If you asked someone, “Do things exist?” the response would probably be, “Of course things exist! The world is full of things. Everyone knows that there is physical stuff out there—that reality is tangible and real!”

But what allows any thing—a hand, a chair, or any other object—to exist? One way to discover the answer is to imagine a specific thing—say, your hand—expanding and expanding until there is nothing in the universe except the hand. What would happen to it? … Really, just take a moment and try this. You’ll be amazed at your experience … You wouldn’t see the hand anymore, would you? Why? … It would disappear because there would be nothing in the universe that was not the hand. This is a very basic concept about reality: In order for any thing to exist, there must also be not that thing.

Consider this for a moment. Can you see that any physical object is bounded by “not that object”? If an object did not have any borders—that is, if it wasn’t surrounded by “not that object”—it couldn’t be distinguished from everything else. In other words, it wouldn’t exist.

The same principle applies to nonmaterial concepts. Love and hate, peace and war, strong and weak, beautiful and ugly—these only exist and have unique attributes because they have been distinguished from each other. For example, the state of war is distinguished from peace by the presence of armed conflict. When there is no armed conflict there is peace. But if peace existed throughout the world all the time, and if the alternative (war) was unimaginable, you wouldn’t be able to distinguish peace. Peace, as a condition distinct from war, couldn’t exist.

A Universe Without Distinctions

Now imagine everything in the universe without any distinctions. It’s all just an undifferentiated whole. Can you see that there is nothing? That’s because in order for anything to exist, it must be distinguished from everything else. If no distinction is made between a specific thing and everything else, there is only an undifferentiated everything—which is another way of saying nothing.

Everything, without any distinctions, is the same as nothing. Take a moment and think about that. Until consciousness has made a distinction, nothing can possibly exist.

Therefore, the world really isn’t the way you perceive it. In fact, it isn’t any way until you perceive it that way—that is, until you distinguish it that way. You don’t even sense what’s “out there” because there’s nothing out there to be sensed. (Nothing, as we’ve seen, however, is the potential for everything before anyTHING is distinguished.) In making distinctions, we use our sensory apparatus (the five senses) as well as our perceptual framework (language, culture, and individual beliefs).

An excellent example of this point comes from a Time magazine cover story on human consciousness.

“A baby born with cataracts—an unusual but not unheard-of condition—and left untreated for as little as six months becomes permanently and irrevocably blind. If a sixty-year-old develops cataracts, an operation can restore full sight. The distinctions most of us make unconsciously and at a glance—foreground vs. background, moving vs. stationary, vertical vs. horizontal, and dozens more—are concepts that the brain has learned. It literally has to wire itself, with neurons growing out to touch and communicate with one another in an ever more sophisticated network of connections. And if those connections are not repeatedly stimulated in the first few months of life, when the brain is still in its formative period, they atrophy and die.” (Emphasis added.)

In other words, moving and stationary or vertical and horizontal are not things “out there.” Rather they are “concepts that the brain has learned” (or distinguished) as a result of having a specific sensory apparatus (and brain), without which they couldn’t be distinguished. That means they literally wouldn’t exist.
In other words, if everyone was born with cataracts (which would be normal if everyone had that condition), our reality would not possess moving and stationary, vertical and horizontal, etc.—despite the fact that we are convinced that these are inherent attributes of reality.

Is There AnyTHING Out There?

Here’s another thought exercise that will help make it clear that what we think is “out there” is largely a function of our perceptual apparatus. Imagine that beings from another galaxy arrived on earth. Imagine further that instead of human eyes they had a different “viewing sense.” When they viewed our world they might not see the solid objects we see; instead they might see atoms: electrons spinning around protons and neutrons. They might notice that almost all of what they were viewing (the atom) was empty space. So if these creatures were the inhabitants of earth, they might not even have a concept of solid matter.

Imagine further that instead of human ears, these visitors from space had a sense that picked up radio waves but did not hear “sounds” made in their presence.

And finally imagine that they had a sensory mechanism like dolphins, who “see” the echo of sound vibrations they send out.

