On Views of Reality

Our perceptions of reality are mediated. Those perceptions are formed by the input we receive from our environment. We also interpret and see the world through different cognitive lenses or worldviews. Because of our varying personalities and backgrounds, we also respond emotionally to different stimuli and situations in diverse ways which heavily influence how and what we think. In addition, we make our choices on what we see, feel and do based upon a variety of circumstances, motivations and inclinations. Most of these processes happen unconsciously. Current brain technology allows us to see that our brains have decided what is right or wrong a millisecond before we become aware of our choice. These choices are based on many interconnected and complex factors.

These various cognitive, affective and conative frameworks combine in powerful, unconscious and still little understood and studied ways to determine what we think, feel, choose and do. As we are generally unaware of these lenses and orientations, we tend to interpret our thoughts, feelings, motivations and actions as based on reason and reality, when in fact, they are combination of relative and selective interpretations based on paradigms or worldviews that, like our culture, we generally do not see. We need to be able to look at our beliefs objectively, not just through our subjective frameworks. Such ego and subjective identification with our versions of what is true, good and just keeps us from seeing these things from a deeper and broader perspective. As a result, we experience our world subjectively, not as detached reality.

 When our hearts and wills are committed to a certain idea or worldview, it is very hard to change what and how we think, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. One way of adjusting these prejudices is to compare our versions of reality with others fully and frankly. In the sciences, arts and society this process takes on various forms of peer-review. Our thoughts, feelings, choices and actions are subject to some type of external validation and verification. In science, it is among a group of individuals who are well versed in the methods, theories and content under being investigated. In the arts, it is by trained and respected artists in that field. In society, it is through the acceptance or rejection by the leaders of the respective communities of influence.

Of course, it is possible for one person to be right and all others wrong. In fact, many of the great discoveries and advances in the world have begun with one person having an original or creative thought or action that gradually becomes accepted by larger numbers of people who are convinced of its value. These revelations, innovations and new creations have changed our world. They have allowed us to imagine reality in new ways, and to subsequently feel, choose and act differently. However, until some group of people see the truth in or value of the new ideas, attitudes or ways of doing things, they will not make any significant change in the world.

The above is true in concrete as well as abstract reality. It is as true in science as it is in religion. Tradition, preconceptions, imitation, fancies, biases and prejudices shade our beliefs. They determine not only what we see, but how we see it. Kuhn’s work on the nature of paradigms has helped us to appreciate better this idea and the nature of its process in science (1962).

All the above is also true about those who are trying to reform education. There are many points of view about what is wrong and right in education. In the absence of hard data upon which to make decisions, people rely on their ideas, inclinations, intuition and traditions. They use whatever information and data exists to support their viewpoints.

Using Kuhn’s description of paradigm shifts, we might apply these processes to the shifts taking place in education. We currently have competing ideas of what is good education and good for education. Educators, politicians, pundits, philanthropists and others are proposing different approaches to improving education. They bring their points of view to their work, as do I. This paper is an opportunity to explore briefly our different positions.


About rodclarken

Dr. Rodney H Clarken is professor emeritus, School of Education, Northern Michigan University.
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