Appearance vs. reality – perception is more important than reality in modern life

Appearance vs. reality – perception is more important than reality in modern life – Column

Gerald F. Kreyche

For centuries, most people scoffed at the notion that the Earth was round. To all appearances, it was flat, and there are members of the Flat Earth Society who still argue it is so. The educated, though, even in Aristotle’s time, knew it was round, as evidenced by the Earth’s shadow on the moon during an eclipse.

Yet, although people loudly proclaim that “appearances are deceptive,” they still tend to accept appearance over reality. Despite the adage that “one can’t tell a book by its cover” or a record by its cover jacket, both often are sold on that very basis. Time and again, we are told to “keep up appearances” (although the young no longer seem much concerned about this), and cynics even claim that appearances are the essence of politics. In short, in nearly every aspect of life. perceptions–i.e., appearances–overrun reality. Indeed, perception is the very basis of most modern advertising.

Form vs. function

Let’s examine some obvious and then some not so obvious examples. On many men’s shirts and women’s blouses, where one finds pocket flaps, one would expect pockets. Not so! We assume their functionality, but they are there only for decoration. We are similarly deceived by shoulder pads, wonder bras, breast implants, and now fanny enhancers.

Many model homes on display tend to be filled with downsized furniture that makes the rooms look larger than they really are. They also contain plastic plants so realistic that some caretakers even water them. When buyers move their overstuffed sofas and chairs into their new homes, they are amazed at how crowded the rooms become.

In Las Vegas, I once stopped to admire a beautifully frosted cake in a display case in a restaurant adjoining the gambling house. I asked if it were real and was told that only the frosting was. Unwittingly, it was a commentary on Las Vegas itself.

We have been conned into forgetting that the artificial turf of many stadiums is not really grass, although the players are painfully aware, as it makes them more injury prone. We tend to forget that the boulders and stone walls found in many zoos to give a natural setting are artificial constructions of different materials.

Trial lawyers realize how important appearances are. Often, when they defend long-haired and unkempt young hoodlums in court, they make sure the defendant is dressed in a suit (probably for the first time) and is well-groomed. What a different impression that makes on the jury as opposed to a defendant coming in wearing prison garb with handcuffs on. Note the well-tailored suit worn by O.J. Simpson during his trial.

Political gurus could not help but wonder during the 1960 televised presidential debate whether Richard Nixon was done in by his five o’clock shadow and John F. Kennedy enhanced by his wavy hair and clean-cut look. How many viewers were distracted by these appearances from the real issues under discussion?

Hoodwinked by Hollywood

Movies and TV, of course, are unchallenged masters of making viewers confuse appearance for reality. John Wayne, a naturally big man, was made to appear even larger than life by photographing him in an undersized door frame as in “The Searchers.” Audiences become excited by a movie love scene and believe the actors to be on the verge of panting passion. Nothing could appear more glamorous, but in fact it is all in a day’s work, surrounded by film technicians and intruded upon as they are by bright lights and an obsequious camera inches away from their faces. Could anyone really make love under those circumstances?

Franklin D. Roosevelt and his advisors were convinced that he could not gamer the presidential vote if he appeared as he was–a cripple. Accordingly, with the help of the media, he was portrayed as able to walk and stand. Appearances won over the voters.

For many years, amputees swore they could feel pain in the “phantom limb,” which no longer was there. Modem neurological studies are helping to understand this phenomenon whereby perception insists it is correct, when it is not.

Statisticians tell us that the crime rate is going down all over the country, but one can not convince ordinary citizens of that. Their perception is that it is getting worse.

Today, we are encountering “virtual reality,” a cross between reality and perception. Basically, it involves the use of advanced computers that tie directly into human sensory channels. Many enable users to practice interacting with a fake reality to prepare for the real thing. This can be for fun, as in interactive golf games, or serious training for the prevention of air crashes. For example, Boeing’s “The Box,” a flight simulator which is as close as pilots can come to the real thing, is a boon to safety. Brain surgeons even can practice a dry-run operation via computers before opening a patient’s skull.

The American philosopher/psychologist, William James, said that all arguments are against human freedom, but all experience is for it. Is freedom real, or only an egotistical perception?

Lastly, Aristotle once defined sophistry as “having the appearance of knowledge without the reality.” How many of us are living in the world of appearance, rather than that of reality? Perhaps we would rather not know.

COPYRIGHT 1995 Society for the Advancement of Education

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