These aliens would experience and describe a totally different universe than the physical universe we would swear exists all around us.

Our role in creating our reality can be seen in another area. Apart from our perceptual apparatus, our most important tool in making distinctions and creating our reality is language.

As Edward Sapir, a noted anthropologist, has said: “We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation.”

Language Determines How We Perceive Reality

Language is far more than a tool for communication. With language we categorize, distinguish, and create the universe. Ultimately, we perceive the world consistent with our language. For example, when we think in English, we perceive a world made up primarily of objects: people, trees, houses. These objects do things or have things done to them using verbs. We literally see everything in the world in this fashion. We don’t perceive “things out there” because there really are things out there. That just happens to be our worldview, because in our language there is a subject, which acts upon an object, which exists independently of the subject. In the English language, independent entities (subjects and objects) are primary, rather than processes or relationships. That’s not true in every language.

As Ralph Strauch points out in his book The Reality Illusion: “Some languages are structured around quite different basic word- categories and relationships. They project very different pictures of the basic nature of reality as a result. The language of the Nootka Indians in the Pacific Northwest, for example, has only one principle word-category; it denotes happenings or events. A verbal form like ‘eventing’ might better describe this word-category, except that such a form doesn’t sound right in English, with its emphasis on noun forms. We might think of Nootka as composed entirely of verbs, except that they take no subjects or objects as English verbs do. The Nootka, then, perceive the world as a stream of transient events, rather than as the collection of more or less permanent objects which we see. Even something which we see clearly as a physical object, like a house, the Nootka perceive of as a long-lived temporal event. The literal English translation of the Nootka concept might be something like ‘housing occurs;’ or ‘it houses.’”

We swear things exist because we distinguish them though our particular perceptual apparatus and through our language. Change those and you dramatically change the world that you think is “out there.” There might not even be any more “things.”

Thanks for reading my blog. I really would appreciate your comments and questions. Please feel free to share my blog posts with anyone you think might be interested as long as you tell people where they came from.

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Copyright © 2009 Morty Lefkoe

By Published On: Wednesday, August 12, 2009Categories: Uncategorized41 Comments

41 Comments

  1. […] can largely be formed by the language we use in our everyday lives. We see the world through the meanings of the words we use. The way the world is presented to us […]

  2. […] can largely be formed by the language we use in our everyday lives. We see the world through the meanings of the words we use. The way the world is presented to us […]

  3. […] can largely be formed by the language we use in our everyday lives. We see the world through the meanings of the words we use. The way the world is presented to us […]

  4. […] can largely be formed by the language we use in our everyday lives. We see the world through the meanings of the words we use. The way the world is presented to us […]

  5. […] can largely be formed by the language we use in our everyday lives. We see the world through the meanings of the words we use. The way the world is presented to us […]

  6. Wayne Woodworth June 15, 2012 at 6:01 pm - Reply

    Thanks for reminding me of this Morty. It reminds me of something I read in Michael Talbot’s The Holographic Universe where they determined that everything we perceive is actually created as a hologram in the brain. “Seeing” an apple is no different than “seeing” a hologram of an apple, so which one is “real”, if either of them?

    Wayne

  7. Lauren Monsey Nagel May 25, 2011 at 7:47 pm - Reply

    Perfect timing for me, with reading this! Great post, excellent post actually! I just happened to be posting something from blog tonite and signed on twitter and found this! What a wonderful coincidence for me! Thanks for sharing this. Your welcome to read my little post, not quite a gem as your, God Bless! http://ureadmorebooks.blogspot.com
    Ps I’m really glad I happened to find your blog.

    • Morty Lefkoe May 26, 2011 at 9:00 am - Reply

      Hi Lauren,

      Glad you found my blog. Feel free to link to it.

      Love, Morty

  8. Oscar April 23, 2011 at 9:25 pm - Reply

    I remember in my doctoral program answering the question “what is reality?” and responding, it is what (I) we say it is.

