Black is black and white is white. In between the two, are all kinds of shades of gray. Agreed? Right is right and wrong is wrong. What is in between? Is there even a clear right and wrong in all cases?
I would venture to answer this with a “Not really.” Brain research is proving, without a doubt, more and more that there’s no singular reality. Each of us experiences the world uniquely as our own particular interpretation of the events and stimuli encountered which are influenced by our physical brain function, past memories and experiences, and present conditions. In their book, The Invisible Gorilla, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons write:
Again and again, we think we experience and understand the world as it is, but our thoughts are beset by every day illusions. We write traffic laws and build criminal cases on the assumption that people will notice when something unusual happens right in front of them….falsely believing that vivid memories are seared into our minds with perfect fidelity.
They cite several examples in which two people witnessing an identical event didn’t see the same thing at all. Each person’s rendition is very different from that which was recorded, but each of them are telling the “truth” as they know it to be.
There Is No Single Truth
There’s only the truth for an individual as they believe it to be – and that changes. Your memory doesn’t store everything verbatim like a computer and retrieve an exact replica. A recollection is a re-creation. Your brain rebuilds memories from a few key features and fills in the missing details based on associations and knowledge. No one can distinguish between what’s recalled verbatim and what is constructed by your brain.
I would extend this to our present consciousness as well. We all see the world through a lens colored by our unique life experiences, past and present, and conduct ourselves and make decisions accordingly. Hence, there are very few things which are clearly right or wrong. Sure, there are the definite wrongs against other living things and rights, again, usually having to do with another living thing, but I would propose that the majority of everything else falls somewhere in shades of gray in between.
If reality and the truth are different for every one of us because of our physical brains, how can I even begin to know what is “right” for anyone else? My world and their world are different even if we live in the same city, state, country, or even the same house. Because a religion, a political affiliation, a view about abortion, a sexual preference or a lifestyle is right for me, doesn’t mean it’s going to be anywhere near right for somebody else.
This makes me have so much more understanding and empathy for others.
The next time you find yourself thinking that you’re right and someone else is wrong or just wondering what in the heck someone could be thinking, please consider this fact. Imagine what it would feel like to be in their body with their thoughts and feelings based on their unique journey up until that point in their life. You can do this by taking into account what you know about them and by, then, formulating understanding and kind guesses about their inner world and how it is being reflected in their outer world. If you do not know them at all, acknowledge this difference with compassion and understanding.
If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm any hostility.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/don3rdse/
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