III. 1. The Different Dream Houses Different Dreams Produce

 

Perception of the environment is the way we view and understand our surroundings. It is the other half (next to self-perception) of our general view on reality. In its essence it reflects the importance that we grant to the various parts of the world we live in. Streaming through the attitudes in our behavior, it is an extremely powerful indicator of our individuality.

Our perception of the environment is visible through every single act we perform. Take a look at a house built by its owner. From its appearance you can tell a lot about how he perceives the area he lives in, i.e. his immediate physical environment. First there is the local weather. What does he like or dislike about it? Does the house have a roof, or it is crowned with a flat terrace; are its windows small, with wooden shutters, or they are wide and tall; is the front door big and heavy, or there’s just a light glass framework in front of you? All of these architectural elements are designed, apart from the style, to interact with the facts of the environment to the best interest of the inhabitants.  Because of this interaction those facts turn into circumstances. The steep roof would prevent the snow from settling on top of the house (circumstance #1); the shuttered windows could be a protection from the strong wind (circumstance #2); the dark paint on the outside probably serves to keep the scarce warmth coming from the sun inside during the winter (circumstance #3)…

But the weather is just a separate feature of the environment. The house has plenty of adjustments that speak even more about the individual’s perception of his surroundings. The many locks on the thick door are an obvious safeguard from thieves (circumstance #4); the tall wall fencing the garden prevents the invasion of wild animals (circumstance #5); and the amulet above the gate chases away the evil spirits (circumstance #6)…

Through further observation you can come up with dozens of other outer facts the person in charge has decided to deal with. Some of them he has tried to avoid, others, to strengthen, so that he can get the best out of the environment. In both cases the facts turn into circumstances, because they have influenced, in this particular case, the design of the house, or, in other words, the direction of the owner’s action of building a home. This is exactly how our perception of the environment operates. We constantly evaluate the facts surrounding us, and work on overcoming or using them, thus transforming them into circumstances. These circumstances join a hierarchy of other ones and arrange themselves in correspondence to their importance. The more important the circumstance, the better its chance of receiving more of our attention and to influence our actions.

Even though some circumstances could be equally essential to many people (all houses in the area have sheer roofs), the judgment of a circumstance in terms of its significance is strictly subjective. If our homeowner was obsessed with earthquakes more than the weight of the snow on his roof, he would have planned and budgeted the additional supporting pillars first, and only after that, if there were some money left, would he consider the steep roof. Also, it doesn’t matter if the fact one deals with is commonly acknowledged or not; evil spirits might have a more significant presence in somebody’s hierarchy than, say, robbers.

Like our self-perception, the perception of the environment is constructed by circumstances, arranged in a certain subjective hierarchy of significance. This gradation doesn’t include the facts from our surroundings that don’t concern us; it doesn’t include the facts that we instinctively connect with either. It regards only the circumstances with which we consciously communicate, or in other words, about which we make conscious choices. Air, for instance, is one of the most important facts of the outer world; but since we breathe by instinct, in an everyday situation it definitely doesn’t have anything to do with our perception of the environment.

Interestingly enough, this is exactly how we can trace the origin of the infix “life situation”. Since “situation” is a conglomerate of circumstances, expressions like “I have to improve my life situation” target some of the circumstances in one’s perception of the environment. In this particular occasion the exclamation, translated into scientific language would sound like: “I’m unhappy with my current priorities; I have to stop relying on circumstances which put me down, and elevate the status of some previously neglected ones, which I have to either confront or give my support to.” Unfortunately, we don’t give the scientific approach too many chances…

Let’s play a little longer with the-house-of-our-dreams example. If we embrace the notion that one’s perception of the environment is visible through his premises, a logical question arises: why are there so many identical houses in almost every town? The reasons might be strong circumstances coming from the location of the area (geography), the necessity of aesthetic harmonization of the different parts of the whole (style), or the townspeople’s inner need to go with the flow (fashion). The last possibility is, of course, the least desirable, because individuality is being replaced by some abstract aesthetic authority. It is still permissible if the result is tolerable; yet fashion always invades and obscures the territory of the individual perception of the environment, preventing the person from freely expressing his/her unique personality.

While developing his thesis about creative individuality Michael Chekhov gives an example about several artists who supposedly have to paint one and the same landscape. He introduces the suggestion that the finished paintings will be quite different from each other since each of them will reflect the creative individuality of its author. “Their pictures will tell us,” continues Chekhov, “that one of them was more charmed by the atmosphere of the landscape, another by the beauty of the form and line, the third by the language of contrasts, and so on.” The atmosphere, the form and line, the language of the contrasts, etc. are respectively the most important facts in the individual vision of the artists, i.e. in their perception of the environment. They see and paint everything in front of them faithfully, but their creative individuality emphasizes the elements they are mostly impressed with. The creation of these “entirely different pictures” means that the photographic facts of the objective reality have not only been graded, but also turned into circumstances by the authors’ interpretation.

In our trials to grasp the world around us we can be such artists as well… As long as we don’t go with the flow.

© 2009 Peter Budevski

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