FACTS actually aren't as important as the way they're perceived. And it goes without saying that they're seldom perceived by any two individuals in exactly the same way. A case in point is when two witnesses give their version of an automobile accident and it is difficult to realize that they're describing the same event. No two people hear, see, or understand any set of facts exactly alike.
"We differ so widely in disposition, habits, education, that our ways of looking at things vary. We judge differently. Our understanding of truth, our ideas in regard to the conduct of life, are not in all respects the same. There are no two whose experience is alike in every particular. The trials of one are not the trials of another. The duties that one finds light are to another most difficult and perplexing." --The Ministry of Healing, p. 483.
As evangelists, pastors, health educators, and teachers, we must be fully aware of these differences in perception if we wish to be truly effective in our ministry. Differences in frames of reference and personal biases are so prevalent that we cannot expect every one to react in an identical fashion to any given set of facts. We also need to help those with whom we're studying to understand clearly the variations in the way people perceive so that they will be better able to relate to each other in their homes and in their daily contacts.
The need of being fully aware of the fact that sin and intemperance of any kind benumb the perceptive faculties and make it extremely difficult for people to discern eternal values is clearly pointed out in such passages as Messages to Young People, page 236. We are also specifically told that the Christian is to carefully select that which he allows his perceptive powers to grasp. "God does not wish us to hear all that is to be heard, or see all that is to be seen. It is a great blessing to close the ears, that we hear not, and the eyes, that we see not." -Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 707.
Differences in Frames of Reference
Many years ago a study of the persistence of established frames of reference was conducted by Leeper. He prepared the three pictures below.
Leeper discovered that groups of people shown the picture of the young woman in Figure 1 first and then shown the woman in Figure 3 nearly always see a young woman. Another group, shown the old woman in Figure 2 first will, on the other hand, see an old woman when shown Figure 3. One of the most interesting and disturbing facts about this experiment is that the frame of reference established by looking at one of these pictures first persists for some time. Even when a group is told that Figure 3 is a composite picture and that if they will look carefully they can see both an old woman and a young woman, it takes considerable time for most of the group members to actually see both. This demonstrates a surprising degree of persistence of an establish frame of reference.
Another problem in perception is that sometimes a person will cling to preconceived opinions or a false assumption concerning the concept or problem being considered. This creates a mental block, which makes it almost impossible to gain the insight necessary in understanding or reaching a solution. These assumptions can be made without a person even knowing that he has made them.
An article by Martin Scheerer on "Problem-Solving" in the April, 1963, Scientific American clearly illustrates this point by using several interesting puzzles, two of which are reproduced here.
(What follows will be more meaningful if you try working these out before reading on.) In both of these puzzles almost everyone working them makes assumptions that are neither stated nor implied. In the case of the horse-and-rider puzzle they assume the riders must be placed on each of the horses shown in Figure A. Even though it can't possibly be done, they keep trying to solve the puzzle that way. In the nine-dots puzzle the assumption is made that those attempting to solve it must work within the group of dots. This, too, is impossible. The only way to solve either is to completely recenter one's perception of the elements of the puzzle, breaking the horses into two parts in the case of the first and extending the lines beyond the dots in the case of the second. (See solution on p. 29).
Causes of Fixation
Scheerer lists four causes of fixation in problem-solving that he developed out of his studies:
1. A person may start with an implicit but incorrect premise.
2. He may fail to perceive an object's suitability for a solution because it must be used in a novel way or because it is imbedded in a conventional context.
3. He may be unwilling to accept a detour that delays the achievement of his goal. Any type of fixation can be strengthened by too much motivation. Strong ego involvement in a problem makes for overmotivation and is detrimental to a solution.
4. Habituation affects fixation. "There is truth," he acknowledges, "to William James' statement that habit is the 'flywheel of society,' but one might add that habit can also be the flypaper of society. The direct availability of a habitual mode of response may make it much harder to break with habit and approach a problem afresh." Martin Scheerer, "Problem-Solving," --Scientific American, April, 1963, p. 9. (Italics supplied.)
The way to overcome these, he goes on to point out, is through insight. Fixation is overcome and insight attained by a sudden shift in perspective. Just how this sudden shift occurs is still unknown.
In Scheerer's list we can discover many of the reasons why people do not comprehend or quickly grasp our presentations of Bible truth. Incorrect assumptions, the novelty of the concept, over-motivation, ego involvement, and habit all actually make it difficult for an individual to perceive the truth when it is presented to him.
"Seeing" With the Heart
Scientists aren't sure what brings about the sudden change known as insight that breaks these fixations and leads to the "Aha, I see!" experience. The Adventist worker, however, is aware that the Holy Spirit has a lot to do with clarifying our ability to truly perceive. The application of the Holy Spirit's "eyesalve" not only opens our eyes to our sinfulness but it enables us to catch a higher, broader vision of what God in tends us to be physically, mentally, and spiritually.
"It is sin that darkens our minds and dims our perceptions. . . . [As sin is purged from our hearts,] as His goodness, His mercy and His love are dwelt upon, clearer and still clearer will be the perception of truth; higher, holier, the desire for purity of heart and clearness of thought." --The Ministry of Healing, pp. 464- 466.
