Most of us are brought up thinking that the world around us is an objectively defined thing that is external to us. We think that what we see in terms of physical reality, is objective... But is it?
This TED Talk by Beau Lotto on optical illusions is an eye and brain opener that will reset your thinking on how you see and interpret the world around you. What if the meaning attached to everything you see is simply learned behaviour and purely context dependent? What would happen if we chose to attach new meaning to the information landing on our retinas each moment?
As Lotto says, "There's no inherent meaning to information, it's what we do with that information that matters."
We see, by learning to see. What we see is based on statistics of past experience and what it was useful to interpret as the meaning to particular things. Here's the game-changer:
"The brain evolved to see the world the way it was useful to see it in the past. And how we see it is by continually redefining normality."
There's two key points here. Firstly, we're learning to base perception upon past experience (which is not necessarily relevant to the present context). Secondly, we can redefine 'normality' or present experience (and future potential) by questioning and looking at things from different angles.
To paraphrase Lotto, the plasticity of our brains can help us to see the world differently.
I'm endlessly intrigued and enthused by what this means for us in terms of our potential to see, perceive and shape the world around us through the pure power of our perception - through the meanings we apply to our sensory input and the stories we tell one another.
We are only just beginning to perceive the ramifications of brain plasticity and the mind-body connection. We are only just beginning to fathom what this means for health, healing, politics, power and peace in our world.
"No-one is an outside observer of nature... We're not defined by our essential properties, by the bits that make us up. We're defined by our environment and our interaction with that environment - by our ecology. And that ecology is necessarily relative, historical and empirical."
How we see (and perceive) the world matters. And how we think we see and perceive the world might matter even more.
"... only through uncertainty is there understanding." - Beau Lotto
URL to the original TED Talk here: http://www.ted.com/talks/beau_lotto_optical_illusions_show_how_we_see#t-875163
(Other highlights in this TED Talk include a bunch of fun and illuminating optical illusions and a brief exploration of the link between sound and vision - including Lotto enabling people to hear their visual world.)