A couple of years ago, I was actively writing for my experimental Matriarchal storytelling venture A Dangerous Woman Story Studio. I am still at it, but everything is on hiatus while I am working on my forthcoming traditionally-published nonfiction book When Journalism Was a Thing.
Clocking in at almost 1600 pages, this is the feminist War and Peace, and by far, the book that is the favourite fiction story I ever wrote.
Dr. Verity Lake’s Journey of a Thousand Revelations.
The story begins in the late 1930s and spans about a decade of her life. She is an eccentric and enigmatic experimental psychologist living in a very liberated city-state, where her are of study is Truth, Perception, and the Nature of Reality.
Like all of my characters, I studied and researched every area of their specialities. Verity Lake’s speciality began as my undergraduate thesis when I was a psych student at McMaster University. I was studying psychoacoustics — how we perceive sound versus the reality of the actual sound.
Because how we perceive sound is very different to its reality.
And that fact I stumbled upon as a teenager when my ears were bandaged up for a few weeks, and when that thick padding came off, sound was not the smooth and ordered sense I had known all my life.
It was chaotic, with echos and disjointed bouncing of chords.
Everything sounded tinny and repetitive until suddenly my brain remembered how to deceive me, and pulled those chords together and the experience was gone.
But not the memory of it.
It was a revelation that our perceptions of reality was not reality itself.
And then I spent years experimenting with perceptions and reality.
It helped that I also was a fan of stage magic. I developed a new appreciation of how magic tricks take advantage of our limited and faulty perceptions — and our base assumptions that we somehow perceive reality as it is.
It’s not even close.
Studies have been done to show how one person perceives a certain colour isn’t the same across the board — what may be blue to you, may be perceived as green to someone else.
You can even trick people into hearing the wrong words, depending on how they see someone’s lips move. Show a video of someone saying “Pa Pa”, but have an audio of “Da Da”, and they will most likely “hear” “Pa Pa”.
That’s the reality of how we perceive reality.
Because we are never taught to question our perceptions of reality. People become offended and think that you are accusing them of being “crazy” if you ask, “Are you certain of your perceptions?”
Dr. Lake is a recurring character in her younger sister Holly’s non-lethal mystery short stories, but I liked Verity so much, that I spun her off in not just her own novel, but in other stories as well. She is a character who is versatile as both a main character and a supporting one.
She can always find a place in stories because she is all about knowing the difference between perception and reality, and also truth and reality. She understands the difference between what is absolute and what is relative.
Verity has her lifelong quest of uncovering all of the deepest truths of the universe, and while this was supposed to be a comical throwaway catchphrase with her, I owed it to her to dig deeper and explore that concept.
As a journalist, I understood that perception was never reality. People perceived reality, and then they interpreted reality. They never really tested to see if their perceptions of reality aligned with the real thing.
And it isn’t as difficult as it sounds. I had no trouble discovering how perceptions could deceive or be tricked. Animals have a better sense of hearing than do people — so I would try out games with my pets to understand what they heard, how they heard it, and what, in the most crudest sense, what their thoughts and feelings were on the matter.
Were they curious? Angry? Scared? Happy? Did they retain information? What if it was the same stimulus, but activated slightly differently?
But that’s basic sensory reality. There is also livable reality of our mundane everyday lives. Life comes easy to some, but hard to others, for instance. They have two different realities.
But often, you hear people talking about their “own personal truths.” No, you are not talking about truth; you mean your own personal reality. When you are rich and healthy, you have a different reality than when you are poor.
But how the two perceive that reality can be very different. The rich person may think they are superior, even if they were merely born into money, but the poor person make also think he is superior because he knows how to survive even without the benefits of money.
The rich person may think he is suffering and unlucky, while the poor person may think he is blessed.
This is their interpretation of their reality, but neither is actually looking at the truth.
Truth is universal. It is an egalitarian concept that is universal and eternal. There is no ownership of Truth. Truths are deep, and they are chaotic.
Truths are hard to find, especially if you take your perceptions of reality for granted, and prefer to lure of lies to validate or placate you.
Reality is situational. One moment, you may be a billionaire, and the next, you are in prison being tortured.
Your reality has changed, but the Truth that money is not the foolproof fortress to protect you from all harm stays the same. It applies to the rich person as it does to the poor.
You cannot manipulate the truth. Your truth is not better or different than anyone else’s truth. It is often a weasel phrase people employ when they know there may be a weakness in their narrative, and are using a pre-emptive strike: Well, that may not be what actually happened, but I perceived it to be as such; ergo, this is my truth.
No, it’s not your “personal” truth. That is your interpretation of reality.
Reality is tangible. It aligns with the truth, and can reveal truths, but as reality is relative and changes, it is a path to truth, not the truth itself.
I always found it baffling that j-schools never studied the differences among truth, reality, perception, and interpretation. If your job is to expose reality, then you ought to know what reality is all about and why you need to reveal it to people.
There should have been a journalistic and empirical science on it, but it never happened. I have pointed this deficit out to more than one academic institution, only to be tersely dismissed.
But there is an absolute need for it. How someone carries himself and dresses alters his reality, but if he is a grifter, the truth is that he will never deliver what he promised, and as he takes away resources from his victims, there will be deficits that will drag others down.
It is this lack of training and research that doomed journalism and allowed an Age of Propaganda to flourish unimpeded.
Because we never did bother to understand what is truth and reality, what they mean, and what they have always been trying to tell us…