Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Perceptual illusions show our minds construct reality


This is Richard Wiseman. He's a skeptic of the paranormal. I think he's especially fond of perceptual illusions as they show how easily people are fooled. The message he's essentially trying to convey is: 'you think you've seen something weird? Look at how easily we're fooled!'

Perhaps so.  But I think it also shows that we might sometimes be unable to see the unusual and anomalous in our visual fields.  Allow me to explain.

We don't just passively see what's out there. All the light that enters our eyes simply gives us a flat 2 dimensional plane of various shades of colour. However, we seem to immediately see a 3D world with objects at various distances. How so?

The answer is that it's derived from our familiarity with the world. In our experience of reality, familiar objects have certain sizes and a certain appearance. The mind uses this background experience to quite literally construct what we see out there. So, even though only a 2 dimensional plane of colour is actually immediately given, we seem to see directly a world in 3D -- a world populated with familiar objects at various distances.

To reiterate, this construction crucially depends on what we're used to seeing. Hence, when we introduce an anomalous object such as an unusually large-sized drinking glass, our minds will be wanting to see it as a normal-sized glass. So, they will be a propensity to see the glass closer and smaller than it really is. However, other cues in the environment normally alert us that what we are seeing is an anomalously large version of a familiar object. But here, in this gif, those other cues are absent, so we naturally see it as a normal-sized glass that is closer than it actually is.

But, what's interesting is that if we were to see something unfamiliar to us, something we've never seen before, there will be a propensity to see it as something more familiar. The upshot of all this is that there might be more unusual and anomalous phenomena out there than we suppose, but we just can't see it.

I suspect it might also have implications for what we appear to see during something like a near-death experience. If our vision in an afterlife realm works anything like normal vision, then our minds with their implicit expectations will shape and mould what we actually perceive.

A similar post by me written a few years ago: 
Are Perceptual illusions always necessarily illusions?

Friday, 18 October 2019

Reminiscing about Old Photographs

            Photo is of Ironmongers in Maidenhead in 1900

It is a sobering thought to reflect that in 200 years’ time, in 2219, we will all have been long dead. No-one alive at this future time will remember us. For the vast majority of us nothing we write is likely to have survived. It'll be as if we had never existed. Indeed, time eventually renders us all anonymous.

But, what if a photograph of us still existed? Even if people 200 years hence don’t know our name or who we were, they might reminisce and wonder what we were thinking when the photograph was taken, what our life was like, what it was like to live in the early 21st Century.

Likewise, when we look at old photographs, say from the late 19th or early 20th Centuries, we too may connect to the past. It may initiate an emotional response in us, a whimsical reflection in what it was like to live in those times, how they viewed the world, their preoccupations, what their day to day lives were like.

Perhaps they were worried about their jobs and how to get promoted; perhaps they worried about making ends meet; perhaps they worried about their relationships with spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends, or work colleagues. All the everyday concerns that people have, which, when viewed from our perspective 100 years hence, seem no longer important. We are looking at a world that has now disappeared, we are looking at people together with all their preoccupations and everyday concerns, which no longer exist.

What were they feeling when their photograph was taken? Photographs taken back then will have been very few and far between, so they will have been aware their photographs might attract some attention. Perhaps it is even possible for one or two of them to have speculated that people in the future -- perhaps a 100 years hence -- are viewing them “now” just as the photograph were taken. A moment gone just as the shutter clicks, but yet a moment also captured that might last for hundreds of years.

Without photographs we would, to a large measure, be emotionally shut off from the past. Viewing old photographs, that frozen moment in time, allows us that emotional identification.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

The Limits of Science

Why can't science tell us why the Universe exists and why physical laws take on the form they do?

Here's an analogy.

Consider the game of chess. Let's suppose one knows nothing about how to play the game. By playing against a chess computer one can gradually discover the rules of chess by trying various moves and seeing which moves the computer will permit you to make. But, discovering the rules of chess tells us nothing about why the pieces are allowed to move the way they do, least of all of who invented the game of chess and why. Nor do we know how the computer works. Why and how does it register certain moves as illegal?

Likewise, discovering the physical laws that describe or govern our physical reality tells us nothing about why physical laws are as they are. Nor can it tell us why there is a Universe at all. Such questions simply do not reside within the scope of science.

(The above is a slightly simpler version of my What philosophical questions does science answer?)

Often it's extremely hard to decide what is the rational thing to believe.

It's extraordinarily difficult for most of us to decide what the truth is on many contentious issues. Will we witness catastrophic clima...

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