In a paper on perception theory presented to a West Coast Bible teacher's convention some time ago, Dr. Jack Provonsha quoted --The Desire of Ages, page 455: "The perception and appreciation of truth, He [Jesus] said, depends less upon the mind than upon the heart." He went on to explain that two qualities in man condition his perceptions of truth. The first is based upon the kind of person he is and is subject to numerous hereditary and socio-environmental factors. These include, he stated, the "propensities" that "trip us all 'up sooner or later that come from wading in the larger genetic pool" and also include "the linguistic and cultural prisons that confine us to certain ways of looking at things long before growth and maturation make volition a possibility."
The second quality he spoke of is the one with which "heart knowing" is chiefly concerned. Man, created in God's image, possesses the "possibility of choosing to do something about what these other factors have done to him."
This is borne out in the Spirit of Prophecy.
"Let no one say, I cannot remedy my defects of character. If you come to this decision, you will certainly fail of obtaining ever lasting life. The impossibility lies in your own will. If you will not, then you can not overcome. The real difficulty arises from the corruption of an unsanctified heart, and an unwillingness to submit to the control of God." --Christ's Object Lessons, p. 331.
"The tempted one needs to understand the true force of the will. This is the governing power in the nature of man the power of decision, of choice. Everything depends on the right action of the will. Desires for goodness and purity are right, so far as they go; but if we stop here, they avail nothing. Many will go down to ruin while hoping and desiring to overcome their evil propensities. They do not yield the will to God. They do not choose to serve Him.
"God has given us the power of choice; it is ours to exercise. We cannot change our hearts, we cannot control our thoughts, our impulses,, our affections. We can not make ourselves pure, fit for God's service. But we can choose to serve God, we can give Him our will; then He will work in us to will and to do according to His good pleasure. Thus our whole nature will be brought under the control of Christ." --The Ministry of Healing, p. 176.
Provonsha's point, as I understand it, is that perception of truth is not just an autonomous act of the human power of reason, but that it involves freedom to refuse to pay attention and thus is also, and primarily, an affair of the heart.
That it is mandatory to select-- and to teach those studying with us to select that which will contribute to spiritual perception and reject that which blocks such perception is a point that is strongly emphasized in the Spirit of Prophecy. The following quotations suggest several items that interfere with perception.
1. Perception Influenced by Physical Habits.—"Those who would have clear minds to discern Satan's devices must have their physical appetites under the control of reason and conscience. The moral and vigorous action of the higher powers of the mind are essential to the perfection of Christian character." --Messages to Young People, pp. 236, 237.
2. Self-indulgence Deadens Perceptive Faculties.—"The world's Redeemer knew that indulgence of appetite was bringing physical debility and deadening the perceptive faculties so that sacred and eternal things could not be discerned. He knew that self-indulgence was perverting the moral powers, and that man's great need was conversion, in heart and mind and soul, from the life of self-indulgence to one of self-denial and self-sacrifice." --Medical Ministry, p. 264.
3. Pride and Selfishness Be cloud Perceptive Powers.—"Pride, self-love, selfishness, hatred, envy, and jealousy have be clouded the perceptive powers." --Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 605.
4. Passions and Impure Thoughts Injure Perceptive Faculties.—"The lower passions are to be strictly guarded. The perceptive faculties are abused, terribly abused, when the passions are allowed to run riot." --Counsels on Health, p. 587.
5. Perceptions Dimmed by Wrong Use of Means.—"Those who have made a wrong use of means dedicated to Cod will be required to give an account of their stewardship. Some have selfishly grasped means because of their love of gain. Others have not a tender conscience; it has become seared through long-cherished selfishness. They view sacred and eternal things from a low standpoint. Through their long continuance in a wrong course their moral sensibilities seem paralyzed. It seems impossible to elevate their views and feelings to the exalted standard clearly brought to view in the word of God." --Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 519.
Importance of Perception Theory
Perception theory is being care fully studied and researched by behavioral scientists. Some of the insights they are gaining have been pointed out in this article. Such studies still fall short of a clear understanding of the real is sue involved. It is primarily one of heart knowledge and this in turn is dependent upon clearing the way for the Holy Spirit to most effectively bring divine in sight to bear in the hearts and minds of those willing to allow Him to so work.
Adventist ministers and workers certainly need to be aware of the increasing emphasis being given perception theory and to combine what is being learned with the wealth of information made available to us through the pen of inspiration.
In this day and age, when Satan is attempting to block every possible channel by which the Holy Spirit can bring us divine insight, we must fully experience all that God promises to accomplish when we cooperate with Him in this process. How exciting it would be if every Adventist worker could testify to the following from experience: "Looking unto Jesus we obtain brighter and more distinct views of God, and by beholding we become changed. Goodness, love for our fellow men, becomes our natural instinct. We develop a character which is the counterpart of the divine character. Growing into His likeness, we enlarge our capacity for knowing God. More and more we enter into fellowship with the heavenly world, and we have continually increasing power to receive the riches of the knowledge and wisdom of eternity." --Christ's Object Lessons, p. 355.