How we Delete and Distort Reality, and why it Matters

Perception is an active process, rather than a passive taking in of what is out in the world. Everything our senses take in is reflected against prior experience, evaluated, its meaning determined and put into the current context.

What at first may sound like a purely “semantic” difference, is in actuality of the greatest importance. Because all of us are actively perceiving our environment and bringing wildly different moods, contexts, expectations with us, all of us perceive completely different things. All of us delete, distort and generalize our perceptions, but even more importantly all us of delete, distort and generalize differently!

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” ― Anaïs Nin

In a way we all project our sensations onto our mental landscape of experiences, expectations, values, beliefs, habits, goals, etc.
And because we all have different backgrounds and experiences, all our landscapes are different.


Deletion & Distortion visualized by Mona Lisa projected onto a “mental landscape” and viewed from different perspectives. CC-BY Jonas Tullus. Blender source. Video in OGG format. Video on Vimeo

What we are aware of therefore is to a large degree our mental landscape more than the image that is projected onto it. And as “reality” gets projected onto different landscapes from different points of view, the resulting perception may be diametrically opposed. This is only a contradiction if we neglect the projection that we all perform, the deletions, distortions and generalization that we all do to make sense of our world.

Mental landscape of beliefs and values

Mental landscape of beliefs and values. CC-BY Jonas Tullus

The facial features of the Mona Lisa that are enlarged or diminished represent distortions, while the areas that are no longer visible at all represent deletions. As we can see from this very simple example, relatively subtle deletions and distortions can completely alter the impression we have from such a projected image. Minor changes in representation can lead to major changes in interpretation, especially once we add generalization and make meaning of our distorted perceptions.

Is the woman in all these picture the Mona Lisa? Is she beautiful? Is she smiling? Does she have a big nose, or a pointy one?

Mona Lisa Deletion Distortion Perspectives

Deletion & Distortion visualized by Mona Lisa projected onto a "mental landscape" and viewed from different perspectives. CC-BY Jonas Tullus. Blender source. GIMP source. Image source Public Domain.

If only we can be a little more aware of our own distortions, and keep in mind that everyone around us distorts “reality” in their very own way, then a simple contradiction in perceptions does not necessarily have to lead to violence, anger or frustration.

After all, it could be that the two of you are on the same side, or share some important values, or have the same goal. No need to jump out of your pants only because someone sees things differently from you…

And they will ;)

One Response to How we Delete and Distort Reality, and why it Matters

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