18 Feb The True Nature of Reality: Stability At All Costs – 21

The function of the brain is not to perceive reality. The function of the brain is to create a stable reality.

Over the past several journaling exercises, we have looked at problems with human perception, exploring how little we see, how much we miss, and how what we see is less of a reflection of what is before us, and more of a fabrication of the brain.

In this last session on sensory input, we will examine how the brain alters information in order to make a more stable reality. Because the brain’s function is to create a stable world, it does not hesitate to alter the information it receives from the five senses.

In 2001, Frederic Brochet, of the University of Bordeaux, conducted two different wine tests involving highly trained sommeliers (wine experts who taste, describe, and identify wines). In the first experiment, red food coloring was secretly added to a white wine and then placed in glasses to be tasted and described. The wine experts gave descriptions and attributes of a red wine even though they were drinking a white wine with coloring.

In a second test, a single type of wine was poured into various bottles with either very cheap or very expensive labels and then served. The wine experts described the wine in the bottles with the cheap labels in negative terms, while they described the wines with the expensive labels in pleasing terms with very high ratings. Although the tasters possessed legitimate skills, their brains modified the perceived flavor of the wine to match their visual expectations.

The brain regularly modifies other senses to insure stability. In one experiment, subjects were played a single syllable sound of “ba”, while watching a screen with people mouthing either “ba”, “fa”, “da”, or “va”. Although the sound they listened to never changed, they reported hearing whatever sound matched the mouth movements they were seeing. The brain changed the sound they heard to match the visual input in order to maintain a stable picture of reality.

As another example, when we see someone clap their hands, we perceive the sight of the hands clapping and the noise of the hands clapping as the same event. In truth, the light waves we see travel much faster than the sound waves we hear, but the brain alters the information and makes it seem like they are happening at the same time. Extraordinarily, the brain will continue to do this until the difference between the light and sound waves is greater than 80 milliseconds. So, if a person claps while walking backwards and away from us, we will perceive the sight and sound of the clap to happen at the same time until the person is about 27 meters (90 feet) away from us, at which time the sight and sound will abruptly stop matching. There is no gradual change as the  person walks away, only a threshold of when the brain decides to change our perception of what we see and hear.

As shown in these experiments, our senses do not provide a a transparent experience of reality. The sensory input we are able to perceive is drastically limited by the physical capabilities of our bodies. The information we can sense is strongly filtered, and the information that makes it to the higher processes of the brain is altered, modified, and constructed in order to give, what the brain believes to be, a stable and suitable match.


How reliable are your senses?
If your senses are the only way you are capable of perceiving reality, then what should you do with this information in order to test it or make it more accurate?
What is the difference in the brain’s construction of a dream while you are asleep and of reality while awake?
Is there a way  you can train your brain to give a more accurate picture of reality?
How do your errors in misperception affect relationships between families, communities, political parties, nations, etcetera?
If you know something can seem and feel real, but that it might not be, then what changes should you make in your daily living and decisions?
If you understand the unreliability of sensory perception, personal experience, and beliefs about reality, then how should you interact with people who don’t understand the shortcomings of their personal experience of reality?
How do you know when you are being aware and cognizant of your limitations or when you are being fooled by your brain? If those two experiences feel the same, then how can you know if you are closer or further away from an accurate interpretation of reality?


Michael Ken