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Discussion of perception in individuals

Perceiving is often thought of as the ability to gather data from our senses which are then assembled (if that's the right word) by our brain into more complex objects. But today we can "perceive" news from the other side of the world — or from space or the bottom of the ocean. We can "perceive" a wide variety of things due to new scientific instruments — in a sense our senses have been extended.

Perception is, on a basic level, the process of both receiving and interpreting factual knowledge. Whether it refers directly to sensory data or knowledge passed on to an individual from some indirect source such as the media, perception involves both the act of receiving the information and the implication that one's individual bias has likely colored the resulting conclusions.

Discussion of perception in society

There are two ways in which one can discuss the concept of perception on a collective level. The first dynamic is the consideration of the transmission and reception of ideas on a group level, and the bias which a group as a whole uses as a lens through which to view facts. The second paradigm through which to discuss the issue is as an accumulation of individual perceptions, and the ways in which the individual perceptions interact to form a group mindset.

We have identified the following institutions that are primarily responsible for shaping society’s perception:

* News Media (TV/Cable: CNN, Local News, Fox News, etc…)

* Entertainment Media (Movies, Entertainment news, TV shows, Cable Shows)

* Print Media (Magazines, news papers, etc…)

* Governments

* Social Media (Internet: Facebook, twitter, blogs, etc…)

* Visual Media (Art, Photography, etc..)

* Science Industry

How it currently works

In our current situation, most people interpret factual information through a series of lenses. Individuals receive information from secondary sources such as mass media outlets, whom already passed the factual data through individual and group perception, and then the individuals take this post-perception information and pass it through their own perception process.


The Israel Debate

A great current example is the debate over foreign policy in Isreal. On the individual level, each person's perception of the issue is colored by their beliefs about the Isreal and Palistein conflict, American foreign policy in general, and possibly even a self-interest in the economic fall-out of the various options we have to respond to the issue. On the societal level, information about the issue comes from various sources who have passed the initial factual data through their own perceptual lenses. Information from activist groups has passed through the lens their own pro-Isreal or pro-Palesteinian beliefs. Information from the mass media has passed through not only the lens of their own beliefs, but also through the lens of their concerns about satisfying their viewership and sponsors. When working in tandem, this presents a rather large potential issue. There is the very real possibility that an individual will disregard the outlets which disagree with their own perception of the issue in their presentation of the issue, and will instead regard the outlets who interpret the facts in a way which agrees with their perception more highly. This can lead to a paradigm in which the lenses of bias and personal belief which color one's individual perception become self-reinforcing, and the concept that a viewer will respond well to an interpretation which fits their prior beliefs reinforces media coverage which further reinforces pre-existing interpretations.

Japan Nuclear Crisis:

[CNN] [News]

Potential deficiencies

The issue with any interpretation of factual data is that it is a process of turning objective data into subjective data. Without careful management of the subjective side of this process, bias and personal beliefs can slant the discussion to the point where the original factual data is largely obscured.

Idealized version of how perception would work in society

In an ideal situation, the differences between individual perceptions of the same objective facts would contrast one another in a group setting, starting as a discussion point to come up with more objective inferences and interpretations. In it's most advantageous incarnation, rather than a select group determining the mode of discussion on issues in the media, a more collective effort and interpretation would arise and limit the unchecked and unexamined bias which is a natural drawback to small groups taking charge of the discussion.


Given the inherent personal bias in the process of perceiving factual data through the lens of personal belief and experience, do you think it's possible to ever have truly objective knowledge? If so, do you think it would ever be realistic to expect to see objective coverage of issues in media outlets (not just the mass media, include small press and activist groups in this consideration)?