Friday, May 20, 2011

Feast of flowers, blindness of people

It seems that we are having a feast of flowers, more than usually. Maybe it is because of the long and warm summer last year. Of maybe this is just a caprice of memory; the long winter smudging up memories of summer.

Speaking of memory, there was a provocative article by Graham Lawton in New Scientist (May 14, 2011), titled The Grand Delusion: "From your senses to your memory, your opinions and beliefs, how you see yourself and others and even your sense of free will, things are not as they seem."

Lawton's article uses human visual system as a key topic to demonstrate how strange our brain is, and how we really don't know (and in fact can't really know) how the brain fools us.

We have an impression of living in a continuously updated colored visual world, but analysis of the visual system shows that this is an illusion created by the brain: most of what we "see" is actually a simulation created by the brain - the bandwidth of information from the visual system is quite small, and not continuously updated. In fact, our visual system is offline (while we are awake) for about 4 hours each day, without us noticing anything being wrong. And then there is the matter that we see in monocrome except for a really small part of the field of vision.

And then is the fact that we are completely unaware of the biased way we see the world. For example, our memories are to a large degree fabricated forgeries - we use memory as a tool to predict the future, not to preserve the past. Furthermore, we are able to see that other people are obviously biased, but we are fundamentally unable to notice that we are also biased to the same degree.

Fooling ourselves, that is what we are doing all the time. In fact, that seems to be the main occupation of humankind.


Cedric said...

I've been meaning to comment for some time but I've had so little time of late.

As I'm sure you know, this topic of self delusion is one that interests me extensively. Even if we decide not to dig to deep (what we unearth has the potential to be scary) I do feel that a basic acceptance that all may not be as it seems is worthwhile in helping us make some sense of the world. Understanding how our memories and beliefs create biases and filters can lead to a more compassionate outlook.

"Fooling ourselves, that is what we are doing all the time. In fact, that seems to be the main occupation of humankind. … absolutely but isn't it a wonderful game?

Juha Haataja said...

@Cedric: "... isn't it a wonderful game?" - Indeed, it is. There are plenty of miracles around us; one has just to open the eyes.