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"Perception is Truth"

“I am not a kitten; I am, in fact, a tiger. You cannot tell me otherwise!”

My seventh grade teacher had a poster of a kitten looking at its reflection in rippled water hanging in her classroom. In bold letters it read “Perception is Truth.” My twelve year old mind found comfort in this, much the same as people find quotes from celebrities comforting. I did not really understand it, nor did I take the time to think about it. It sounded intelligent and the kitten was cute, so I adopted it as a general philosophy.

I now wonder what the creator’s rationale was for combining the kitten picture with the quote. Though we saw the same kitten in its reflection, perhaps the kitten saw something different. Lets say it saw a lion. We could say that it identified as a lion, and that it even felt like a lion. It wanted to be the featured attraction at a zoo. In the kittens own perception, it is a lion.

We, however, do not see a lion; we see a kitten. In our perception, it is a kitten.

It cannot be both a lion and a kitten at the same time. Both perceptions cannot be true. Based on the creator’s argument, however, we have no grounds to argue that the kitten is a kitten and not, in fact, a lion. The kitten’s perception is as true as ours. A child may look at the poster and exclaim “Look at the tiger!” We then have a creature that is a kitten, a lion, and a tiger. This may go on, and in the end no one really knows what it is.

But, of course, we do. We know its a kitten because we have seen thousands of kittens and they all look relatively the same. We also know lions and tigers and can declare with authority “That, little child, is not a tiger but a kitten!” If we went to the zoo where the kitten was featured as a lion, we would feel angry and betrayed. “That is not a lion,” one onlooker says. “It is merely a common kitten.” This actually happened, but rather it was a Tibetan mastiff being displayed as an African lion. Visitors to the Chinese zoo were outraged. They felt cheated. Nobody likes to be lied to.

We inherently know that perception is not truth. Truth exists apart from perception. A kitten and Tibetan mastiff are both not lions, even though they or someone else may think they are.

Adams family and Munsters agree that…

So here’s a quick question for you: which show was better The Adams Family or The Munsters? Very bluntly, I have always been quite partial to The Munsters! Setting preferences aside for the moment, what strikes me about both of these shows is there similarity. What’s so interesting about this genre of show is that both shows present families that dwell comfortably in a world of death and decay. To the average viewer, this appears to be horrifying and yet utterly intriguing. The average viewer inhabits a world in which desperately attempts to conceal death and prevent decay, and yet the Munsters/Adams family do not hide it nor does it appear to be an object of terror. For them, death and decay are not only real, ordinary, but even considered prestigious achievements. The underlying question presented in both shows is: since death is an ordinary part of reality, is it good or bad? This question is perhaps the great Riddle encoded in every story, philosophic text, and religious expression. So, what is the answer?

Don’t let them eat mug cake!

So, last night my wife (Emily) and I were hankering for a before bed snack. This tends to pose a dilemma for us because we are committed to frugality and health. Our commitment to health precludes acquiring or keeping foods such as cookies, candy, and donuts. And our commitment to frugality keeps our pantries relatively empty except for what we need. But, our desire last night overcame both of these commitments. We decided to try out something called “mug cake” (apparently, a snack choice that has become somewhat popular). Mug cake is a kind of instant cake that one bakes inside of a mug placed in a microwave. As we begin to indulge in our mud cake, I remembered a snippet from the sitcom “Roseann”. You may or may not remember Rosanne, but it was a show starring Roseann Barr and John Goodman who portrayed a working-class lower income family that exhibited all the classic adventures and tensions of an ordinary family except with a unique so-called “white trash” style.

This was the story I remember. In the show, Roseann and her husband acquired a microwave for the first time. This newfound kitchen appliance proved to be a novelty for Rosanne. In this snippet that I remember, Roseann relays one of her success stories with the microwave to a friend. She said something like this: “so last night I made a chicken in my microwave. It tasted like shit, but it was so hot no one could tell the difference.”

So, I relayed this soundbite to Emily as we were finishing our mug cake, and this elicited a good laugh from her. I think Rosanne’s assessment resonated true with our circumstances well. The only thing microwave seem to do is produce really hot food without actually producing a good food product.

So, what does this incident with Emily mean? First, no matter what anyone recommends, do not produce, consume, or even think about making mug cake. If you want a cake, make it honestly by patiently enduring the legitimate process of baking. Second, we lost self-control to our more worthy commitments and we paid the price with seared tongues and giant knots in our stomach. Third, stories are not just pieces of entertainment but also interpretive mechanisms for making sense of experience. It had been years since I had seen that clip from Rosanne, and yet it reemerged at a moment that was very similar to that story. The stories closely resembled one another – both Rosanne in my story revolves around food failures with microwaves. And, Roseann’s story interpreted my own and gave me words to articulate my own experience. Plus, what I found so lovable about that show was Roseann and John Goodman’s ability to maintain comfort in the midst of social and economic discomfort. It was a show that exposed many Americans hidden insecurity about their actual place in society. Bravo!