Paul Balles: The doors of perception..

A FEW years ago, I was fascinated by this very short story.

One day a man opened the garage door, which startled a large butterfly.

It flew immediately to its perceived escape, the circle-topped window, where it frantically tried to exit through the invisible wall of closed glass.

The man raised the third car garage door in hopes of aiding its escape.

This caused the butterfly to fly higher and higher and become entangled in a spider's web.

Fearful that it would remain entangled in the web, the man selected a long-handled broom to assist him in escaping the tangled threads.

At this, the butterfly returned to furiously pumping his wings and banging into the glass, which was - in his perspective - the pathway of escape.

But he remained in his cage.

That story had me thinking about how much the butterfly's behaviour was a paradigm for human behaviour.

Not only butterflies have the problem of seeing new solutions. It's a challenge that applies to all creatures, large and small, including humans.

We only see what we want to see and we want to see what we already know.

Realisations like these have fed the spread of the clichŽ "thinking outside of the box".

This highlights the fact that it's nearly impossible to change others' perceptions of anything - of you or your favourite food, political candidate, TV programme or other pastime - without a complete change in the way they think.

Aldous Huxley, author of The Doors of Perception, wrote: "There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception."

The significance of the story and Huxley's comment is illustrated by another Huxley note: "To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries."

For instance, the ideas you have about the Israeli-Palestinian problem are incomprehensible to writers and commentators who have never visited Israel and Palestine.

Even those who have visited Israel with guides will have their perceptions pre-ordained to fit those of the guides.

This explains why American Congress members who have been on sponsored trips to Israel, but not to Palestine, have opened the doors of perception to only Israel.

"There are quiet places also in the mind. But we build bandstands and factories on them. Deliberately - to put a stop to the quietness," wrote Huxley.

In short, we resist opportunities to see things differently, to expand our visions beyond the familiar.

It is impossible for arch-Zionists like Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz to see that Gilad Atzmon in The Wandering Who? is prying open visions of Jewish identities of which Dershowitz can't conceive.

What makes Atzmon's awakening so difficult for some to understand is that it takes you outside the ordinary open doors of perception.

In America, President Obama's major problem is also one of perception. He needs to recall the public's perception of him when they elected him. Instead, he has been trying to change others' perception of him by being the negotiator with people who refuse to negotiate.

Obama was elected by voters who have no power other than the power to vote. He has been trying to please those in power only to be perceived as a weakling by both those in power and the voters.

William Blake wrote: "If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern."

We need to learn to see what others see, know what others know and feel what others feel.