Thursday, 18 November 2010

Reviews and Forgiveness

I am still reeling from shock, having recently discovered a one star review on Amazon for one of my best loved authors. Yet, surely, one might argue, everybody is entitled to their opinion. In essence, that is what a review is – an opinion – and therefore one must expect differences.
Perception, as we know, is influenced by preconceived ideas and, as humans, our understanding of anything will be influenced by the inherent bias of our previous learning and experience. We will all approach things with our own unique mindsets and one person’s truth or reality will be different from another’s.
I am reminded at this point of a friend’s story of her visit to the ancient ruins of Olympia, where she was aghast at the comments of some tourists complaining that the Temple of Zeus was ‘just a heap of rubble’. As one of the largest temples in Greece, Zeus was amongst the most renowned architecturally, and our brains tell us that the comments are a travesty. Or are they? What is the reality?
We are told that a person creates his or her own reality so, by definition, even reality is subjective. For example, bees see colours that we cannot, so their reality is totally different. The colours do exist, they are real, but we do not see them. Our reality, therefore, is subjective because it is all we can experience.
Subjective reality is how we perceive and interpret the world around us, what we believe to be true, which is not always the full picture because of our own capabilities. A scientist will argue that reality is the state of things as they really exist rather than as they may appear or ought to be. This objective reality is what is measurably and incontrovertibly true, as with specific, proven scientific knowledge.

My daughter and her scientific friends have recently been debating this point:
'If I look at a flower and see white petals with no pattering, because I am physically unable to see the UV markings, then as far as my ability to perceive it goes, the reality is that the flower is plain white. But you can prove that it is patterned, and enable me to see these patterns. So in the objective reality, the flower is patterned. But take away my ability to see UV again and even though I now know this, I will still see the flower as plain white and struggle to believe something that contradicts what I see (I'm separating knowing and believing).'

'The white flower is part of an internal (subjective) reality created by the human mind, and the patterned flower is an external (objective) reality. We cannot can say that the internal reality is wrong/false/not the true reality because if it's all we are capable of seeing, then it must be reality on that level. So the flower is plain, but it is also patterned. Both realities exist and are real/true. Which one you experience depends on how you look at the flower.'

As a layperson, I reserve the right to question the premise of scientific incontrovertible reality, given that scientists do change their minds as soon as another new discovery discredits the last.
More importantly, however, is to ask of what relevance this is to us as authors? Can or should we regard our own interpretation of our work to be the definitive truth? Are the perceptions of others that vary from this viewpoint essentially corruptions?
I have heard fellow authors comment that reviewers have read things into their work that they did not know was there. Indeed, this has happened to me, yet I could see where the person was coming from and, although an unintended by-product, the angle was perfectly valid. The problems arise when we cannot accept the other viewpoint.
Yet, perhaps we should celebrate the fact that we are all different. Surely we thrive on diversity, on the exchange of different viewpoints? It is the very basis of a democratic society.
So, in this spirit of understanding, can I forgive the Amazon reviewer who awarded one star to my favourite author? One measly, stingy, miserly star? I am afraid not. It is, and will always remain, a total and incontrovertible injustice.