About Perception (Extracts)

Vanisha Nebhwani, Madrid, Spain

In this report I will explore how perception of individuals, and us as a collective, see and experience the world around us. I did this by using two common subjects: colours and dreams that turned out to be my two projects and pathways into finding an answer for one common question:

  • How do humans perceive the world?
  • Does everyone see things the same or differently?
  • To what extent?

These questions frame the entirety of my work during the past few months, delving into what is perception and how the mind works as a whole.

Ways of seeing the world are interpreted differently for everyone, causing them to have their own perception of what life is. But what is perception? Why do we all have different opinions for certain matters, but think exactly the same in others? Perception is the process of getting, interpreting, selecting, and organizing sensory information. It is more than information coming into the brain, it is also how we communicate and interpret the information being fed.

Perception in my opinion affects everyone, starting from the individual to the society as a collective. We all gather information and process it making us perceive the world through our experiences and emotions. Everyone needs interaction with each other to figure out that we see the world differently to others. If we did not interact with anyone, we would never find out our own ways of seeing life.

Whilst developing this project, I wanted to gather more theoretical knowledge about the mind in individuals. Joseph Albers is an artist, educator and theoretician of art whose work talks about colour theory, how it is relative to its surrounding and changes according to the viewer. “If one says ‘red’, and there are fifty people listening, it can be expected that there will be fifty reds in their minds. One can be sure that all these reds will be very different.” This was one of his remarks that led me on to develop my first subject further. He also talks about how perception is an illusion and how we don’t see colours as they really are.

Alan Watts is commonly known for interpreting and popularizing certain traditions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, but the speech that related to my theoretical practice was a talk called ‘What is Reality’. This was one of the factors that sparked my interest for my second subject to explore, dreams. “A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about but thoughts, so he loses touch with reality and lives in a world of illusions.”

The world of illusion which I then translated into the dream world, one where everything is another way of exploring your perception. “Time to wake up! What is reality?” Are our dreams just another way of seeing reality and how can one explain the ‘actual’ definition of reality? At the end of the day, it will be from the talker’s point of view.

Most of my work is heavily based on the understanding of how our brain functions and the ways of thinking. Perception uses sensory information and data to gather an interpretation, and it is more than information being read or coming out, it is individual for each soul. Behaviour is another main topic that correlates to perception. Behaviour changes according to types of environments hence changing the way we see and think. Philosophy plays the most important role in my project as this entire project is a study of reality and existence, two disciplines that are fundamental in philosophy.

Identifying a frame

We, as a race are all involved in the world of perception. Without any interaction, emotion, senses, we wouldn't have any sort of perception as there wouldn't be any experiences to base it from or a contrasting point of view. As an individual and as a community, we work and interact with each other through our ways of seeing. This is how connections between humans get stronger, when our perceptions are similar or we connect with someone who views the world from a similar point of view.

Using common experiences and subjects such as colour and dreams (my two pathways) my audience created connections between each other, sharing their perception of what they believe in and how they have experienced the world with their own eyes, if you might say, their eyes were windows into their souls, their minds. Showing how emotions and experiences can change the way they watch a world through colour, or how they would imagine the world through their dreams according to their experiences and desires in life.

Where does perception exist? In my opinion it is limitless, it can’t be controlled it is everywhere and anywhere. It doesn't have an exact place where it can be found, rather it can’t be confined to any place. It is in everyone’s soul, each individual has their own head space in which it lives in and manifests in their day-to-day experiences.

Fundamentally, in terms of our perceptions, we are all alone in our mind, but as a collective it is all around us, in our world, in our communication. When developing my research question and my two subjects, I used the space of our day-to-day lives, experiences everyone has been through or things we have all seen, for example: colour, waking up, interacting with one another and our thoughts to create a narrative, being able to collect data and represent it in a visual way in order to enter someone else’s mind.

Sigmund Freud, known as the father of psychoanalysis, created a field called Freudian psychology in which the main thematic suggests that “self-perception is an illusion of the ego, and cannot be trusted to decide what is in fact real.” Such questions are also continuously asked from a philosophical point of view, such as “Do our perceptions allow us to experience the world as it really is?” or “Can we ever know another point of view in the way we know our own?”

Studies have shown that perception can be categorized into two different parts, the first one being internal perception and the second one, external or sensory perception. Internal perception is all about what goes on inside of us and how we process things such as the sensation we get when we are sleepy or hungry. External perception is focused on the outside part of our bodies, our senses: touch, sound, smell, sight and taste. Using these we discover textures, sounds, fragrance, colours, etc. A common theory of perception is called naïve realism. This means that people believe that what they perceive is the thing itself. A lot of people go into their adulthood thinking that way and view that perception to be the world itself rather than a pattern of perception.