  9. archie December 12, 2010 at 9:09 am - Reply

    Hey Morty,

    Thank you for posting this. It’s great to read the truth – it’s great to find a jewel on the web in amongst all the dross. In my opinion you’ve got it spot on. There’s nothing in your piece that I could disagree with. However, be prepared for trouble even if it’s only verbal abuse. You can’t speak truth like this without getting a negative reaction from some people. Once people realise where this logic eventually leads they get frightened and some become aggressive. You have courage as well as insight. Thank you again.

    archie

    • Morty Lefkoe December 12, 2010 at 1:04 pm - Reply

      Hi Archie,

      Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughts. I love it from I get feedback on my posts so I can discover what my readers are thinking.

      Love, Morty

  10. chris November 24, 2010 at 10:28 am - Reply

    Great article – one that I will need to read several times but very interesting indeed!

    • Morty Lefkoe November 24, 2010 at 10:44 am - Reply

      Hi Chris,

      Glad you found it interesting. Thanks for taking the time to write.

      Love, Morty

  11. Yusra October 7, 2010 at 6:46 am - Reply

    Wow…that was a staggering read, Morty Lefkoe! Very philosophical indeed :)

    • Morty Lefkoe October 9, 2010 at 2:16 pm - Reply

      Hi Yusra,

      Yeah, I do get philosophical sometimes. But I always try to show the practical implications.

      Love, Morty

  12. Jeffrey Lapointe June 15, 2010 at 1:07 am - Reply

    What a great article. The world is only about how we perceive it.

    If you take that one step further you can say that there is no possible way we will interpret correctly another person’s communication as they intended. Because of our own separate and distinct belief systems we will only approximate what we ‘want’ to hear. Morever, depending on our mood and frame of mind we could interpret the same such message differently everytime. While strange this might open us up to realize that we cannot hold onto our opinions too strongly because there is no way to make another understand our beliefs.

    I like your approach – I too belief that perception of the world holds the key to our experience while here.

    The next question is now that we know that -how shall we go out and play?

    Take care
    Jeff

    • Morty Lefkoe June 15, 2010 at 2:18 pm - Reply

      Hi Jeff,

      Thanks for taking the time to write.

      Take a look at my response to Cosmos Z for my answer to your question: how shall we go out and play?

      Have a great day.

      Regards, Morty

  13. Cosmos Z May 24, 2010 at 8:19 am - Reply

    I personally think that language how we think, interpret and express the things around us and it in fact limits our perceptions. Language is not extensive enough to express what is around us. There are not enough symbols connected with words to allow us to understand whats around us to largest extent. I think we all should go beyond our methods of communication to understand everything.
    This might specifically be how solipsism came about because we have no other methods of understanding anything besides language.
    What you said above relates to what I was just thinking about so you sparked some thought in me.

    • Morty Lefkoe June 15, 2010 at 2:16 pm - Reply

      Hi Cosmos Z,

      Glad that what I wrote sparked some thought in you. That is the purpose of my writing.

      There is no way that I know of to not be influenced by our language, but we can be aware on some level that what we are certain is true may not be.

      Thanks for your contribution.

      Regards, Morty

  14. Tina March 24, 2010 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    Very well written! You have given very nice examples. Keep up the good work.

    I have thought about reality the same way – that it is only our perception. And how culture and language affect how we perceive things and events. In fact, I recently wrote a blog post somewhat related to perception http://tinagoyal.blogspot.com/2010/03/total-freedom.html.

    Hindu and Buddhist philosophies (from the Indian subcontinent) talk about the same thing when they say that everyone of us should destroy the world and the reality that we have created around us – to give up the “ego” that we have created which differentiates us from others and the rest of the world – it is only then that we would attain true happiness or experience our true self.

    • admin April 1, 2010 at 3:49 pm - Reply

      Hi Tina,

      Thanks for taking the time to write.

      Interimly we can change our lives by eliminating beliefs . Ultimately we are the space in which our lives and reality show up. As consciousness we create all of it.

      Regards, Morty

  15. Kitty January 18, 2010 at 10:07 am - Reply

    So if we just change the what we call things, then we see things differently? Instead of people – aliens would see atoms, which we are. Hum, need to apply this to make a more positive view on life. I believe that is the foundation.

