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  • Writer's picturePaul Cotter

Alternate Perceptions


abstract macro photograph relating to changed perception from Alzheimer's disease

When my father was in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, something happened that turned my notion of reality upside down.


My Dad was standing in the bathroom, tracing invisible shapes in the air with his fingers – shapes of things that only he could see. “Nothing is looking the way it’s supposed to,” he said tentatively.


At that moment I realized that my father, with his damaged neural pathways, was seeing things in a completely different way than I was. Taking this realization a step further, I wondered: How does a person with schizophrenia see the world? How does a fly with compound eyes see things? How does a bat with night vision and echolocation experience reality? More importantly: Which version of reality is “correct?”


I’ve learned that scientists, philosophers and others have wrestled with this same question. And it seems they reached the same conclusion I did: What we see, smell, taste, touch and hear is a function of our sensory organs, which differ from one individual to the next – and which differ wildly between species.


What this means, very simply, is that there is no absolute, "true" version of reality that we can experience through our senses. What we call reality is a projection of our individual perception.


I’ll always wonder what my Dad was seeing when he traced those shapes in the air. Sadly, I’ll never know. None of us can ever truly know what another is experiencing.




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12 Comments


Unknown member
Jun 28, 2023

Paul, you stirred a memory- I remember visiting Dad in his late stages at Deveaux Manor. Out of the blue he said " I wish I was 35 again". I couldn't get him to repeat it, but when I asked if that was what he said he nodded yes. Lucidity for an instant? Were the thoughts in there and he just couldn't get them out? I always wondered what he was thinking, and if he could understand us. I'll bet if he thought his suffering benefited us and others he welcomed it.

Steve


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Paul Cotter
Paul Cotter
Jun 29, 2023
Replying to

Interesting you should bring up the “I wish I was 35 again” story. I was just sharing that with a friend earlier today as we were talking about Alzheimer’s. I’ll always remember you telling me that story about Dad making that comment while you visited him.

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Andrew Ilachinski
Andrew Ilachinski
Jun 28, 2023

A thought provoking post, as usual (and accompanied by a hauntingly beautiful image!) The ideas swirling in my mind after reading your thoughts reminded me of an exchange I had with a good friend of mine years ago when he was in the throes of lamenting (what he perceived to be) an inability to embark on the "Shamanic journey" he always envisioned himself taking - when I gently offered that he may have already been on one (perhaps multiple times), but that the transformative experience precluded him from "remembering" what it was like (once he returned), he thought a moment, smiled (deeply and for the longest time) and thanked me for the "reminder" :) On the subject of "perceptions of…

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Paul Cotter
Paul Cotter
Jun 28, 2023
Replying to

Thanks for sharing your insights, Andy -- always appreciated. And thank you for sharing the link to "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" I'm fascinated, as I know you are, with the whole concept of perception/reality.

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dawnastromsoe
Jun 28, 2023

Paul, when my mom was in her late stages of dementia, she was a 4 year old girl happy to walk in the park with her papa…

when my aunt was in her late stages of Alzheimers, she knew I was a friend & connection to her son (my cousin died at 36). Both experiences made me realize there are no absolutes of reality.

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Paul Cotter
Paul Cotter
Jun 28, 2023
Replying to

"There are no absolutes of reality" ... yes, you hit the nail on the head. Your experience watching Alzheimer's patients brought about the same realization I had. Thank you for sharing these personal stories.

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slig249
Jun 28, 2023

Paul, very insightful! It does amaze me how different people can view things, whether they are an actual concrete thing, or just a perception of some thing!

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Paul Cotter
Paul Cotter
Jun 28, 2023
Replying to

True. It all comes down to perception, and each person perceives things differently.

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Unknown member
Jun 28, 2023

So beautiful. When Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he looked for activities to stimulate his brain. He started doing 500 piece puzzles. As the disease progressed- the last puzzle he worked on was a 20 piece Disney puzzle. There were three pieces sitting on the side of the puzzle- he could not figure out where they went.

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Paul Cotter
Paul Cotter
Jun 28, 2023
Replying to

It was so sad watching that slow decline. I remember Brian was very little at that time, and Cher made the observation that "Every day, Brian learns something new .. and every day, Dad forgets a little more."

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