A Rose Is A Rose By Any Other Name? Not Quite: How perception doesn’t equal truth

 

Arctotis_stoechadifolia_P._J._Bergius,_Frühlingsblüte_West_Coast_N.P._P1030626

I’m studying a picture of an Arctotis Stoechadifolia, or an African daisy. Characteristics of the plant aren’t different from any other daisy I’m familiar with—elongated petals in a sunray around a dark bulbous button—it’s a daisy. According to Wikipedia.org, the flower can be found innately in one place, the west coast sand dunes of South Africa. If I were to leave the information at that, confined to one Wikipedia page, it’s interesting but not fully formed, much like anything without background and context. One could argue that perception is reality and that reality is only as one perceives, but is that true? What is truth, anyway?

The Arctotis Stoechadifolia aka the African daisy got its name from the Greek words Arctos, meaning bear, and Otis, meaning ear, or bear’s ear in English. The title refers to the spidery dark middle amongst petals of yellow or white. I’d say it’s more akin to the all-seeing-eye over a bear cub’s listening device no matter how hairy the center. Still, does this mean the name should be changed according to my perception of what it looks like? Hardly. Context, details, and origin are crucial and add to developing one’s perspective on the way to finding the truth—in this case, truth is a fully formed understanding of something bigger.

An accepted fact is that giving little detail can skew information for positive or negative—everybody knows that! Here’s what I mean, I was the first runner-up in a Beauty Pageant and was featured in the newspaper. At first glance, this comes across as prestigious, an honor even. However, once some background is given, the title deflates like a three-day-old Mylar balloon.

At the time of this contest, I was five-years-old living with my parents and six siblings in a cramped apartment in a mining town called, Green River, Wyoming. My mom entered me in the pageant, I had no idea—by the way, it was called a Beauty Pageant back then, not a Scholarship Pageant like they are today.

Two females came to our brown apartment building. One curled and brushed my hair at my kitchen counter. The other woman had me hold a hand mirror and then took my photo. My best friend, Margaret Couch, was also there, getting her hair done and holding a hand mirror—she was crowned Little Miss Wyoming. Does this mean that Margaret Couch was considered the most beautiful girl in Wyoming and I was the second? No, and I think most people understand that. Still, even with the smallest amount of detail, it was a good outcome—for me at least. Ever wonder what happens when scant information is given and taken out of context?

In 1938, Orson Welles, the actor, writer, producer/director made notoriety after his radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ Sci-Fi, The War of the Worlds, where alien beings rove the earth eliminating humans.

After the program ended, approximately a million people piled onto America’s highways, and scavenged for gas masks, confident that New York City had been taken over by toxic gas spreading Martians.

However, not all million people had actually heard the program. The ones, who had, even though they knew they were listening to a storytelling program, which consistently featured fiction, became so enamored with the tale that they spread their emotionally biased views like a virus, convincing others who hadn’t heard the program at all.

So does me winning the title of first runner-up and having my picture in the local newspaper or America’s biggest spoof in history (even if accidentally) producing wide-spread mayhem mean this is what life is? Partially. Each situation is added to a larger picture—but each is a filler experience, not the whole enchilada!

In the States, daisies are stand-ins—an attractive ground cover, a stabilizer for sand bases, a filler flower in a bouquet of roses. As flowers go, daisies are a hint of flirtation, not a full-bloom romance. Although people do like bouquets of happy daisies, for the most part, they are an understatement of intent, and not an infiltration of what’s to come, but then, few things are.

For the last year and a half, a term has taken center stage in politics—Fake News. Of course, it’s known as other things—unsubstantiated rumor, fiction, and lies. One specific expression that rocketed out of near extinction beyond a high school classical reading list is “alternative fact.”

When George Orwell created “alternative fact” in his book, 1984, it pointed to a horrific future—two opposite ideas fused to complete an unquestioned picture. Orwell meant it as a cautionary prediction, not a pattern for creating a slight of hand as it is used today. So how can this fictional idea be used so often without folly?

A prominent trait to anything is having a seed of believability, a partial truth if you will, or else it would go ignored altogether. Still, there are some excellent uses for Fake News—they are attention grabbers, job generators, cautionary tales, and filler in a bouquet of dry factual information—fiction with a bit of fact sprinkled in.

Of course, one could argue that perception is reality and that reality is only as one perceives, but is it? Christopher Columbus discovered America—well, kind of. The Pilgrims broke break with the Indigenous peoples for Thanksgiving, and the two became all-time Besties—what genocide?

Another fairytale guised as truth is that the victor writes the history books. Sure, the last one standing in a fight is probably the only one who can write what happened. It is also true that they can write whatever they want without a whole lot of proof. Does this mean it’s a pure fact? No, it’s perceived information founded on experience—it’s emotionally based to either trump up or to pat down the truth.

We’ve seen this idea done over and over again with the present White House—a slight of hand to misrepresent the truth. So who cares? The people in the White House are the victors! They write the history, right? Nope.

The difference between penning history books and a White House press conference is the amount of time it takes to get the information and the margin of anticipated error. For one, by the time a piece is researched, written, edited, published, and distributed, it’s assumed to be outdated—especially today, where information is constant and instantaneous. Also, for any written report, a correction can be presented, a retraction sited—an apology can be made—it’s standard.

As for the presidential second, the material given is live—the world is a captive audience watching, listening, and trusting. During a Presidential news conference, corrections and retractions shouldn’t be standard, and though an apology could be made, in this presidency, one never seems to be uttered, creating a fictional blur of what’s right and what’s not, or rather, what’s right and what’s disastrously wrong.

But that’s just politics and some Science Fiction reference, right? Wrong. Limited information of any sort leads to misinterpretation. Take the Arctotis Stoechadifolia —to the untrained eye, a blanket of flowers springs out of the sand along the coast of South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope—by the way, the Cape of Good Hope was actually a tumultuous journey where most people died in transit. The African daisies are charming, interesting, and harmless. But are they? Charming and Interesting are perceptional biases. What about it being harmless? It’s a plant that is surrounded by nothing but sand. Can we know anything about the flower if there is nothing to corroborate it?

Recently, the African daisy has been transplanted to places with eroding beach-y landscapes such as North America’s west coast and Australia, and in its new digs a phenomenon has come up.

In its native home, a sand dune without a single blade of grass, the African daisy stands straight, it’s petals open to the sun, producing a blanket of budding glory. In California, however, this particular flower knows no bound. It grows across the sand, suffocates grasses, and overtakes gardens—it’s thick hollow stem like a straw, siphons all nutrients of its fellow life forces—it’s an organic form of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. This just in, alien forces infiltrating the earth sucking the life from its Indigenous peoples! Run! Hide!

So what can we make out all of this? Experience adds to information, which adds to our perception of fact. Context, details, and origin along with gaining many insights from various sources are where truth (truth as in a fully formed understanding) is found.

With all our technology, our fingertips hovering over our ergonomic keyboards, what’s the point of knowing what’s really going on in the world if we can’t see the forest for the trees, or for that matter, see the petals for the overgrown flower garden?

 

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