities, memories, beliefs and prejudices onto people around them. For example, a person might be completely certain that if their friend has sex with a certain person, that they’re going to get hurt and end up really sad and lonely. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that this prediction is coming from a person who had that experience themselves, and simply doesn’t know that things can be different for other people, and that not everything in the world is exactly like them.
If “not knowing that things can be different for other people” seems like something not suited to be preceded by “simply” to you, let me explain. You’re right, not knowing that things can be different for others is a big deal, I would venture to say bordering on some form of pseudo-autism, but the psychological mechanism that results in this blindness is actually quite simple, hence the use of that word. They “simply” don’t know. It’s a huge problem and mental defect, yes, but also a simple one. People are simply projecting their entire reality onto everything around them, with no awareness to the fact that other people could perceive things differently than them, or feel differently about things than they do.
So that’s projection, in it’s most basic, blinding form. It takes the projector clear away from reality, by cutting off all awareness of things around them. All they see is their own mind and their own stories, plastered everywhere in the world and onto everybody they meet.
Now, before I go into how clear perception works and why it is possible, let me first confirm that it is 100% true that you can never see anything in the world that isn’t also within you. When they say “you could not see that person as angry, unless there was anger within you,” that is true. And in this sense, the basic understanding of how human projection works is true, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that this law does not prevent a wise, intelligent person from perceiving completely clearly, as opposed to projecting. I will explain how this works.
Basically, the fundamental truth at the center of the concept of humans projecting things onto others, is that you cannot see something that you don’t believe or understand yourself. If you have no notion of fear, you won’t be able to detect if someone else is afraid. If you have no notion of anger, you won’t be able to detect when someone else is angry. You’ll see their actions, hear the volume of their voice, etc, but you won’t be able to make any sense of it if you don’t know what anger is.
The common misunderstanding surrounding this truth is this: If you see something in someone else, it is within you, only within you, and has an emotional hold on you. In the anger example, this would mean, if you see someone as angry, it’s because you have anger issues yourself, and the person you’re perceiving may or may not be angry at all, and it has no relation to your perception. This is of course ridiculous. If you were seeing anger in that person only because there is anger within you, then you would see every single person as angry, because your anger would be projected in the same way everywhere.
All that the concept “you can’t see what you don’t have within yourself” says is that in order to recognize something in someone else, you have to have an awareness and understanding of it yourself. It’s like radio channels. If you have the frequency “anger” within you, then you can pick up the signal when someone else is angry. It doesn’t mean that anger has a hold of you at that moment, and it doesn’t mean that the other person isn’t angry. It just means that in order for you to perceive anger, you did need to have it within yourself, in one way or another, otherwise it would not exist in your reality.
So, as you can see, projection and perception are two completely different things, and both are possible. Projection is a blind superimposition of your own mind onto things around you. Perception is being able to recognize the nature of things around you, using your own understanding and experience with those things, in order to be able to recognize them. The statement “it must be within you if you see it outside of yourself” holds completely true, but as I’ve shown, it does not negate the possibility of clear perception.
Imagine a giant board filled with numbers. Random numbers spread across a giant checkered board. And every person has certain numbers within their mind, and they can only see on the board those numbers that they also have in their mind. For example, if a person had only the numbers 19, 37 and 102 in their mind, then they’d only see those numbers on the board, wherever they show up, and everything else would look blank. The more numbers you have in your mind, the more you can see. It doesn’t mean you’re “projecting” those numbers. It means you’re able to perceive them, because you understand them yourself. It’s more of a resonation than a projection.
This is how projection and perception can both exist. And it is quite irritating when a clear-headed person makes an accurate observation, and is told “well, if that’s what you’re seeing, that must be what’s within you. It has nothing to do with what’s out there.” That is utter bull shit.

1 comment:

  1. You might be interested in Robert Anton Wilson's idea of the "reality tunnel". You might also be interested in Alfred Korzybski.