    • admin April 23, 2010 at 11:08 am - Reply

      Hi Kitty,

      It’s not just changing what we call things. It’s getting that what we call “reality” is what human beings call “reality” and other beings might perceive a totally different reality (as some animals and insects probably do).

      Thanks for taking the time to write.

      Regards, Morty

  16. Tony Mayo August 19, 2009 at 9:15 am - Reply

    Important concepts and clever examples. Thanks. I use these distinctions in my coaching of CEOs. My essay on the figure/ground issue is here: http://mayogenuine.com/blog/the-razors-edge/

    • admin April 22, 2010 at 5:39 pm - Reply

      Hi Tony,

      Glad you found the material interesting. Thanks for taking the time to write.

      Regards, Morty

  17. Deanna August 19, 2009 at 8:07 am - Reply

    Leila, I would love to see how this article helped to explain aspects of the Law of Attraction for you. Can you provide some examples? Thanks :)

    • Dallas April 22, 2010 at 4:37 am - Reply

      What you perceive becomes your reality.

  18. Simon August 13, 2009 at 2:15 pm - Reply

    Hey Morty,

    Your analogy of the aliens landing here is very interesting. Don’t know if it’s true, but i’ve heard the theory that the spirit world (ie Angels and Demons) can influence our thoughts and actually exist along side us… but we don’t have the sensory mechanism to actually see them or hear them, etc… much like we can’t see or hear radio waves or cellular phone signals with our eyes and ears, but we know they exist. I also believe St. Thomas touches on this concept in his book ‘My way of Life’… in his section on ‘Angels’.

    We were created by God with 5 senses, but who know’s what exists in different dimensions or on different plains that we can’t access thru our 5 senses. As science progresses, maybe we’ll discover an access to some of these. Makes for great hollywood movies anyways!! Keep up the good work!

    • admin April 23, 2010 at 11:05 am - Reply

      Hi SImon,

      I also have heard about “angels” guidning us. WHo knows if it’s true or not?

      But clearly there is a “reality” that cannot be reached only by the five senses.

      Thanks for posting.

      Regards, Morty

      • Lauren November 2, 2010 at 7:29 am - Reply

        Morty,
        When I was in my twenties, I started my search for something that would help me make my life better. Your reference to “angels” reminds me of the time I got involved with the Ouija board. My sister and brother in law and I decided to try it out. What was strange was that the planchette would only work for me. I don’t know what or who was behind it or if it was just my own consciousness, but it raced around the board spelling out messages. In the end, I became extremely scared and prayed (at the time I was a Chrisitan). The fear faded and I never touched the Ouija board again.
        I wonder if we literally create “things” and connections because of our thoughts. I’ve read several articles about this concept as well as an audio tape, the first one “Everything You Want” by Mike Hernacki who says, “Thoughts become things.”
        Everytime I read your articles, I come up with something new to contemplate.
        Love and Light,
        Lauren

  19. Leila August 13, 2009 at 2:36 am - Reply

    Hi Morty, and thanks again for an illuminating article. I guess you are in some way describing the state of enlightenment from different perspectives which I find very useful. Your description of how language shapes our reality helps to explain some aspects of the Law of Attraction to me. Thanks.

    • admin April 22, 2010 at 5:43 pm - Reply

      Hi Leila,

      I’m always happy when what I write explains things to people that they hadn’t understood before.

      Thanks for letting me know my post was useful.

      Regards,Morty

  20. Deanna August 12, 2009 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    Morty, this is a great piece of information that got me thinking about how I perceive my world. I enjoy looking at the world from a different point of view than my own and this helped bring me there in ways I certainly had not imagined. I’d never realized that a great deal of my own perception was based on my language. Your example of the Nootka “house” was eye opening.

    Many thanks,
    Deanna

    • admin April 22, 2010 at 5:41 pm - Reply

      Hi Deanna,

      We just aren’t aware that what we think is “reality” is a mental image dependent on many things, and sometimes having little to do with “reality.”

