Mind the Gap Between Perception and Reality | Sean Tiffee | TEDxLSCTomball


I'm going to take a story it's a short

one I promise what I want you to do is I

want you to picture in your mind as I

tell it okay Bob went to the beach to

play fetch with his dog how's it I told

you too short but here's my question for

you when you picture it in your mind

what kind of dog did Bob have now what

the research says is you probably

pictured one of three dogs either one

you pictured your dog too

you pictured a Labrador Retriever or

three you pictured a golden retriever

and the reality is that kind of makes

sense right maybe you pictured your dog

because well when you think dog that's

the reference point you have for dog but

the research says if you didn't picture

yours you probably pictured a Labrador

Retriever or a golden retriever why well

kind of makes sense

because I told you that he went to the

beach to play fetch with his dog and

what a Labrador Retrievers do what a

golden retrievers do it's right there in

the name they retrieve things so if you

went to play fetch that's what he

brought there's a concept in rhetorical

studies called linguistic or listening

fidelity and what listening fidelity is

is it's how close did I get with my

message to what you pictured in your

head now you pictured a golden retriever

Bob doesn't have a golden retriever no

Bob has a mixed breed it's half wolf

half Chihuahua it's a wolf wah-wah

that's what he's got

but you didn't picture that no no no you

didn't there's a gap between what you

pictured and what he's got there's a gap

between perception and between reality I

first started thinking about the gap and

this idea of a gap when I spent time in

London and I went to the London

Underground which is just a fancy

European Way of saying subway and I saw

signs everywhere

they reminded me to mind the gap now

here they're talking about the platform

in the train there's a little spot there

and they don't want you to twist your

ankle or anything which is smart I think

that others a lot of good advice that we

had in train stations in Japan for

example you might see a sign that says

take care of head and that's my

that's not we're talking about right now

no we're talking about now is the gap

you should mind the gap because between

perception and between reality there's a

gap those gaps can be dangerous

might twist an ankle might do more harm

I've heard someone else so let's talk

for a minute about the dangers of the

gap and maybe what we can do to overcome

those dangers there's a South Asian

parable that you might have heard before

it's where a series of blind men are

able to get experienced to an elephant

they've never experienced an elephant

before and they're asked to describe

what an elephant is but each one of the

men is only allowed a certain part to

the elephant so one of the blind men

touches the side of the elephant right

oh I know what an elephant is like it's

like a wall another gets access to the

leg he's like no no no no elephant it's

like a pillar or the tail says no it's

like a rope or the Tusk it's a pipe and

the point of course here is that none of

the blind men by themselves really

understand what an elephant is because

they only have kind of a limited

perspective they have limited access to

what the elephant is there's a gap

there's a gap between perception and

between reality and rhetorical studies

again there are theorists who talk about

this gap between perception and between

reality and what they say is that we all

experience the gap because when we're

born we are born into a seer into a

culture to a series of cultural

narratives or master narratives so

theorists like Kenneth Burke or

theorists like Edwin black say that when

we are born into stories that precede us

these giant master narratives that we

take these cultural narratives this

rhetoric of narrative and we then spin

out our own personal stories through it

and your personal stories oftentimes a

reflective of the master narratives that

you are born into altuve's era says that

we are hailed by ideology that again is

the perception that you're born into

which then is separate and distinct from

reality and what are we

have to do well we must always mind the

gap virtually every discipline talks

about the gap they in one way or another

they all see it they all perceive it

they all know it's there even in the

hard sciences with Heisenberg's

uncertainty principle we can know one

thing without having to know another it

is a gap in what we have access to and

what we can know in rhetorical studies

it's the mass or narrative versus your

personal stories all those things

they're also very very careful that we

have to be able to mind the gap but that

doesn't always sit really well with me

because if we mind the gap and we are

aware there's a difference between

perception and between reality it seems

to suggest that we can have access at

some point to reality so in some

versions that south-asian parable

there's another man who walks up and

says here is what the elephant looks

like and describes for each of the men

here is what the elephant looks like in

his totality of course the man who walks

up is deaf so he'll never hear the

elephant bellow can't have access to

reality so I don't like this idea of

minding the gap rather I want to do

something different I want to mine the

gap because I think there's something

there that we can get out of the gap

that can help us avoid that danger and

it's going to sound silly and it's going

to sound absurd but I also think it'll

work what can we do to mine the gap as

opposed to mind the gap one of my

favorite films is from 1993 to film

called falling down stars Michael

Douglas and Robert Duvall and in it

Michael Douglas is a man who rails

against what he believes to be the

absurd so ultimately what happens is he

goes into a vast food restaurant and he

wants to get breakfast and it's 10:35 oh

yeah you see where this is going it's


and he wants breakfast they stop serving

at 10:30 and they say I'm sorry they

can't and he says but I can see right

there you have breakfast still under the

heat lamps just serve me that they say

we can't against the rules

so what happens in the film it's kind of

a sad tale actually is he has a break

and he snaps and it begins railing

against the absurd

he begins railing against what he

believes to be the reality as it exists

but what he's really railing against is

his own perception and that's the danger

of the gap which is that if you believe

that you have access to reality at some

point you think can get a monopoly on

truth now I said that from these master

narratives you spin out your own

personal stories and you do but when

those personal stories you believe to be

the only representation of reality in my

own personal story in my own personal

movie I'm always the hero and if my

perception of reality is different from

yours and I'm the hero then you've got

to be the villain and if you're the

villain that I fight against you the

difference between perception and

between reality if my perception is

different from yours and I'm right then

you're wrong but in falling down at the

very end of the film spoiler alert the

very end of the film Michael Douglas is

standing there and Robert Duvall as the

cop who's been chased on the whole time

he has a gun pointed at him and he has a

Michael Douglas's revelation he says

wait I'm the bad guy

yeah we don't ever kind of come to that

realization because we're always the

hero because we think we have a monopoly

on truth because we think that we know

what reality is so how do we mine the

gap to avoid that from happening from

kind of hardening into that nodal point

where we have reality and we alone have

it be absurd instead of Michael Douglas

railing against what he perceives to be

absurd I want you to embrace the absurd

listening fidelity the wolf wah-wah

you pictured a dog that was not a wolf

wah-wah you know what you didn't picture

I know you didn't picture this you

didn't picture a dump truck

I think maybe you kind of should so

let's do my little my story again and

this time I want you to not picture a

dog I want you to picture I'm still

going to say doc I want you to picture a

dump truck we got it Bob went to the

beach to play fetch with his dog now you

pictured a dump truck at the beach it's

absurd but the reality is this that dump

truck is just a placeholder just like

the golden retriever you pictured was

just a placeholder the dump truck is

just a placeholder so you still got the

context of the story you still

understand the keys I'm versatile

communicating you still understand what

I'm trying to say the difference is that

there is this glaring point in your mind

that is absurd that is a constant

reminder to you that you are only seeing

the world through your individual

perceptions because that's all we're

ever able to do and when there's a

constant reminder that all I'm doing is

perceiving the world my way not the real

way just my way then I can have empathy

for others I still don't have access to

reality because none of us ever do but

I'm more empathetic there is a gap

between perception and reality but

there's something very very special in

the middle in that gap there's also a

pretty big gap between a wolf and a

chihuahua but when those two things come

together something special can happen to

that's what I want for you

embrace the absurd be the wolf wah-wah