How We "Create" Reality

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The Spinning Dancer

The Spinning Dancer shows how we create a reality to match our perceptions. If you look carefully at this figure, you'll notice "clues" that affirm the direction she is turning. These clues are subtle at first, but gain in strength as you continue watching. She is designed to be perfectly symmetrical. There is absolutely no difference between the interpretation that she is turning to her left, and the interpretation that she is turning to her right. It is also possible to experience her facing you and swaying back and forth. And equally "correct" to see the same movement with her facing away from you.

The Spinning Dancer, also known as the silhouette illusion, is a kinetic, bistable optical illusion, created by web designer Nobuyuki Kayahara. The illusion derives from the lack of visual cues for depth. If the foot touching the ground is perceived to be the left foot, the dancer appears to be spinning clockwise (seen from above); if it is taken to be the right foot, then she appears to be spinning counterclockwise. Kayahara's dancer is presented with a camera elevation slightly above the horizontal plane. Consequently, the dancer may also be seen from above or below in addition to spinning clockwise or counter-clockwise, and facing toward or away from the observer. Our visual system constructs a mental image of the world. When it has a limited information, it relies on assumptions. Most of the time our assumptions about the world are valid. Optical illusions exploit our ability to make assumptions, and produce more than one valid interpretation. When presented with contradictory interpretations, our brains tend to pick one interpretation, then the other.
Optical Illusions, Huffington Post 2012
Does Daydreaming Make You Smarter? 2013

Understanding the Brain—World Science Festival, 2016

Michio Kaku "The Future of the Mind" National Book Festival 2017

Watch for Feb 1, 2017
National Geographic: Test Your Brain, Episode 2: Perception

The Biology of Knowing

The Brain. The adult brain weighs around three pounds and contains about one hundred billion nerve cells called neurons. The cortex alone has about thirty billion neurons and one million billion synapses (neuron connections). “If we counted one synapse per second, we would not finish counting for 32 million years.” Each brain is unique.
Like fingerprints or DNA traces, no two of the hundred billion neurons are identical, although they do have distinct features in common: neurons grow dendrites, tree-like branches that receive the incoming impulses; and axons, made up of a single vine-like runner that relay outgoing impulses from the neuron by rendezvousing with the dendrites and bodies of other neurons. Hence, cellular groups which otherwise would have no contact with each other become capable of a radically intimate, lightning-quick connectivity.

