Mind the Gap Between Perception and Reality Sean Tiffee TEDxLSCTomball

you I'm going to take a story it's a short one I promise what I want you to do is I want you to picture in your mind as I tell it okay Bob went to the beach to play fetch with his dog how's it I told you too short but here's my question for you when you picture it in your mind what kind of dog did Bob have now what the research says is you probably pictured one of three dogs either one you pictured your dog too you pictured a Labrador Retriever or three you pictured a golden retriever and the reality is that kind of makes sense right maybe you pictured your dog because well when you think dog that's the reference point you have for dog but the research says if you didn't picture yours you probably pictured a Labrador Retriever or a golden retriever why well kind of makes sense because I told you that he went to the beach to play fetch with his dog and what a Labrador Retrievers do what a golden retrievers do it's right there in the name they retrieve things so if you went to play fetch that's what he brought there's a concept in rhetorical studies called linguistic or listening fidelity and what listening fidelity is is it's how close did I get with my message to what you pictured in your head now you pictured a golden retriever Bob doesn't have a golden retriever no Bob has a mixed breed it's half wolf half Chihuahua it's a wolf wah-wah that's what he's got but you didn't picture that no no no you didn't there's a gap between what you pictured and what he's got there's a gap between perception and between reality I first started thinking about the gap and this idea of a gap when I spent time in London and I went to the London Underground which is just a fancy European Way of saying subway and I saw signs everywhere they reminded me to mind the gap now here they're talking about the platform in the train there's a little spot there and they don't want you to twist your ankle or anything which is smart I think that others a lot of good advice that we had in train stations in Japan for example you might see a sign that says take care of head and that's my that's not we're talking about right now no we're talking about now is the gap you should mind the gap because between perception and between reality there's a gap those gaps can be dangerous might twist an ankle might do more harm I've heard someone else so let's talk for a minute about the dangers of the gap and maybe what we can do to overcome those dangers there's a South Asian parable that you might have heard before it's where a series of blind men are able to get experienced to an elephant they've never experienced an elephant before and they're asked to describe what an elephant is but each one of the men is only allowed a certain part to the elephant so one of the blind men touches the side of the elephant right oh I know what an elephant is like it's like a wall another gets access to the leg he's like no no no no elephant it's like a pillar or the tail says no it's like a rope or the Tusk it's a pipe and the point of course here is that none of the blind men by themselves really understand what an elephant is because they only have kind of a limited perspective they have limited access to what the elephant is there's a gap there's a gap between perception and between reality and rhetorical studies again there are theorists who talk about this gap between perception and between reality and what they say is that we all experience the gap because when we're born we are born into a seer into a culture to a series of cultural narratives or master narratives so theorists like Kenneth Burke or theorists like Edwin black say that when we are born into stories that precede us these giant master narratives that we take these cultural narratives this rhetoric of narrative and we then spin out our own personal stories through it and your personal stories oftentimes a reflective of the master narratives that you are born into altuve's era says that we are hailed by ideology that again is the perception that you're born into which then is separate and distinct from reality and what are we have to do well we must always mind the gap virtually every discipline talks about the gap they in one way or another they all see it they all perceive it they all know it's there even in the hard sciences with Heisenberg's uncertainty principle we can know one thing without having to know another it is a gap in what we have access to and what we can know in rhetorical studies it's the mass or narrative versus your personal stories all those things they're also very very careful that we have to be able to mind the gap but that doesn't always sit really well with me because if we mind the gap and we are aware there's a difference between perception and between reality it seems to suggest that we can have access at some point to reality so in some versions that south-asian parable there's another man who walks up and says here is what the elephant looks like and describes for each of the men here is what the elephant looks like in his totality of course the man who walks up is deaf so he'll never hear the elephant bellow can't have access to reality so I don't like this idea of minding the gap rather I want to do something different I want to mine the gap because I think there's something there that we can get out of the gap that can help us avoid that danger and it's going to sound silly and it's going to sound absurd but I also think it'll work what can we do to mine the gap as opposed to mind the gap one of my favorite films is from 1993 to film called falling down stars Michael Douglas and Robert Duvall and in it Michael Douglas is a man who rails against what he believes to be the absurd so ultimately what happens is he goes into a vast food restaurant and he wants to get breakfast and it's 10:35 oh yeah you see where this is going it's 10:35 and he wants breakfast they stop serving at 10:30 and they say I'm sorry they can't and he says but I can see right there you have breakfast still under the heat lamps just serve me that they say we can't against the rules so what happens in the film it's kind of a sad tale actually is he has a break and he snaps and it begins railing against the absurd he begins railing against what he believes to be the reality as it exists but what he's really railing against is his own perception and that's the danger of the gap which is that if you believe that you have access to reality at some point you think can get a monopoly on truth now I said that from these master narratives you spin out your own personal stories and you do but when those personal stories you believe to be the only representation of reality in my own personal story in my own personal movie I'm always the hero and if my perception of reality is different from yours and I'm the hero then you've got to be the villain and if you're the villain that I fight against you the difference between perception and between reality if my perception is different from yours and I'm right then you're wrong but in falling down at the very end of the film spoiler alert the very end of the film Michael Douglas is standing there and Robert Duvall as the cop who's been chased on the whole time he has a gun pointed at him and he has a Michael Douglas's revelation he says wait I'm the bad guy yeah we don't ever kind of come to that realization because we're always the hero because we think we have a monopoly on truth because we think that we know what reality is so how do we mine the gap to avoid that from happening from kind of hardening into that nodal point where we have reality and we alone have it be absurd instead of Michael Douglas railing against what he perceives to be absurd I want you to embrace the absurd listening fidelity the wolf wah-wah you pictured a dog that was not a wolf wah-wah you know what you didn't picture I know you didn't picture this you didn't picture a dump truck I think maybe you kind of should so let's do my little my story again and this time I want you to not picture a dog I want you to picture I'm still going to say doc I want you to picture a dump truck we got it Bob went to the beach to play fetch with his dog now you pictured a dump truck at the beach it's absurd but the reality is this that dump truck is just a placeholder just like the golden retriever you pictured was just a placeholder the dump truck is just a placeholder so you still got the context of the story you still understand the keys I'm versatile communicating you still understand what I'm trying to say the difference is that there is this glaring point in your mind that is absurd that is a constant reminder to you that you are only seeing the world through your individual perceptions because that's all we're ever able to do and when there's a constant reminder that all I'm doing is perceiving the world my way not the real way just my way then I can have empathy for others I still don't have access to reality because none of us ever do but I'm more empathetic there is a gap between perception and reality but there's something very very special in the middle in that gap there's also a pretty big gap between a wolf and a chihuahua but when those two things come together something special can happen to that's what I want for you embrace the absurd be the wolf wah-wah you