Colours of life

The idea of ways of seeing has always intrigued me but specifically, how we perceive colour in our day-to-day world. We have it engraved in our head that certain colours are certain names, but the case might be that someone could see a completely different colour from that you are seeing right now. We all can agree that when we see a rubix cube, we see six different colours: white, blue, green, red, orange and yellow, but what we don’t know is that colour is an illusion. On the outside world it doesn't exist beyond us, it is just something created in our heads. My aims and intentions are to explore how individuals perceive differently and if they do that, how can it be communicated between each other. Are the final results the same?

The basics of how colour is created inside our heads is that our brains convert a certain range of the electromagnetic spectrum into colour. The wavelength of radiation or ultraviolet light can be measured, but the experience of a colour inside your mind cannot be measured or observed, so how do you know what people mean by ‘red’? We look at a strawberry, and in my brain the perception of that strawberry occurs which I call ‘red’ but in your brain a different perception occurs, which you have of course, also learned to call red, so we both call it red. We communicate effectively and walk away, never knowing just how different each of our internal experiences really were. Of course, this isn't only with colour, we are talking about perception in itself. We perceive our day-to-day lives completely differently from one another, even if we did the exact same thing.

The frustration of not knowing what is going on inside someone’s head, makes you want to know more about it, by starting conversation or even just questioning your own or other people’s thoughts, but this would trigger that chain reaction. These days, people just agree to what can be seen with the naked eye, communicate effectively and just walk away. But what would happen if you started conversation, started questioning everything? This is a way to make people interact with each other. We can get so lost in our own mind, so at times it is good to step back and see things from a different perspective. Start curiosity through communications. I did this by using my audience to gather the data and they were the ones to perceive the final results of my colours project. They were the main source of my entire project and without them there would be nothing to perceive.

Colours have a great importance for us humans, so it affects anyone and everyone who perceives colour and interacts with the outside world. We have a great attachment to colour as it closely links with our emotions and is a powerful medium to express feelings. Colour psychology is “the study of hues as a determinant of human behaviour. Colour influences perceptions that are not so obvious, such as taste of food.” Furthermore, colour can also enhance the effectiveness of placebos. Without us even acknowledging the importance of colour in our day-to-day lives, it still plays an important role in how we behave and how colour affects us psychologically on a much deeper level than just visual.

Factors such as age, gender and culture can influence how an individual perceives colour. During my project I decided to take this into account and used my audience to portray their emotions of their day-to-day lifestyle. I was working with an age range of 5 to 55 and used this target audience as a test to see if my project would be applicable later on for a wider audience.

Where do we go when we close our eyes?

Why is it that so many people have experienced the same dream but their personality is completely distant? The main question I kept asking myself was: Why do we have the same concept of a dream but perceive it in different ways, or is it the same dream but we communicate it in an ineffective way? Or do we communicate it through our perception of what we just imagined?

During the time of exploring the dream concept further, the entire world went through something nobody could ever imagine would happen, corona virus. We all went into lock down, making us unable to interact with the world as we normally do. This started to change the way people think, but in my opinion specifically dreams. We started to dream a different way, imagining things that we would normally take for granted in our day-to-day life such as going to the supermarket, or meeting friends. Our once-known reality turned into our dreams.

I wanted to record this process, so I started my own experiment in which I asked everyone who was in lock down to keep record of any dreams they had or remembered. My aim was to collect this data, whether it was in writing or an audio piece and construct an image of the way I perceived this data. Contrasting to the first project where I used the data and visualized the perception of my audience, this time I used my audience for the data and created my own perception out of it.

I started gathering vast amounts of pages with stories about people’s dreams and decided to illustrate them, turning them into something visual. Finally, I wanted not only to show my own perception but to start conversation and to see other people’s perception of all the dreams I gathered throughout lock down, but it was very hard communicating with people during this time. I soon realized that communication was more important than ever during a time of crisis like this, but I wanted to make it more personal.

This format took place as postcards, using the postcard image as my illustration and at the back, a space in which people could write down a description of the image seen. I wanted to create a cycle where we would keep using written data and then have it described through someone else’s point of view. The chain would carry on, by sending out postcards to everyone who participated in my project but using different images to see: what final results could we come up with, what ways of perceiving an image could we create?

In conclusion, we all perceive the world differently, and this is because many factors come into place that influence us such as past experiences, emotions, senses, surroundings and the way people have been brought up. We as a collective need to perceive the world differently in order to coexist with one another. A different perception is not bad or good, it is just the way you as an individual think, but what I learned is that we need to communicate this more effectively. Using things such as colour or imagery to express an emotion that can’t be described with only words, trying visually, and seeing such amazing results of the diversity of our minds is something so beautiful.

When talking to everyone who has contributed to my projects, I realized that we need to think outside of the box, or our heads. We need to try and understand one another, to make things more clear, or see them from another point of view, however, that may be expressed. In my case it was through my two pathways, colours and dreams, which hopefully I will be able to investigate into further and dive deeper. As individuals we see the world completely differently, but as a society we join together and understand each other’s perceptions on life.

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