Perils of Perception!


What is the world around us? It's a pretty simply question. After all, everything we do, feel and interact with is influenced by this world. So what is it?


It may surprise to you learn that the world isn't what you think it is...actually, it is exactly what you think it is, but not what anyone else thinks it is.


This may sound a little 'Alice in Wonderland', but research has shown that the world you perceive is simply a picture that is painted in your mind based on previous experience and what you predict should be there that gets updated by the tiny fragments of input we receive from our senses.


Yes, I said the tiny fragments of input from our senses because although we get a steady stream of incoming data, most of it is just the bare minimum we need to get by. Take your vision for example. If you were to stare at a spot on the wall and spread your hands wide and slowly bring them in, you can find the extent of your peripheral vision. We therefore naturally assume that we can see everything in front of us with some certainty.


I'm sorry to tell you that what we actually see in any detail is about the size of your thumbnail at arms length, the rest is a combination of fuzzy light received, memory and prediction. This is an area in your eyes known as the fovea which is a tiny flattened section of receivers in the back of your eye and give you the HD view of what's coming in.


Still don't believe me? Ok, here is an experiment called the Flicker Paradigm. In the video below you will see an image (A) flash up and go, then what looks like the same image (B) will flash up again. However, the second one is slightly different. It will flash up with picture A and then B continuous. Your job is to spot the difference between the two. Ready...Go!


Found it? Don't worry if not, I'll tell you what it is at the end. What's interesting though is not whether you found it or not, but what you were doing with your eyes when looking for it. It you could see the picture as a whole, you would be able to find the difference straight away. What you were doing, however, was scanning around the image using the thumbnail size of vision you actually have.


Now, before you found it (if you have) you were completely blind to the difference and it isn't until you finally spotted it (Or I tell you what it is), that it will suddenly be seen and built into your picture of the world. Then you can't help but see it! The answer, is the blue and black box on the bigger boat in the picture. Got it? Now try not seeing it!


So what does this mean for you? Well, we get a lot of our sense of self and self-worth from signals and cues we perceive from the outside world. These cues will mostly confirm what we think of ourselves and either make us feel good about ourselves or feel terrible. These could be smiles or scowls from people walking by, reactions you get from talking to others or even seeing negative omens such as single magpies sitting in a tree.


By understanding that what we perceive is a picture panted by our minds rather than the true reflection of what's happening in the world, we can begin to question all those things that make us feel anxious and worthless. But there's more! There is a part of your brain called your Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) pictured below in dark purple.