Thursday, March 24, 2016

Perception Is a Hell of a Drug

How does context affect perception? What gives a thing its value?

If that thing helps sustain life, then the value is self-evident, so long as one values life itself. But other things may not have inherent value beyond what we imbue it with based on a variety of factors and influences, conscious or otherwise.

A painting, for example, does not help sustain life. Well, it may have helped sustain the painter's life in the sense that he or she could have exchanged it for money, which would be used to buy food. But what of the person that buys the painting?

Maybe it hangs on a wall somewhere. It could help improve the quality of life or perhaps in desperate times be exchanged for money to be used to buy food.

If the person who painted it was famous enough, the painting could be exchanged for money enough to buy much more than just food. The money could be used to buy more paintings by famous people.

But who determines which painters become famous? Who creates that market? What is the context that informs our perception of value, that makes one person's paintings worth so much more than another's despite the fact that both contain nothing more than pigments on canvas?

This phenomenon isn't limited to paintings. Tulips don't help sustain life, and yet they were once coveted beyond what logic would dictate they should be. Diamonds still are. So is extra virgin olive oil.

Yes, extra virgin olive oil can be used in preparing food, which helps sustain life. Canola oil serves the same purpose but is subject to very different market forces. Nobody pays top dollar for canola oil. Maybe one day the context will shift and canola oil will become valuable.

Perception is a hell of a drug.

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