Perception ~ Coloured by the External Environment and Our Inner Preconception, Can We Truly See This World?

In an experiment conducted by Washington Post [1] back in 2007, they explore questions such as

“Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he’s really bad? What if he’s really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn’t you? What’s the moral mathematics of the moment? ”

Will one of the U.S.’s greatest violinists be noticed in a D.C. Metro stop during rush hour? Joshua Bell [2] experimented for Gene Weingarten’s story in The Washington Post: (Video by John W. Poole)

Video after the break.

Do we truly see things as they are?  How coloured are we by the external environment and our inner preconception?

Do we see the goodness in our friends or do we judge influenced by the above factors?

When we study in school, do we learn the most from the teacher regardless of the environment and our perception of him?  Or do we blame it on the teacher when we fail?

At work, who do we consider our friends?  Are there enemies or as they say, in business and politics, there is only common interest?  Do we allow ourselves to see the world with tainted glasses or do we peer through the colourings and see how things truly are?

Being influenced by our perception, we may respond or act differently, affecting how we interact with them and the environment.

Take our studies as an example, the following table models what can possibly be our “subject absorption” rate [3].

Subject Absorption Rate

T x S

Teacher (subject + teaching skill) T%





(attention + mindfulness + interest )



9% C1










81% C9


How well our teacher knows the subject and can teach is something we cannot quite change while we are in the classroom or lecture theatre.  We can choose how attentive and mindfully we listen and how much interest we give it.


A simplistic 30%, 60% and 90% is presented for both teacher and student.  Assuming a loss-less
knowledge transmission, each of the nine squares above shows the outcome from a simple Teacher-Student matrix.

The cell C1 shows the worse case scenario of 9% subject absorption while the cell C9 shows a win-win high 81% subject absorption!

Of interest is the last row, where the student maximizes his learning regardless of the teacher, and the first row, where the best teacher cannot help the student who does not give his best in class.

Missing from the table is a student’s own flair for the subject.  That cannot change on the spot in class, and hence is not shown in the table.  While it does affect the outcome, it has more or less a uniform impact across the nine scenarios above.

The ‘payout’ is that regardless of the teacher’s subject and teaching ability, the student who gives 30%, has to consistently put in much more effort after class to catch up while the student with higher attention, mindfulness and interest need to put in lesser effort after class.

How about the way we perceive people around us?  Do we choose the best case scenario or set ourselves up for the worse case?

How about the video above?  Without a stage, is the violinist any lesser?

Do we listen to advices because of the environment, or the speaker, or the message itself?

If the words of wisdom from the various renowned teachers are shared with you by a perfect stranger, an unknown clergy, priest or Buddhist monastic, would you learn and benefit as much from it?

If we meet the Buddha today, will we learn something from him?

When the student is ready, even the rustle of the leaves teach the Dharma!


[1]  Washington Post article “Pearls Before Breakfast – Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let’s find out.”

[2]  Joshua David Bell (born December 9, 1967) is an American Grammy Award-winning violinist.

[3] This table was formulated by myself after my second year academic meltdown.  I stopped blaming my lecturer for my failure, picked myself up and moved on to complete my degree in Computer Engineering, working in R&D and consulting before doning the robes!

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