The Brain is an Organic System like a lush rain forest, the brain is an organic system, a living jungle of extraordinarily dense neuron arbors. Dendritic trees and axon vines overlap one another in intricately tangled branchings of connectivity. Neurons couple physically by sending out their axons; pathfinders seeking connection. A single axon—which can measure anywhere from mere thousandths of a millimeter up to a meter in length—sprouts enough flexible tendrils to create contact with as many as a thousand other neurons as it snakes its way through the vegetation of the brain. Conversely, each neuron grows countless dendritic branches. There can be thousands of synapses from hundreds of different neurons influencing each neuron, each one making its small contribution to the total activity. The intimacy between neurons is something like a marriage: some synapses grow strong and long-lasting, while others are discarded before they have a chance to mature.
Slide41.jpgOne might imagine these intertwining axons and dendrites as something like the root structure underlying a patch of mushrooms. On the surface, each little umbrella-capped mushroom appears to be an independent body, when, in fact, they are buds of a single, massively complex tangle of tiny branching rootlets that intricately interconnect them into the global whole of a single organism. Although this is an imperfect metaphor, and the above explanation highly oversimplified, it does provide some sense of the elaborately relational structure that underlies the connectivity of each nerve cell in the brain system.
While the architecture of the various regions is specifically and pointedly delimited by the synaptic connections that flourish in that particular brain, the whole of the ecosystem has a larger, overarching geography that is nourished and kept alive by an intricate river system of blood that carries oxygen and glucose through pulsing arteries and into complex webs of capillary streams, brooks, and rills. The regulation of blood flow is exquisite, down almost to the single neuron. And well that it is: synaptic activity is tightly linked to blood flow and oxygen. The brain is the most metabolically active organ in the body. It consumes up to ten times more energy than the average of the whole human body, can burn only pure glucose, and has little capacity to store reserves.
The brain spends much of its time improving itself. It is extraordinarily active and extraordinarily plastic. It spends much of its time “improving” itself, that is, refining its structures and responding to internal and external changes. In fact, although controversy still surrounds the question, studies on sleep and information processing are providing increasing evidence that the brain remains busy learning and building memory even when we sleep. This seems to fit with the fact that the brain is more intra-connected than inter-connected: a major portion of the brain receives its input from other parts of the brain and gives its output to other parts of the brain. Only a small number of neurons provide input into the brain from the outside world, or are connected to muscles and glands, and hence, give output from the brain to the body. In other words, the brain is more in touch with itself than with anything else.
At its core the brain is an extraordinarily complex biological environment. Its soft jelly-like ridges and valleys are made up of animated, living cells that breathe, synthesize protein, take in nourishment, grow, and die. And although the brain is composed of familiar chemical elements—carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus, and trace minerals—it generates some of the most specialized and exotic cell activity found on the planet. The brain, like the Earth itself, is a elaborately active electrical and chemical environment.
Very simply put, at the synapse of an activated nerve cell, an electrical pulse stimulates the release of various chemicals that influence the structure of all the neurons connected to the synapse. These neurotransmitters, chemicals such as serotonin and glutamate, inhabit the synapses. The release of neurotransmitters causes an electric signaling to take place, and the electrical signaling causes the neurotransmitters to release. Together, these dynamics can cause global changes in the biochemistry of the brain and the body.
Once the receiving neuron is sufficiently stimulated by the chemical activity of the neurotransmitters, it, in turn, releases an electrical impulse which then travels to new synaptic sites, and so the pulse moves on. These processes occur in tens to hundreds of milliseconds, over the countless unique and singular connections that the brain has grown. Neurons within a given location are so tightly packed and so intricately linked, that they respond simultaneously when an appropriate stimulus is presented. Furthermore, most of these groups of neurons are reciprocally connected and signal back and forth to one another in a process that synchronizes the whole. This might be likened to getting a whole team of oarsmen to pull together in a kindred rhythm that can win a race. This is synergy, and may be responsible for the emergent phenomenon of mind. The mind, then, is that radical capacity humans have to experience a cohesive awareness of the world around them and, at the same time, an intimate sense of the world within.


Perception_Illusion.jpgThe mind is not a “thing,” but a process. It is cognition, the process of knowing, a process that is inherent in every living being. That is to say, cognition is a fundamental aspect of life in all of its manifestations, in the same way that space and time are fundamental aspects of the Universe. Cognition, by this definition, goes beyond the functioning of the rational mind, to include the entire process of life.
Perception is a matter of relationship. Thus, it could be said that what a hawk perceives when it watches a mouse scamper across the field far below, is due to the evolutionary relationship, in this case, the predator-prey dynamic, that has long existed between the two. Were I in my hang-glider to pace the hawk and watch the ground below, what I would see would be different. My ocular system is not equipped to catch the nuances of a mouse hundreds of feet below me, nor are the neuro-pathways in my brain.
The tendency, in our anthropocentric fixation, is to assume that what the human sees is the “what” of what is out there, and what the hawk sees is a deviation from that standard (albeit a necessary one established by natural selection). Thus the hawk’s perception becomes nothing more than an evolutionary departure from "accurate" human perception. In fact, what the human sees is no more standard than what the hawk sees. Both are the result of the dynamics between the brains that are involved and the environment they must negotiate.
The nineteenth-century evolutionary philosopher, Henri Bergson, tells us consciousness is the capacity to choose, to eliminate what is irrelevant and focus on what is relevant. He argues that consciousness selects out of the whole what it needs to know in order to survive, and, out of necessity, ignores the rest. There is something “out there,” but it is not what we see or experience with our senses. What we see bears some relationship to what is “out there,” to be sure, but what we see is selective. We attend to what is important to our survival. This is Bergson’s point; our awareness is pragmatic, survival oriented.
—From, Strange Attraction: Toward a New Cosmology ©Molly Dwyer, 2002

