Archive for October, 2023

Reality vs. delusion

October 25th, 2023


Reality and delusion are the terms used to describe two contrasting aspects of human perception and cognition, and they may be the root of most of the challenges we are facing as a species today. What’s real and what’s not?

When we analyze the meaning of reality, we are referring to the state of things as they exist. This state of existence can be objectively independent of our own prejudices, personal perceptions, or varied interpretations. Reality is the actual, precise existence of something.

This interpretation of reality typically refers to something that is consistent and shared by multiple observers who have measured and confirmed it via empirical, factual, verifiable evidence. The moon is round. So are Mars, Venus, Saturn, the Sun, and all the other planets. The earth is not flat. That would just be a total embarrassment to the rest of the universe.

Yet there exists an entire community of “flat-earthers,” who, in spite of confirmation by thousands of verifiable sources, do not believe the earth is round. Even taking into account the need to deny gravity, distorted horizons, and sun and moon rotation theories, they still hold on to their beliefs. Consequently, the flat earth concept might be a subject that could be described as a delusion.

The author, Philip K. Dick wrote, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

When I used to query my leadership classes as to the color of my necktie, (That was when people other than morticians, bankers, lawyers, and television newscasters wore neckties.) there would be some variables regarding the description of the color. They would sometimes select shades and nuances of color based upon Crayola names. Generally, if it was blue, they would agree that it was blue. My point was that somewhere along the years of man’s existence, we agreed that blue was the color.

Now, even something so simple as that color decision has come into question. This is due to alternative facts, false narratives, and social media challenges. As a society, the fact that my necktie is blue has become a source of disagreement, and a point of contention. 

Albert Einstein said, “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

Delusion is, however, a belief that is not in concurrence with objective reality. They are often defined as fixed or false beliefs that are resistant to reasoning or contrary evidence. The interesting thing about delusions are their complete subjectivity. On the far end of the mental health scale, because they involve distorted interpretations of reality, they would have typically been associated with pathological conditions such as schizophrenia or other disorders. Now, however, these oftentimes total distortions of truths have become a simple path to getting something you want, something that might not otherwise have been possible by embracing actual real facts.

The problems with this type of distortion acceptance or promotion is multi-faceted. Confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, Isolation, strained relationships, functional impairments, emotional distress, and professional and legal consequences are just a short list of possible outcomes that result from delusional thinking.

Obviously, conspiracy theories rank very high on the list of feeders to delusional thinking. Recently, a 71-year-old man from the Chicago area who, according to his wife, listened constantly to talk-radio, decided that he had to murder a six-year-old Muslim boy by stabbing him 26 times. He also stabbed the boy’s mother about a dozen times. He had been their landlord, and the boy was running over to hug him when he was assaulted. Will this man use as a defense that talk-radio radicalized him? That he was delusional? Or will he say, “The boy and his mother deserved to die because their beliefs were not congruent with his?”

As we look in the mirror each day, make sure we take an inventory of what delusions we might personally be accepting. It could save a life.