03 Feb The True Nature of Reality: Believing Is Seeing -16

We have all heard the saying “seeing is believing”, but what role does belief play in what we see?

In the past few journaling sessions, we have talked about how the brain manufactures the things we see, so what role does the power of suggestion play in what the brain constructs?

When we talk about the power of suggestion, there are two basic types, external and internal. External suggestion guides the conscious mind to see, or fail to see, what an outside suggester desires. A good example would be a magician who guides the audience’s attention and makes them see a rabbit appear to come out of a hat, or fail to see where a card is being hidden from view.

Internal suggestion occurs when our beliefs cause the brain to process reality in a way that is not real. These types of suggestion are usually linked to a strong emotional reaction, either to some past or future event. As an example, let’s say a person went outside to move a trash can, and when they did, they saw a venomous snake that had hidden itself underneath the can. The coiled snake probably startled this person and might have even bitten them. Now let’s say that months later, the same person is going to move their trash can, and underneath it lies a coiled piece of rope that someone (perhaps as a practical joke) placed underneath the can. The moment that person sees the rope, there is a very good chance that the traumatized person’s mind is going to manufacture the image of a real snake, and the person will likely react as if the rope was a real threat. The person may even believe they saw the rope move or heard it hiss.

In 1997, a military helicopter took evasive action to avoid colliding with what the pilot described as “a large aircraft approaching at a high rate of speed”. The pilot was able to successfully avoid colliding with what was later determined to be a small, slow moving Mylar balloon, the kind you buy at the grocery store for birthdays and anniversaries. How could a trained pilot mistake a small balloon for an aircraft? This happened because the pilot’s brain understood that a small silver object approaching at a close distance rather slowly, would be very similar to the visual input of a very large silver object approaching from a far distance at a high rate of speed, something a pilot’s brain would have recognized as a dangerous threat like an approaching aircraft. It is very likely that the pilot’s brain created a clear image of an aircraft for the pilot to see.

Another area where the brain tends to manufacture false or inconsistent images is the memory of a person who witnesses a crime. In experiments, several witnesses of the same event remembered drastically different descriptions of people or versions of what happened. Even more fascinating, by planting certain words or ideas at a future interview, witnesses involved in the experiments reported having a memory of seeing something that was not actually a part of the scenarios they had experienced. The power of belief and suggestion, it seems, has a powerful influence over what we see, and our memories of what we saw.

While it is common to misperceive reality, the human mind is also horrible at noticing details of things that are right in front of us. In one experiment, subjects arrived at a reception desk inside an office where they were greeted by a single receptionist who gave them an application form. The receptionist then said they needed to get another form, stepping out of the subject’s field of vision for only a split second, at which time an entirely different person resumed the role of the receptionist. In almost every case, the subject greeted by the first receptionist was completely unaware they were speaking to an entirely different person, even though they looked, spoke, and dressed differently.

What is the lesson in all this? The human brain is very susceptible to suggestion and can be led by another person or lead itself in order to promote its own beliefs. Because our minds are capable of manufacturing something that does not actually exist or failing to see something that does, instead of “seeing is believing”, a more accurate description of experience might be “believing is seeing”.


Write about a time when you thought you saw something that later turned out to be something else.

How real did it appear to be?

Was the event related to a past negative emotional experience?

Did the new event trigger any emotions?

Watch this 9 minute TED presentation titled, The Art of Misdirection.

Write about what the volunteer failed to see and why.

What did you fail to see during the presentation and why?

The next time you are in a public place and free to journal, look around and make detailed notes about the people and things you see.

What kinds of details would you normally not pick up on that you were able to see while focusing your mind on the details?

When magicians fool our ability to see reality it can very fun and entertaining, but some people use these abilities to fool people, claiming they have paranormal abilities.

Write down your thoughts about people who use trickery to deceive others for their own benefit.

Write down your thoughts about the trickery and deceit your mind conducts against you to fulfill its own beliefs.

Michael Ken