Defining Reality Essay, Research Paper
Everyone perceives reality in a different light. Reality is a result of the upbringing and surroundings of an individual and as a person matures, they are exposed to more ideas, thoughts, and events. The actions and events that a person is exposed to are communicated through language, which defines reality by allowing people to become receptive to different ideas. While language can expand ones reality, language also places limits on that reality. Society, geography and language simultaneously expand and limit an individual’s reality.
From the moment a person enters the world, his or her reality is different from that of anyone else’s. Everything that a person sees, hears, smells, touches or tastes will add to his or her wealth of knowledge. This collection is thrown into a mashed pile of sayings, images and life experiences that is regurgitated when a person experiences the next object or thought. Richard Rodriguez explains how much he has changed in his essay “The Achievement of Desire”, included in the collection Ways of Reading, “It will be harder to summarize what sort of life connects the boy to the man” (622). The road to any position in life is long and filled with unique obstacles, all of which shape a person into a well-rounded individual. It is nearly impossible to come up with a short summary of all of the experiences that one encounters in life. Life experiences are different for each individual, making each individual’s reality unique.
Reality for any given individual is a direct result of their upbringing and surroundings. In his essay “The Banking Concept of Education”, which is included in Ways of Reading, Paulo Freire comments that “The world which brings consciousness into existence becomes the world of that consciousness” (356). The environment that a person lives in dictates how the person looks at the rest of the world. For instance, if a native of a small tribe in the middle of an African jungle were brought into modern America, the two realities would be very different. The instruction of “The keys are on the table, take the car to the store and get a gallon of milk” could be preformed without much thought to the average American. However, to the native, the entire phrase would make no sense, starting with the word “keys”. The native’s reality does not involve taking a car to the super market to get milk, he has no concept of a car, or anything involved with the car, or even what constitutes a gallon of milk. All experiences in an individual’s life are felt and shared using language. As children grow up, they first are given words to define objects and feelings. Secondly, child reuses the words they were given to communicate their feelings, wants and desires. The more a child is exposed to, the more they can share. Freire remarks that the world or area of the world a person lives in affects how one looks at the rest of the world:
People develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation (356).
Surroundings affect reality, and therefore reality is constantly redefined as the world changes. An individual’s perception of reality will never stay the same from one moment to another, because everything a person reads, hears, or sees changes his or her perception. Freire expands on the concept of a constantly changing reality; people are “unfinished, uncompleted beings in and with a likewise unfinished reality” (357). The interpretation of reality for a given person is constantly changing, and is related to what a person has been exposed to.
As a person matures into an adult, individual experiences are reflected in how they interpret reality. Freire explains how people build on previous experiences to discover new things,
As women and men, simultaneously reflecting on themselves and on the world, increase the scope of their perception, they begin to direct their observations towards previously inconspicuous phenomena. That which existed objectively but had not been perceived in it’s deeper implications begins to “stand out,” assuming the character of a problem and therefore of challenge. (356)
People take in objects around them and “reflect upon them”, categorizing the objects into “their action and cognition” (Freire 356). Then, the people use everything they have been exposed to in defining their world.
Coupling abstract ideas to reality requires the use of language. Changing seasons are an abstract way of talking about a group of separate events. Take spring; green grass, flowers, warm breezes, all of which can be associated in memory with a certain time of year. However, while the events are experienced by the body, the abstraction can only be experienced in the mind, by using memories. Concepts in language, like “spring,” are useful words used to talk about the world. Language is an effective tool, and the world would not have developed in its course with out it. By using language a person can take an abstraction and make it real. To say the only thing that is real is something that can be observed using senses, would mean that only the grass, trees, flowers and the individual components of spring would be real. Stephen Hester and David Francis stated in their article “Reality Analysis in a Classroom Storytelling” found in The British Journal of Sociology, “the real is in the seeing not in the saying” (103). However, most who have experienced this time of year would argue that “spring” is very real. Abstract concepts need language to define objects and feelings in reality.
