Post No.: 0227
The perception of reality can legitimately differ from individual to individual, and even from moment to moment. A clear example is our own perception of how fast time seems to pass (that has nothing to do with differences in how fast we’re travelling or how much gravity we’re experiencing relative to others according to time dilation and the theory of relativity!) – our perception of time seems to slow down during an extremely stressful moment, such as a ‘fight or flight’ situation.
But this is not because we’re processing information much faster during these moments in order to help us survive these moments – from clever experiments, what’s actually happening is that the perceived time distortion does not occur during the highly stressful event but when we recall the event from memory. Our brains do direct more resources to more intensively attend to a situation at hand during a highly stressful moment in order to help us survive, and memories are laid down with far more detail than usual, but highly stressful moments are also highly salient and so we form and retain far richer and vivid memories of such events, and to explain how we can remember so much of such events compared to standard, everyday, non-salient or boring events, we unconsciously reason that ‘time must’ve slowed down for us’. So the perceived time distortion is something that happens in retrospect, and if our recalled memorised story seems to be a lengthy one (for all the greater detail we can give) then we rationalise that time must’ve slowed down for us during that moment in order to allow us to fit all that information-gathering in.
So it’s actually a time distortion of our memories, not of our actual experiences at the time they happened. Therefore our version of reality is also greatly biased upon our own interpretations of our own memories of the past, never mind of any present stimuli. And memories can be highly unreliable, even for well-functioning people. Well in fact every moment of our lives is crammed full of things happening around us, not just during highly stressful moments, so it really demonstrates how much environmental detail we ignore and miss during our normal day-to-day lives! Post No.: 0148 examined how much gets past our conscious minds. A lot gets past our unconscious minds too. Our senses are limited, and our cognitive processing capacity and speeds are limited, not just spatially but temporally i.e. we generally miss a lot of information around us during every living moment! But overall this is an energy-efficient way to live as long as what we miss doesn’t kill us, hence why we evolved to be like this.
Spending some time in sensory deprivation (e.g. a totally dark room) yet still sometimes reporting ‘seeing things’ demonstrates that our version of reality hardly just concerns what our senses receive from the outside world and has significantly to do with what’s happening inside our brains. (‘Seeing things’ in dreams whilst we’re sleeping also demonstrates this.) The brain will still continue attempting to reconstruct a reality even though it’s receiving no external input. Our reality doesn’t quite depend on what’s happening in the outside world. Remove the outside world and the show still goes on inside our heads, according to our internal model inside our brains.
Our ‘internal model’ of the outside world contains all of the assumptions and generalisations we’ve built up over time about the outside world, and is therefore based upon our own prior experiences and perceptions of patterns. Instead of using our senses to rebuild our own reality from scratch every time, we compare our sensory information with a model we’ve already constructed from a lifetime of previous experiences so far. This again saves processing time and energy thus is overall efficient but it does result in occasional perceptual and cognitive errors (e.g. we could read a sentence as being coherent even though it’s missing grammatical words, which be a problem when proofreading your own work). Woof!
Our own constructed reality is also filtered through our own prior beliefs, values and expectations, and this is the same for ‘neurotypical’ people as well as for people with mental disorders like psychosis. This internal model gets updated all the time. Our own fluffy models work well enough most of the time (good enough to not lead us, or at least the specie’s population overall, to death) but it can sometimes fail because our assumptions can be completely wrong. For example, our internal model of faces has been built upon a lifetime of only seeing faces as convex, but as soon as we’re confronted with a concave face, our internal model cannot quickly adapt to this and will still continue to assume that a concave face is convex (the Hollow-Face illusion) – we’ll find it almost impossible to not see it as convex, even though in reality it’s concave. (Interestingly, people with psychosis aren’t as easily deceived by this illusion.) Another good illusion to check out is the Spinning Dancer illusion, where most people will see it as spinning clockwise because of the assumption that they’re viewing it from above, but it can also be perceived as spinning anticlockwise.
Our internal model may also misinterpret a photorealistic two-dimensional picture of an object as a three-dimensional object. So our internal model will instinctively and automatically compensate for something it shouldn’t do in order to match our own internal model expectations (that if it looks 3D then it must be approached as 3D). Virtual reality headsets or 3D glasses with the right equipment directly take advantage of our stereoscopic vision, or stereopsis, to fool our senses of what’s really ‘out there’.
