“We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” ~ The Talmud
Okay, this is a hard one. Why? Because the world feels real … and solid … and mostly outside of everything I consider to be me. But let’s begin with a brief, simple example.
I recently built a small outbuilding in our woods: “Ollie’s Love Emporium.” It’s a segregation pen and a small building for visiting female Bernese Mountain dogs in heat for the breeding business my wife has recently started up. It’s made of real wood and metal and glass, and you can touch it and walk inside it. But interestingly when we showed the Love Emporium to three different people they each had their own take on it. Zack, who’s exhausted from being a primary caregiver for his ill significant other, said, “What a great retreat space to curl up and relax in.” Jessie, who was visiting from overseas, said, “What a great writing space.” You can guess her profession. And then Beeno had this response: “I see a lot of recuperating from hot canine sex in this building’s future.” Beeno is actually a successful dog trainer and breeder.
Each person encountered the Love Emporium – a relatively neutral experience – and overlaid a story rooted in their own neuro-biological perspective in order to have it make the most sense for them – to make it be … as they are. What this means is that we’re all essentially pareidoliacs and rarely realize it.
Trust, But Confirm Your Confirmation
So, that’s one level of brain-created reality. Harvard neuroanatomist, Jill Bolte Taylor offers up another level. In her book, My Stroke of Insight, she recounts what the world looked like to her as her left language neural circuitry – shut off by the stroke – began to come back online. Essentially, what she’s saying is that our sense perceptions are mostly not to be fully trusted, which makes total sense when all they consciously take in in any moment is roughly 1% of any experience (can that really be true?):
One of the most prominent characteristics of our left brain is its ability to weave stories. This story-teller portion of our left mind’s language center is specifically designed to make sense of the world outside us, based upon minimal amounts of information. It functions by taking whatever details it has to work with, and then weaves them together in the form of a story. Most impressively our left brain is brilliant in its ability to make stuff up, and fill in the blanks when there are gaps in its factual data. In addition, during its process of generating a story line, our left mind is quite the genius in its ability to manufacture alternative scenarios. And if it’s a subject you really feel passionate about, either good or awful, it’s particularly effective at hooking into those circuits of emotion and exhausting all the “what if” possibilities.
As my left brain language centers recovered and became functional again, I spent a lot of time observing how my story-teller would draw conclusions based upon minimal information. For the longest time I found these antics of my story-teller to be rather comical. At least until I realized that my left mind full-heartedly expected the rest of my brain to believe the stories it was making up! . . . . I need to remember however, that there are enormous gaps between what I know and what I think I know (my italics and underline). I learned I need to be very wary of my storyteller’s potential for stirring up trauma and drama.
Sustaining this awareness – that my brain is responsible for constructing the world I encounter as it constantly filters energy and information through my eyes, ears, nose and sensory storehouse – is difficult to do. The world continually invites us to operate in it as if it is stable, solid and real. McGill University neuroscientist Daniel Levitin expresses it this way:
We are also under the illusion that we simply open our eyes and – we see. A bird chirps outside the window and we instantly hear. Sensory perception creates mental images in our minds – representations of the world outside our heads – so quickly and seamlessly that it seems there is nothing to it. This is an illusion. Our perceptions are the end product of a long chain of neural events that give us the illusion of an instantaneous image. There are many domains in which our strongest intuitions mislead us. The flat earth is one example. The intuition that our senses give us an undistorted view of the world is another.
It’s very easy to forget that – as many neuroscientists besides Levitin and any number of information theorists claim – in each instant of this astonishing life we’re only consciously taking in 1% of all that our senses are apprehending. 99% is being attended to outside conscious awareness. Here is a breakdown of the sensory percentages. Hard to believe, isn’t it? I mean, we seem to be aware of sooooo much. But, in addition to distortions and mis-perceptions, this recent study by neuroscientist Jay Sanguinetti at the University of Arizona confirms that our brain is constantly apprehending and processing objects and information that we’re consciously clueless about. And yet, often this information we take in unconsciously operates like a super-strong and dense black hole in space, invisibly affecting much of our daily experience.
So, what does this mean for getting up and getting on with your day today? Probably many things, but since most everything we know about the world we’ve learned by what we’ve seen, heard, tasted, touched or smelled, and since we’ve only seen, heard, tasted, touched or smelled roughly 1% of everything, imagine what life might be like if we increased our energy and information-processing capacity by say, doubling it – a 100% increase to a whole 2%. An intriguing possibility, don’t you think? Which might then take us metaphorically from 3-D printing reality to 4-D printing it.