Friday, April 18, 2008

What is reality?

Have you ever thought what you see or hear is reality?

Sorry to disappoint you.

Reality is far too complex for our conscious.

Reality hurts

As migraine is the result of our perception filters failing, everyone who has ever enjoyed it can tell you a story about this. It happened to me once in my life. Getting the full dose of reality, the light is so bright and the noise so loud that you get unbearable headache. Unable to focus or follow any conversation, all you want is to stay in bed, as dark and as silent as possible.

So what happens in vision?

What you see is objects. Imagine a picture of a beach with a small park in front.
What you see is: Beach, People, Water, Trees, Grass, Houses, Cars
What is coming from your eyes is a picture with:
Blue in different shades on the top, some riddled yellow part with some pink spots in it in the middle, green with vertical brown streaks and some colored bulbs in the lower part.
To be exact, the picture is not even coming in all colors but it are 3 different pictures with the color in red, blue, and green that then get translated into rest of color.

What I found out about my vision so far is the following.

In subconscious the raw pixel picture from the eyes gets


The information from the blue, red, and green receptors and both eyes is merged into a big colored image.


To reduce complexity unnecessary and redundant information is removed

Then the image is going through an association process. Based on experience, believe, expectation, probability and mental state the image is compared with our knowledge, trying to find out what the things could be. This is the point where the brain now translates meaningless pixel image into the objects.

Simplest example is that is way harder for you to find the typos in your text, than in the text you read from somebody else. As you know what words you expect in your text, your perception might fill them in correctly, even if the words contain typos of even if they are missing completely.

Edges in color are enhanced to ease the distinction of objects.

The light on the image is balanced, means the dark parts get brightened and the bright parts get darkened. How reality really looks like in terms of light can easily be recognized by taking a picture with a camera where there is much sun and shade. A camera can't balance the light for different parts of the image. The image will either be to dark in the shade or to bright in the sun.

Scanned for moving items and threats.
Moving objects are always highlighted as they are always much easier for you to recognize. But furthermore moving objects are investigated for their trajectory and potential threat. If your brain recognizes for example a car in the outer angle of your view that is likely to hit you while your conscious is focused on the center, your attention will probably drawn to the car.

This I find the most interesting characteristic. Especially for unclear, dusky or remote objects, where there is not enough visible information from the raw image, the brain, once sure about what the object is, replaces missing information.

So sometimes the image gets patched with images from our subconscious to make things more aware.

As this a rather delicate part of perception, it is usually incredibly reliable. But under certain circumstances e.g. lack of oxygen and exhaustion it can go wrong.

But apart of visually modifying the image also meta information is added.
One meta information is depth information. For objects near us this is done by comparing the image of our left and right eye. But for distant objects the angle is just to small to come up with usable information. But by comparing the size of the distant recognized object with the size of what it would have if you are standing in front of it, the brain now can make an assumption of how far the object is away.
Good example is the moon, that is larger when it is just over the horizon. Where there are more objects of known size, the brain estimates the size of the moon larger as when it is high in the sky. Another example is, that is way easier for us to measure distances when we for example look onto a forest from a high point, than when we are are in a plain desert.

A good part of our vision is dedicated to recognize people. To make things easier, instead of remembering all their body characteristics in the same detail, we mostly recognize people their faces. To do so an incredible number of faces is stored in our subconscious.

What happens in hearing?

What you hear is: Voices, Dogs, Planes, Cars
What is coming from your ears is a sensational mixture of all these sounds together. It is just loud noise.

The process for hearing is basically the same as in visual perception.
But as vision is our main sense in hearing much filtering takes place. I believe that 95% of what we hear never reaches our conscious.
Apart from filtering the most important process about hearing is recognizing and extracting voices, translating it into words and give the words meaning.

An amazing example of our capabilities is when you are standing in the middle in a big group talking to the person in front of you, while a person behind you mentions your name. Now your brain does consider background talks no longer irrelevant and brings it into your conscious. You will turn around. That even works if your name is only whispered.
What does it mean?
It means while filtering the the sound of the person in front of you out of most complex noise, translating it into words, giving it meaning and bringing it into your conscious it is following all other conversations!

So your reality is in fact the final result of impressive filtering, scan for threat, enhancing, categorizing, and association process based on believes and expectation.

Although we like to believe in objective reality

Our reality is always subjective.

Well, if reality is subjective, why does it work?

A subjective reality works as humans have mostly similar experience about the reality they live in. We all experienced that fire is hot, water wet, that we can not fly and falling hurts. Hence in a society we reach a consensus about what is real or not.

Reality is a global consensus


shared human conscious.

Also we mock everyone to hell or send him to the nuthouse who dares to not agree with this consensus. By doing so we keep our image of reality unspoiled and we are tempted to think of an objective reality.
But by believe that has an immediate effect on our expectations we are able to extend our reality.
Gods are the best example. I am sure as hell ;-))) that there is nothing like the Christian, Muslim or Jewish god (yes, its a paradoxon but you know what I mean). But I doubt I would be rather be dead than successful when I tried to convince 2.2 billion Christians and Jews. For them God is as real as for me water and air. And although I can not see the last one, I share common believe that air exists.
By proclaiming god non existent I would violate the common consensus about their reality.

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