Defining events that a person has not yet experienced, and expanding the thoughts and ideas a person has, is accomplished using language and literacy. Using and relating to experiences that one has had, a person can explain to them things they have not seen, and even more importantly ideas he or she has not had or been exposed to. The purpose of education is to expose the student to as many ideas as possible. When explaining education of a populace, Freire noted that “Education is based on the fact that a student is handed information by the teacher” (349). A student takes information and stores it for a later use. Additionally, Rodreguez also mentions a “consequence of literacy,” the consequence of literacy is to become “educated”(362). Throughout life, education and literacy are fed into a person, then mixed in with the person’s own ideas and past information. The more someone is exposed to the easier it is for them to relate to other ideas and formulate ideas of their own. A cycle is created, the more someone knows, the more one changes his or her reality, Freire calls this the “unfinished character of human beings and the transformational character of reality”(357). By constantly appending knowledge, a person’s reality remains fluid. Language is used to convey and expose a person to more things than they could possibly experience in a lifetime, shaping their individual reality.
Language can change what we perceive as reality. As a person becomes educated they are exposed to more ideas or “a constant unveiling of reality” (Freire 355). In turn, these ideas shape the individuals perception of what surrounds them and “strives for the emergence of consciousness and critical intervention in reality”(355). To truly understand how a computer works, you first have to know how information is stored. Secondly, one learns more and more about the computer. Each step of the learning process builds on itself, in the same way, to truly understand certain concepts one must learn in steps. When people are exposed to new information, they use everything they have ever been exposed to, in the process of understanding it, language and literacy guide the way people perceive their surroundings.
Objects and ideas in a person’s reality are defined using language. Without language, there would be no reality. Society defines everything that exists, if humanity did not define an object, it would still exist. However, if there were no definition of the object, there would not be a reality of it, Freire explains this concept best in his essay:
In one of our culture circles in Chile, the group was discussing (based on a codification) the anthropological concept of culture. In the midst of the discussion, a peasant who by banking standards was completely ignorant said: “Now I see that without man there is no world.” When the educator responded: “Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that all the men on earth were to die, but that the earth itself remained, together with trees, birds, animals rivers, seas, the stars wouldn’t all of this be a world?” “Oh no,” the peasant replied emphatically. “There would be no one to say: ‘This is a world”(355, 356).
Language is used to define objects, because objects only exist in someone’s reality if they are defined. Antonio Strati observes in his essay “Organizational Symbolism as a Social Construction: A Perspective From the Sociology of Knowledge” found in the Human Relations journal that “The physical nature of language comes about as a result of the “specifically human activity of producing symbols” (Strati 1381). Societies use words and symbols that only have meaning to the people who use them. In the absence of humanity there is no language and, without language, there is no reality.
While language can expand a person’s reality, the authority of language also restricts what can be perceived. The names people have for objects in our world limit what they see, because of the way objects are defined, limitations are placed on the perception of the object. Through Hamlet, Shakespeare brings out this concept; “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy.” Albert Einstein also exposes the limitations of language by asking “Is what we see real, or is what we see our reality?” How one perceives the world is limited by the way language defines certain objects and ideas. Language determines what humanity sees, does and experiences, it controls thoughts, feelings and actions
Language is powerful enough to put boundaries on the reality of a person. Language can control how people think and act, Strati remarks in his essay that “Language is used to exert control,” it also “calls to action, mobilizes and directs” (1384). Language and literacy can be used to reign over a populace. Limiting the exposure of people to certain ideas will limit their perspective of reality. By limiting exposure to literature that teaches only one way of thinking, a person will only think in the way the literature guides the mind. In the analysis of “Ideology as a Cultural System”, found in the book The Interpretation of Cultures, Clifford Gertz discusses how literacy and language are used to integrate people into society. Gertz remarks that reality is no more than “systems of interacting symbols, as patterns of interworking meanings”. By “placing particular symbols and particular strains (or interests) side by side” literature can “mirror or forward” social reality (207). A person’s reality can be limited through using cultural symbols or language and teaching the person to conform to social norms. Restriction of literacy binds the rest of the world on a one track thought process that leads to a limited mind.
A person’s reality is created through experiences and the use of language. Reality can be manipulated by exposing an individual to new ideas. While language exposes one to many ideas, it can also limit the way he or she looks at certain ideas. A person’s perception of reality is related to what he has experienced and changes from person to person.
Freire, Paulo. “The ‘Banking’ Concept of Education.” Ways of Reading. David
Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999.
Geertz, Clifford. “Ideology as a Cultural System.” The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, 1973.
Hester, Stephen and David Francis. “Reality Analysis in a Classroom Storytelling.” The
British Journal of Sociology Mar. 1997: 103.
Rodriguez, Richard. “The Achievement of Desire.” Ways of Reading. David
Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999.
Strati, Antonio. “Organizational Symbolism as a Social Construction: A Perspective
From the Sociology of Knowledge.” Human Relations Nov. 1998: 1379+.