Feb 16

Do we believe what we see… or do we see what we believe…?

Djalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhi once said: “The truth is a mirror fallen from the hand of God and broken. Everyone picks up a fragment and says that the whole truth is there”.

Ever feel like you are too close to something to be able to see clearly? Busy schedules and digital media are making it difficult to focus on the big picture. Let’s think about it from a photographer’s perspective: a subject can be approached from many different angles. Yet by taking on the best vantage point, the photographer creates some meaning that can be a lot more interesting. This meaning is what differentiates the snap shooter from the fine art photographer. The vantage point is a position or place that allows one a wide overall view of a scene or situation. In other words, the vantage point is that exact spot where our eyes are positioned to observe the world around us. Our frenetic need to give a meaning to everything sometimes prevents us from taking the time to take good pictures.

“I’ll believe it when I see it” … A popular expression that shows the tendency we have to rely on perceptual experience when looking for accurate information. So, do we believe what we see… or do we see what we believe…? That is the question.


The corporate speaker, author and entrepreneur Isaac Lidsky lost his sight to a blinding disease and yet he didn’t let it get in the way of him achieving immense success. In an inspiring Ted Talk he shares what he has learned from his experience: “what we see is not universal truth. It is not objective reality. What we see is a unique, personal, virtual reality that is masterfully constructed by our brain”. He urges us to live our lives eyes wide open, by recognising our assumptions, our prejudgments and correcting our misconceptions in order to choose the reality we create for ourselves.

Our perspective on what is true is closely tied to our view of truth and, therefore, our beliefs. A belief is a proposition we create and accept as representing the way the world actually is in our mind. The danger is making short cuts based on our past experiences, ignoring the facts. There is a critical distinction between what is true and what a person accepts as true.


We use our beliefs to make decisions about the future. But what is the future of belief? As Casey Gerald points out, “we need to believe”, there is a “great hunger for purpose, for meaning…” New estimates by Oxfam showing that just 8 men own the same wealth as the poorest half of the world and the unrelentingly horrifying images of the humanitarian crisis in Syria are just a few examples of a reality that challenges our ability to make sense of this world. In his touching and mesmerizing “Gospel of Doubt”, Casey Gerald raises the question: “why? Why with all the power we hold in our hands, are people still suffering so badly?” It is questioning time, there is no doubt about it.

Do we see things as they are or as we are? How can we catch ourselves believing and question our assumptions?

How could doubt leave room in our mind for better learning by opening the grid of certainty that emerged from our perceived past? How much can the wisdom of a silent mind help us understand the world as it truly is, and not how it appears? How often do we take on that vantage point?


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