Thursday, 22 November 2012
The Brain Does Not See The World As It is
You know that old adage that “we see whatever we want to see?” Turns out, there is scientific research to back this one up.
Compelling evidence is delivered by British neuroscientist Beau Lotto in his Ted talk “How our minds shape perception”. In his talk, Lotto demonstrates how reality always depends on context by showing a variety of colored patches, surrounded by differing backgrounds.
The eye will perceive the colored patches differently, according to whether they are offset by a white or a black background. Sensory information, Lotto concludes, is meaningless because it only becomes meaningful when there is something to compare it with. And the same goes for everything else. “There is no inherent meaning in information. It’s what we do with that information that matters.”
The whole thing is just as applicable to psychological dynamics. The backdrop to which we all compare our experiences is our past. We are biologically conditioned to base our decisions and perceptions on previous experiences, and to form patterns. Says the neuroscientist: “The brain doesn’t see the world as it is, the brain sees the world the way it was useful in the past.”
Which brings us to mental health, relationships and specifically to couples. When a couple starts fighting, it’s often about differing subjective perceptions of the two parties involved. One person may even accuse the other of lying, while the blamed one sees nothing wrong in his or her actions.
That is where perception comes in. Let’s say a young man grew up with a volatile mother who needed to be pleased at all times in order to prevent violent outbursts of anger. To him, it may have become a highly useful strategy to please and flatter any older woman in some type of authority position.
Say his wife grew up with an unreliable father, who disappeared in the neighborhood bar when things got difficult and flirted with the bartender there.
To him, behaving slightly seductive around women was a survival strategy, even though it may have been completely devoid of actual interest in that person. To her, any form of seductiveness activates fears of abandonment. A clash seems inevitable.
Unless, awareness is raised how these behaviors were useful and maybe even necessary in the past. And awareness is raised by taking a step back and looking at our own ways of thinking and behaving.
Neuroscientist Beau Lotto arrives at the same conclusion: “This capacity to be an observer of yourself is phenomenal — and possibly unique to humans. Indeed, to literally ‘see yourself see’ is in my view the principle act of consciousness, which has the power to transform one’s view of the world and of oneself.”
photo credit: eszter