What do we Know about Reality? Nothing, Really!

illusion of woman walking in air

Reality is the sum or aggregate of all that is real or existent, as opposed to that which is merely imaginary. The term is also used to refer to the ontological status of things, indicating their existence. In physical terms, reality is the totality of the universe, known and unknown.

Wikipedia distinguishes between that which is real and that which is imaginary.  We will be bold enough to suggest that for the most part we, as human beings, can’t tell the difference.  The impact of this on us and our performance is costly, stressful, and painful.

Over the past three decades as we at Momentum Consulting have worked with organizations, coached executives, and built teams, a cornerstone of the work we did was revealing blind spots. 

Blind spots are those aspects of our behavior that limit our effectiveness.

We can’t see these spots, or we dismiss them because we don’t see their full impact. 

Someone may say to me, “you can be pretty aggressive, to the point of rudeness”, and I would say “yeah, I know, I have been told that, I just get too determined sometimes!”  while I’m actually thinking “You’re damn right I do, that’s what you have to do to get things done!

What I don’t realize is these actions can cause people to avoid me, work around me, or engage with their defenses already up.  Our reality does not match up to what is actually going on. And my reality does not let me see it.  Like everyone else I have confused my perceptions about things with reality.  In case you are wondering, YES, you do that!  We all do that, most of the time!

Brain science reveals a lot about how we interpret life, especially to fit our personal worldview or reality. Some of those distinctions are:

  • Conformational bias: Looking for qualities and behaviors that confirm your beliefs about someone or something while ignoring those that contradict your beliefs.
  • Halo/horns: When a positive or negative impression of someone carries over into all future interactions with that person.
  • Stereotyping: making assumptions based on appearance, or grouping people to assume they are all the same
  • Similarity effect: Having greater confidence or trust in someone because they are like us.
  • Motivational blindness: the tendency to not notice the unethical actions of others when it is against our own best interests to notice. (this is a wicked one!)

What I have shared so far is the practical application of our dissonance with reality.  Actually, I want to address a different aspect of it.

Let’s start with a quick summary from Dr. Jorge Martins de Oliveira, a neurologist, on how we form our worldview (reality),

“Our perception does not identify the outside world as it really is, but the way that we are allowed to recognize it, as a consequence of transformations performed by our senses. We experience electromagnetic waves, not as waves, but as images and colors. We experience vibrating objects, not as vibrations, but as sounds. We experience chemical compounds dissolved in air or water, not as chemicals, but as specific smells and tastes. Colors, sounds, smells and tastes are products of our minds, built from sensory experiences. They do not exist, as such, outside our brain. Actually, the universe is colorless, odorless, insipid and silent.”


In many conversations over the years, as we have gained greater confidence in the accuracy that humans don’t know what’s real and act like we do, we usually find agreement, however we have noticed that agreeing with that, expressing understanding, has rarely changed behavior, and behavior drives performance!

The critical distinction here is knowing something intellectually is very different from knowing something behaviorally.  Behaviorally, is knowing something in a way that causes us to change our behavior, conscious knowledge!

Frankly, looking at Dr. Martins de Oliveira summation of our ability to see beyond our perceptions, or our world view, I admit, it’s very hard to get my head around.  I mean, I get colors, sounds, smells, etc. are a product of our mind.  As far as I know you and I may simply exist because we vibrate at a particular level (in case you are wondering, that is not a denial of God, just a possible reframe for how God may exist.)  By the way, our feelings and emotions are apparently nothing more than chemical reactions in our brain to certain situations. 

The question becomes: Can we claim any management over our perceptions?

Here’s what I can personally tell you, after working with this material for a lot of years. I have reduced “judgment”, which is to say I don’t relate to my judgments as true or real, just judgments. My curiosity will reliably override my perceptions about people and things, my reaction mechanisms are muted and I more calmly approach breakdowns. All valuable stuff and  performance supportive. Yet, when I start to grapple with “what I think is real is not”, in the frame Dr. Oliveira speaks, it’s like trying to grasp infinity, something having no edges!

How effectively can you challenge your beliefs? Can you discover that your own reality is shaped by those beliefs, and that your performance is shaped by that reality? It’s not an easy game. It takes courage. It takes others. It takes trust. And it takes thinking you are worth being something bigger.

Go grow!

With love and appreciation,



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