Perception & Critical Thinking

taken from John Chaffee's Thinking Critically, pgs 134-137
Chaffee tells us we have four ways of establishing belief:

Interpretation: Poetry is an example of how we use interpretation. We're interpreting the poem's language in order to arrive at meaning.

How to Build an Owl

Kathleen Lynch

  1. Decide you must.
  2. Develop deep respect for feather, bone, claw.
  3. Place your trembling thumb where the heart will be: for one hundred hours watch so you will know where to put the first feather.
  4. Stay awake forever. When the bird takes shape gently pry open its beak and whisper into it: mouse.
  5. Let it go.

Evaluation: When we evaluate something, we are determining its significance, worth, or quality, based on some type of evidence. We may evaluate apple pies at a county fair by tasting them and determining which one tastes the best, or we may determine the nutritional value of each pie by breaking down its components—the fat, carbohydrates, and protein, comparing our results to what health professionals recommend.
The Blue Ribbon Winner wins because of it's taste.

NutritionalFacts.gifDepending on what we value, we determine what's important in life. We might value love and family over success. And might, for example, stay in a small town with our family to assist with an ailing parent or child, instead of moving across the country to take a high powered, high paying job. Evaluation depends on criteria.

Conclusion: We draw a conclusion based on the information we have on hand. The question of whether the earth is flat or round (discussed on the World View page) is a good example of how evidence leads to conclusion. Nowadays, we have photographic evidence. Long ago scientists had to rely on math and physical exploration. The stronger the evidence, the more likely experts will agree.
Here's a time lapse video of the earth shot from a satellite out in space. It's pretty difficult to conclude anything other than the earth is round from this evidence. Five hundred years ago, however, there was a religious argument about the nature of the earth because of references in the Bible that refer to the four corners of the earth. The interpretation at the time was that God's word told us the earth was flat. Eventually—in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence—religious authorities had to find other ways to interpret the passages.

Prediction: We also make predictions based on the information we have on hand. We believe the world is round, but we question whether there's any other life in the universe besides the life we find on our own planet. Predicting life beyond the earth is controversial, but less so today that it was twenty years ago because of the accumulating evidence that lends itself toward the likelihood of alien life.
The Kepler Mission is discovering planets in our galaxy by watching them transit in front of their star. Over 700 planets have been found in the last several years. There's a discussion of this on the Evolution & the Universe page. The basic argument runs something like this: There are billions of stars in our galaxy alone—and billions of galaxies in the universe. If even a tiny fraction of all these stars have solar systems of their own, and even a tiny fraction of those have planets suitable for life, and even a tiny fraction of those actually have life, still there must be a myriad of planets with life. The number of chances would still be unimaginably huge.
Chaffee goes on to identify three types of belief that we use to "make sense of the world."
  1. Reports — describes the world in a way that can be verified through investigation.
  2. Inferences — describes the world in a ways that are based on factual information, but go beyond the available information to make statements about things we don't yet know for certain.
  3. Judgments describes the world in ways that evaluate what's going on based on certain criteria we believe in or trust
Here's Chaffee's example, which I find very useful:
  1. My bus has been late the last several days. (This is reporting.)
  2. My bus will probably be late again today. (This is inference.)
  3. The bus system is unreliable. (This is judgment.)


Perception, Physics and Consciousness

Some Music: What is your experience?


The Art of Creating Awe

Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight

Hollow Face Illusion

Additional Resource