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Perceptions of reality

Published April 10. 2010 09:00AM

In one of William Shakespeare's most famous and longest plays comes the line that I have pondered many times especially of late. The line from the fifth scene of Act One of the play "Hamlet", I believe is the Prince of Denmark speaking to his friend Horatio. "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

While Hamlet was referring to the vile and amoral activities occurring within the castle as well as the ghost who appears to him, the line to me has a meaning far beyond the Shakespearean play from which it originated. With a slight tweak, we could interpret the line as, "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your reality." While this is not what the play quotation means, I think this modified line speaks to us and our perceptions of reality also.

It is far too easy for all of us to travel through life accepting as reality what we experience, read and learn from books, teachers and experts. In many cases, this is a necessity for survival, but once we have mastered our survival skills I think there is much to be said for the encouragement of independent thought and problem solving skills. After all most of the advances made in our civilization were made by those who refused to accept reality and to look beyond what they experienced to create things which improved our living in many ways.

The problem though is I do not believe we encourage this independent thought enough in education of our young people and students of all ages unless they are taking a specific class in philosophy, creative thinking or debate. We tend to teach children there is one way to do things and that is the only correct way. I think in some ways this conditions a majority of our young people to not ask "What If?" and if parents are not encouraging, we end up with adults who lack creativity and imagination.

The best teachers I had challenged us to think beyond the given, to explore, to question and to experiment with our perceptions. In 16 years of education, I believe the most valuable lesson I learned is that nothing is necessarily written in stone. Everything can change and eventually does and most importantly, challenge creates honesty. That is what made this republic we call America great, the ability to challenge what we are told.

Unfortunately many of us are learning in recent years that challenging the system is bad. We should not question the wisdom of our leaders and many people buy it. We no longer live in a society where authority necessarily equates with wisdom. I recall as a child being taught that policemen and leaders were always right. I think Watergate ripped the curtain on that misguided maxim many people needed to believe. Everyone makes mistakes, but this scandal reshaped our reality.

There are significant events that have reshaped our reality throughout our history, but here are some of the more memorable ones for me in no particular order.

1. We were taught that Davy Crockett died defending the Alamo. He was executed after he was found hiding after the battle.

2. Seeing footage of JFK's assassination and being told repeatedly that even though his head slams backward first after the impact from the bullet, he was shot by a lone gunman with a faulty rifle from behind.

3. Learning at the end of World War II about the reprehensible and criminal, barbarous slaughter and genocide of millions of Jewish victims at the hand of Nazi monsters. During the war, no one would ever believe that any leader could do this to people. Boy were they wrong.

4. We knew about Pearl Harbor being a target and we left it be bombed anyway. Many of our fathers and grandfathers would never believe this could happen at the time but it did.

In these cases, people writing history books and those in authority repeatedly tried to tell the people at the time that their interpretations were law and those who believed otherwise were liars, crazy and nuts. With the exception of example two which I still admit is hotly debated, the others show how reality did not match with what those in power repeatedly said at the time.

With that said, why are we so closed minded to the possibility that other aspects of reality are unconditionally wrong? Who said Roswell was just a weather balloon? Or how about the idea this age of society was the only one technologically advanced? Or that just paranoid nuts believe our government would not be forthcoming about plans to save their skins at our expense?

There is more to reality than what can be seen in a test tube or a history book. If the last 40 years haven't taught us to question what is going on around us, I don't know what could.

Til next time …

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