Excerpted from the book "Deviate" by Beau Lotto, to be published on April 25, 2017, by Hachette Books, a division of Hachette Book Group. Copyright 2017 Beau Lotto.
When you open your eyes, do you see the world as it really is? Do we see reality?
Humans have been asking themselves this question for thousands of years. From the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave in “The Republic” to Morpheus offering Neo the red pill or the blue bill in “The Matrix,” the notion that what we see might not be what is truly there has troubled and tantalized us. In the eighteenth century, the philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that we can never have access to the Ding an sich, the unfiltered “thing-in-itself ” of objective reality. Great minds of history have taken up this perplexing question again and again. They all had theories, but now neuroscience has an answer.
The answer is that we don’t see reality.
The world exists. It’s just that we don’t see it. We do not experience the world as it is because our brain didn’t evolve to do so. It’s a paradox of sorts: Your brain gives you the impression that your perceptions are objectively real, yet the sensory processes that make perception possible actually separate you from ever accessing that reality directly. Our five senses are like a keyboard to a computer — they provide the means for information from the world to get in, but they have very little to do with what is then experienced in perception. They are in essence just mechanical media, and so play only a limited role in what we perceive. In fact, in terms of the sheer number of neural connections, just 10 percent of the information our brains use to see comes from our eyes. The rest comes from other parts of our brains, and this other 90 percent is in large part what this book is about. Perception derives not just from our five senses but from our brain’s seemingly infinitely sophisticated network that makes sense of all the incoming information. Using perceptual neuroscience — but not only neuroscience — we will see why we don’t perceive reality, then explore why this can lead to creativity and innovation at work, in love, at home, or at play. I’ve written the book to be what it describes: a manifestation of the process of seeing differently.
But first, why does any of this really matter to you? Why might you need to deviate from the way you currently perceive? After all, it feels like we see reality accurately . . . at least most of the time. Clearly our brain’s model of perception has served our species well, allowing us to successfully navigate the world and its ever-shifting complexity, from our days as hunter-gatherers on the savannah to our current existence paying bills on our smartphones. We’re able to find food and shelter, hold down a job, and build meaningful relationships. We have built cities, launched astronauts into space, and created the Internet. We must be doing something right, so . . . who cares that we don’t see reality?