One of Belgian artist René Magritte’s most celebrated works is his painting that depicts a pipe. Magritte’s short and sweet accompanying text reads: Ceci n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe). What the artist meant to convey with this is that a picture of a pipe is obviously not a pipe. That he even bothers to mention this has, of course, to do with the fact that we humans often, almost constantly, mix up experiences based on fiction with our perceptions of a more real reality. What is it that we actually hear, see, smell and sense? How do we perceive the staggering number of signals streaming to us on a 24/7 basis? This is not only a question for philosophy and psychology, but is open to all scientifically active and interested parties. And so it was for René Magritte, who partook in lively discussions on the subject with no less a personage than French philosopher Michel Foucault. Are the languages we speak and the texts we read the intermediary links between people on the one hand and an objective reality on the other? In which case, would it be right in assuming that linguistic processes, in the broad sense, are behind the mediation of reality? Or do we just imagine that reality is what we linguistically describe and talk about? Is it possible at all to speak of a person’s excellent ability to perceive reality as it really is? Here we have a couple of issues that neatly bring together philosophy with modern sciences.
We people do not only react to our experiences with ingrained attitudes and behavioural patterns. We are equally as creative. Or are we actually more creative than reactive to our surroundings? Our brain is obsessed with creating, not only during sleep when it activates peculiar dream sequences, a sort of intensive, inner film studio, but also during the day as we trudge our way through the endless streams of information in an attempt to find out a bit more about ourselves and the world we live in. These attempts are nearly always just attempts. We try things out, we formulate and reword, determine then revise, and everything goes at a blistering pace with most of it taking place on the unconscious level. And we are not even aware of what we are doing, well, not entirely in any case.
This constant process of creating very often emanates from our frustrations, our feelings of dissatisfaction. That which we hear, see, taste and smell leads only to intermittent euphoric raptures. Most of it lodges as experiences that could best be described as second-rate sensations. And that is when the brain triggers its creative processes. Consequently, we form notions and ideas, mostly based on primitive images.
Previously, when it was more acceptable to mention people from the Communist era, there were names like Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) and Karl Marx (1818–1883), followed by a long list of social philosophers, sociologists and natural scientists, all of whom attempted to explain the process of how we perceive and describe what we regard as reality. One of the most renowned German sociologists, Georg Simmel (1858–1918), studied how we interact with each other at meetings. He claimed that all interaction takes place in a process in which the participants constantly form notions about each other and act according to these notions. These notions are, of course, not randomly constructed, but constructed in accordance with the purpose of the interaction. We thus construct, usually at lightning speed and unconsciously, a sort of theatrical stage on which we take on roles and act out a play with each other that would put professional drama productions to shame. Also politics takes on the shape of a dramatized and often well-directed play, offering lively and attractive notions that entice views, but which could entail a risky voyage with many sharp rocks hidden under the surface.
But how about the present widely accepted concept “evidence”? Is “evidence based” observations or measurements guarantees for what is The Real Thing and what is not? Well, within a quite small sector of natural science, particularly biology, chemistry and physics the proofs about what is and what is not are well founded, but as soon as we turn the way into even more complex areas, for example how to build or develop organizations or even individual attitudes, questions could and should be raised. And this goes also for all kinds of practice within the field of applied psychology.
So stay curious and stay critical in your mind!