We see what we expect to see, not necessarily what’s truly out there. This means we cannot always trust what we sense. More of the human brain is dedicated and utilised to handle vision than for any other sense too, thus if even vision is frequently fallible then the other senses for humans are arguably no more reliable! The brain doesn’t pick up on every detail within a scene – only the bits it unconsciously feels (assumes) are important; just enough to obtain a gist or approximation to get us through. The rest is unconsciously (i.e. beyond our awareness and direct control) assumed, and is assumed to be stable and the same as previously experienced, unless we happen to bring our conscious attention and direct effort onto something.
So we may think that we’re picking up on every detail and that ‘we’re astute and nothing passes us by’ whenever we sense the world, but we hardly do so – our brains operate on a ‘need to know basis’, and it assumes what it thinks it needs to know based on our personal prior experiences, heuristics and biases. Whenever we see, we’re only receiving a mere trickle of data – we’re hardly seeing all of the data that’s out there. Also, our brains are not taking recordings like with a video recorder – we’re receiving only as minimum as our brain thinks it can get away with, in order to merely update the internal model that’s already inside our heads (assumptions and all). This means that our memories are not like video recordings either.
Our personal internal model helps us to efficiently navigate the world but this does mean that we’re hardly always picking up everything that’s out there with fidelity – never mind remembering it all with fidelity and without the assumptions/biases of our own personal internal model applied to those memories themselves. Our brains play a trick on us by making us think that ‘we’ve seen it all’ but really we only ever truly sense a small part of all of the potential information that’s out there, whilst assuming the rest at any one moment. And if we’re especially hubristic to think that ‘nothing ever passes us by’ and we’re unaware that we’re missing so much information (we’re obviously unaware of what and how much we miss because we missed it!) then this affects what we’ll claim to remember too; hence we cannot always trust our memories (memory errors can easily occur at the encoding stage, never mind the storage or retrieval stages, leading to false memories and being mistaken).
If we don’t consciously and specifically seek for something, or chance upon it, we’ll often miss it altogether (‘inattentional blindness/deafness’ e.g. we might miss something ‘obvious’ when we’re busy counting the passes, and ‘change blindness/deafness’ e.g. finding it difficult to spot differences between two images when they’re presented with a flicker or blank screen between the transitions). Our brains are constantly trying to be ‘efficient’ (or ‘lazy’ from another perspective) but as a result it misses a lot of information, relies on a lot of assumptions and jumps to conclusions. We therefore cannot always trust our own perceptions of reality, even though it seems complete.
The reality we take for granted has taken years of intensive training to develop – thus one cannot just give an organism that has been blind all of its life a pair of eyes and then instantly expect it to be able to navigate the world with sight. Like for a newborn baby, it takes years before one can do this well and effortlessly because ‘seeing’ the outside world is far more about what’s inside our brains than merely what our eyes are receiving from the outside world. Robots, likewise, need far more than just cameras to navigate the world or pick up objects successfully.
One of the arguable upshots of everyone’s reality being their own constructed perception of reality is that we should be more tolerant of other people’s perspectives and beliefs, because who is to say that our own version (out of the billions of potential versions out there) is the more accurate one? There is an actual objective reality out there but who has seen it as it truly is with nothing more and nothing less? (Maybe everything would seem like mostly empty space if we could measure the position of every subatomic particle we observed with our eyes?)
And the argument of something being ‘just’ in your head therefore means essentially everything that ultimately matters to a person because it’s one’s entire reality (e.g. if someone genuinely feels frightened or in pain then no one else can deny that they are). We believe whatever our own brains serve up to us, but we should be somewhat open-minded if others say that they perceive the world differently to us, for no one can fully tap into an objective and complete picture of reality for being creatures that evolved for survival rather than truth (where deceptions and shortcuts can bring about survival advantages too). Scientific instruments can help but our born, raised and normal everyday experiences don’t perceive the world as they do. And what scientific instruments reveal about the world is often too weird to intuitively accept anyway (e.g. quantum phenomena – maybe reality doesn’t even exist until observed?!)
So if something feels real to you then it’s your reality; if it feels real to someone else then it’s their reality – but of course this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to persuade each other that a certain version of reality is likely more true/false than another via tools that gather evidence such as the scientific method, or to at times question our own perceptions. Another upshot is that we mustn’t assume that our own memories are perfect.
Meaning arises from our own personal prior experiences and web of developed associations. We don’t perceive objects as they are – we perceive them as we are. With such complexity, being shaped by our genes and continually so by our unique environmental experiences (including epigenetically) – all brains are unique (no two brains have the exact same neural wiring or connectome) and contain a different neural reality.
It’s why Furrywisepuppy wants us all to always possess a degree of humility and tolerance.