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?

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