Carl Rogers’ Propositions [II]

[II] The organism reacts to the field as it is experienced and perceived. This perceptual field is, for the individual, “reality”.

carl-rogersThis is one of my favourite Propositions. The idea that no objective reality exists and so everyone experiences their own personal reality is something that can take some time to digest. But in light of Rogers’ thinking, who can argue against it.

The fact that two people can be exposed to the same stimulus from the phenomenal field and come up with a different ‘take’ on what they have experienced, or to be more exact perceived, ventures into the realm of an ageless philosophical debate. We all want to know what exactly constitutes reality, whether it is objective or subjective. But psychological phenomena also has an important influence on how we see the world, and Rogers’ clearly leans on the subjective side.

Rogers’ gives a fine example of this in his book ‘Client-Centered Therapy’ where he explains how two different people can hear a politician’s speech and interpret its meaning differently (Rogers, 1951, p. 484-485). The same stimulus has succeeded in creating two personal realities and behaviour. But was this already decided and predicted before hearing the speech? Was the foundation for their perceptions already established through the earlier formation of their personalities. Preconceived ideas of the world they live in, their perceived reality, would no doubt serve as the springboard for their interpretation, as would the influence of their political affiliations.

Everyone processes their experiences uniquely (due to their personality, bio-chemical disposition, memories, emotions, values etc.) and stimuli that are constantly in flux all around us, will be interpreted or measured against these attributes and fit into a ‘personal theory’ of an individual’s perceived reality. This, I suppose, is how the Self plays a part in person’s reality, which I will come up in later Propositions. Do experiences, conscious as well as unconscious, contribute to a person’s reality? Is there a solid line that separates the Self as experienced and reality as perceived? Or are they constantly interchanging as we move into the future? I believe they do.

We have relationships with objects that we perceive, even with those that may seem innocuous and irrelevant. That may sound absurd because most people conceive a relationship as having a close or an intimate connection with another living thing, or a special object of sentimental value. A photo perhaps, or a car. But I believe that a connection of some degree is achieved with every object that we come across. A table in my house can exist in different realities – mine and someone else’s. The fact that it has a place in my house already qualifies it to be perceived differently.  I remember when and where I bought it, which gives it added values to my perception of it, as opposed to someone who comes into my house and sees it for the first time. In other words I have a different perception to the table and it fits into my reality and has a definitive place in it, whereas with someone else it will not.

Granted, most people do not think this way when they encounter normal, seemingly meaningless objects. They merely see them as functional, unemotional objects rather than things that can be perceived as meaningful entities to individuals. I’m not suggesting that we should be overly emotional about such everyday objects, but there is, I feel, a hidden symbolic element or value to us, perhaps beyond measure.  Sometimes you have to look under the hood to find the true reality.


A book is another good example. Surely it is perceived as something much more of value to the author than to the casual reader? We can ponder and imagine the effort, research and the thoughts that passed through his mind that the author has put into producing his book, but we will never experience it as he has. Therefore it has a special significance to his reality.

The confusing aspect of this debate about whether a reality exists in the objective or subjective world is the fact that objects that we see every day are undeniably real. They are solid and of recognizable form so they are obviously perceived as existing for everyone. But if we were incapable of sensing them they would not exist. A person with no senses, and with no memory of the world as perceived, would essentially be living in non-reality, something that doesn’t bare thinking about.  The physical constructs that we see everyday, the buildings, the monuments, transportation, have been created by motivation to achieve goals, by a will to progress. Civilization has been fueled by a combination of ingenuity and determination to improve, be better, rather like the actualizing tendency that Rogers’ believed existed in all individuals. But the designers and the constructors have to perceive the stuff that they need to build their creations in the first place.


“For psychological purposes, reality is basically the private world of individual perceptions, though for social purposes reality consists of those perceptions which have a high degree of commonality among various individuals. Thus this desk is “real” because most people in our culture would have a perception of it which is very similar to my own.”

Rogers, [1951] p. 485.


The desk may be real but is it as solid as we all seem to know that it is? The wood that it is composed of, or any other solid object, is kept together by gravitational forces binding billions of atoms, which are surrounded by empty space.


“And what about the reassuring hardness of my metal pen? They tell me it is composed of invisible atoms, moving at great speed. Each atom has an nucleus…each particle is endowed with fantastically unbelievable characteristics; it moves in possibly random, possibly orderly trajectories in the great inner space of each atom. My pen is hardly the firm solid object that I so clearly feel and hold.”

Rogers [1980] p. 98.


And we have to be safe in this “reality” that we have formed. By safe I mean being assured that our behaviour is consistent with what we perceive to be going on around us. We perceive, hypothesize, test then conclude with a theory in order to form our reality. This is repeated with other phenomena of interest and the same principles are applied. In this way our reality expands because we have tested out, as much as we can, everything we have confronted so far, with the inevitability that it will continue to expand as further experiences come to be perceived.


“Thus the world comes to be composed of a series of tested hypotheses which provide security. It acquires a certain predictability upon which we depend.”

Rogers [1951] p. 486.


But reality can change. It is as fluid as the air that circulates around this globe of ours. Every perception that is tested has the potential to be interpreted in different ways. And if the quantum physicists are right when they say that every thought and decision that a person makes creates a different reality, then it would mean a whirlwind of activity the mind has to contend with.




So, can I assume that with each day, hour, minute or even a moment, that goes by, that I enter into a different reality? Every decision I make, every new thought can change the way that I perceive the world? Now that is a staggering concept. If true, it would mean that my existence is in a continuing flux, never static, always changing direction, depending on how and what I think. I end one day of experiencing and wake up the next with the inevitable possibility that I will enter into a new, perceived world. A new reality, different because my as yet unencountered experiences will replace, to an unknown degree, the reality I knew from the day before.

Therefore, I go to bed at night with my world in relative order, that is to say that I have an acceptance to what state my world order is. The next day I hear that a relative has passed away. This ‘order’ has now been disturbed, shifted to another level, to a place that is new to me, as yet unexplored. I can never go back to the old order that existed the day previously, the old reality. My perception of the world has changed; it will never be exactly the same again. I must accept that my perceived reality has changed with the sad news that I have received and that I need to adapt.

The Proposition states that the organism reacts to the field (of phenomena) which has a very important statement to say about the nature of humanistic well-being. Whatever the world throws at us, be it an insensitive comment or some unfortunate, unpredictable event, it is up to us to react, to deal, to cope with the consequences. The phenomenal environment is what it is. We all have the ability to change how we feel about the multitude of stimuli that we perpetually encounter. The battered wife who can’t seem to leave her husband, the timid office worker who is scared of the promotion opportunities that will change his/her life. These scenarios can be changed given the right conditions but it is down to the individual to make it happen. In the end decisions have an important role to play in what reality we live in, and in some ways we have always been in control of it, although not all of us realize this.


About Gwyn H Hughes

I am a person-centred counselor with also a passion for family history, of which I write about at I also write articles for The News Hub.
This entry was posted in 19 Propositions, Carl Rogers, Reality and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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