      Thanks for posting.

      Regards, Morty

  21. Leszek Cyfer August 12, 2009 at 10:59 am - Reply

    As Socrates have put it: “I know that I don’t know anything”…

    Or Platon who was talking much the same in his parallel of world of shadows on the wall.

    So what was your point? To change our apparatus? Not very possible… Our language? If I change my language, none else will understand me. In fact, the language is nothing more than a bunch of memories attached to a mutually agreed set of symbols – be it spoken words or graphical symbols representing them.

    So it seems that the only change I can make is in myself – to change my memories. Something that Stuart Lichtman tries to do with his cybernetic transposition…

    • Dallas April 22, 2010 at 4:34 am - Reply

      How about changing the way you use the language you already use? There’s a HUGE difference between saying “Why can’t I make $1,000,000 in a single day” and “HOW can I make $1,000,000 in a single day”

      • Leszek Cyfer April 22, 2010 at 9:17 am - Reply

        I’ve just read read that in Tony Robbins’ “Awake the giant within” – to use questions that empower instead of questions that paralyze.

        As for the numbers included I’d rather use simple incrementation method – like multiplying your monthly earnings by factor of 1.5 and asking how can I make it happen. That’s a believable amount – then when you earn that increased amount per month multiply it again by 1.5 and ask again how can I make it happen. If you were able to do it in two month interwals then starting from 8000$ you’d be earning over 91000$ per month after a year. I know it’s big shot, but if instead of going up 50% every two month you would go up 10% then in a year you’d get from 8000$ to 14000$, in two years to 25000$, and in five years to 140000$ per month.

        From 8 to 140 thousands of dollars per month. That’s 10% raise per every two months for 5 years. How can I make it happen? Now that’s a question :)

        • admin April 23, 2010 at 11:11 am - Reply

          Hi Leszak,

          I agree that it’s a lot more empowering to ask how something can be done than complain that it can;t be done.

          Thanks for the dialogue.

          Regards, Morty
          P.S. I have a very good friend named Leszek.

  22. Maeyer August 12, 2009 at 10:57 am - Reply

    I am trying to follow your logic; and I see that language shapes our perceptions; but I don’t see that simply not recognizing or distinquishing an object means it does not exist. As in the blind baby, things around him could become a reality to him, by example, if he bumped into it or felt it. Also, there is a way of seeing without the eyes wired into the brain which has been scientifically proven. Then there’s sixth sense or intuitive knowing. There is a sensing of things, people, communication, events etc. beyond or outside of ourselves, and beyond even what we call this dimension. If whatever mode is the only way we learn, then that is our perception of reality; but it doesn’t mean other things don’t exist simply because we choose not to see them as real. Just as your method “wakes” people up to seeing what was there all along: another way of perceiving the events that cause one to believe one thing or another about life.

  23. Jeanette Kahle August 12, 2009 at 10:55 am - Reply

    I have never thought of our language having such an impact on our lives. However, if you think on it, it goes to show what people who speak english focus on primarily: things.

    • Dallas April 22, 2010 at 4:30 am - Reply

      Maeyer, you just used your own logic to prove what Morty was talking about. Morty wasn’t saying that just because you don’t see something, that it doesn’t exist, he means that if you don’t see something, you cannot interact with it, so therefore it’s LIKE it doesn’t exist to you. He was referring not to physical objects, but concepts such as love, empowerment, etc. If you are unaware of these things, they do not exist to you.

      And you said that a blind babe can bump into and feel object, and see without eyes. Yes, so then the baby will perceive it, right? And the baby will then be able to interact with it. But as long as it doesn’t perceive it, it won’t interact with it. Imagine being blind and deaf, and a truck was about to hit you. Because you don’t perceive it, you won’t be able to alter your behaviour to accommodate for it – just like if you have cancer and don’t even know it. It’s still there, it does exist in reality, but as long as you don’t perceive it, to you, it doesn’t exist. And if something doesn’t exist to you, how can you interact with it?

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