We can feel so sure about our perceptions.  We believe they are right and accurate.  And yet the research shows we fabricate what we are so sure about. Read on to see how it works, or how at this point it seems to be the way our brains work to perceive what we call "reality."


Comparing Is Believing


If you can't trust your own brain, what can you trust? But that is exactly what humans struggle with: they can't trust their own eyes, their own judgment or their own mind when making absolute judgments. What we think we know, let's say about what's good or bad, or beautiful or ugly is always relative to something else.  We know what we think we know only by comparison.

 adelson illusion

Look at the image here of the checkerboard with the cylinder sitting on top. I bet like me and everyone else I've shown this to, you are going to believe that square "A" is darker than square "B". The scientific truth of this matter is that they are exactly the same shade of gray.


I know you won't believe me, so here are some proofs that the author of this optical illusion, Edward Adelson, offers to demonstrate how your mind is not trustworthy.


This human reality affects most of our judgments and choice making. I may say, "This one is beautiful!" (what ever it may be, object, person or place). The scientific perspective asks, "Beautiful as compared to whom or what?" Statements like, "It is better to be alive than dead," are relative to something. Relative to some circumstances, being dead is better than alive and relative to other circumstances or contexts, the opposite may seem truthful, real and desirable.


"We are blessed," I have heard people say recently. These are people who have not gone through tornadic devastation like some people have this year in Missouri, Mississippi and Alabama. I talked with a woman from southern Missouri who lost her sister to cancer in less than a year after diagnosis. "Yes," she said. "I miss her terribly, but I'm grateful for the months I had to be with her and prepare for the 'good by'. Those poor folks in Joplin, Missouri had no such blessing or benefit. They lost everything in less than 20 minutes."


The next time you find yourself making a judgment or value statement, such as, "My marriage sucks," or "My life is in the pits," or "I have it so great," try to get a larger perspective on things by also asking yourself, "As compared to what or whom or whose standard or set of expectations?"


At times, we may want to determine if we are making progress in an aspect of life.  The best way to do that is to compare yourself to yourself at some previous time, not someone else.  But even that can leave you lost in this wiki wacky human mind of ours that cannot be trusted to perceive and determine absolutes.


The best thing is stay in the moment and be content and grateful with what you have now, today.  Look at square "B" and be OK with it's own "greyness" without comparing it to the greyness of another square. 


Want More To Read? "The Comparison Trap " by Leo Babauta. 


More On The "Grand Delusion" In Our Heads

Author Graham Lawton  in the 16 May issue of  "New Scientist" writes: 


"Your senses are your windows on the world, and you probably think they do a fair job at capturing an accurate depiction of  reality. Don't kid yourself. Sensory perception - especially vision - is a figment of your imagination. 'What you're experiencing is largely the product of what's inside your head,' says psychologist Ron Rensink at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. 'It's informed by what comes in through your eyes, but it's not directly reflecting it.'" 

Lawton goes on:

kims eye


"Given the basic features of your visual system, it couldn't be any other way. For example, every 5 seconds or so, you blink. Yet unless you're thinking about it, as you probably are right now, you don't notice the blackouts because your brain edits them out. Blinking is just the tip of the iceberg. Even when your eyes are open they're only taking in a fraction of the visual information that is available.

"Exactly how your brain weaves such fragmentary information into the smooth technicolour movie that we experience as reality remains a mystery. One leading idea is that it makes a prediction and then uses the foveal 'spotlight' to verify it. 'We create something internally and then we check, check, check,' says Rensink. 'Essentially we experience the brain's best guess about what is happening now.'

"In conjuring up this 'now', the visual system has to do
something even more remarkable: predict the future. Information striking the fovea cannot be relayed instantaneously to conscious perception: first it has to travel down the optic nerve and be processed by the brain. This takes several hundred milliseconds, by which time the world has moved on. And so the brain makes a prediction about what the world will look like about 200 milliseconds into the future, and that is what you see. Without this future projection you would be unable to catch a ball, dodge moving objects or walk around without crashing into things.


"There's another huge hole in the visual system that can render you oblivious to things that should be unmissable." ......... You can read more of this research at NewScientist.  


Information of this sort makes it easy for me understand how humans form biases based on "mises" - misunderstandings, mistakes, mis-reads of  features and facts.   


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