T Nation

On Human Perception and Whether Reality Really Exists

Get into the shrooms recently?


This is fun. Lemme throw another bone:
If I would be a God. Know what I would do?
Well I would:

  • Use hydrogen in its liquid form to create a big bang. Then hint at some liquid. “let there be light and all that.” in bibble.
  • Create world in 7 seven cosmic days (not mentioning that my days are different from human day) using accelerating time for universe forming & life evolution.
  • I would leave bones of ancient species burried and other hints of life existing for millions of years before now.
  • Develop humans in only way possible: starting small and evolving em big.
  • I would create center of universe where I could’ve done my human simulation millions of years ago as it had habitable planets long before earth.
  • I would mention just few things specifically one being: I’ll give this world for humans to take care of. So religious people can deny climate change and say that it can’t happen/can’t be prevented because it’s God’s will. (despite expressly stating that it’s the people’s responsibility)
  • I would make universe incredibly complex.
  • I would make faith really hard.
  • I would tell people not to eat pig among other communial rules for isolating sick people, how to deal with periods to mention few. to prevent a serious disease from infecting people (then have people interpret so that pig should never be eaten.
  • I would make it so that: When people learn new marvels of my creation. People with closed minds would deny it and fabricate evidence to deny it.
  • I would make it so that people can justify any atrocity by invoking me somewhere there in sentence.
  • I would make it so that rich and powerful ass-hats with more power than they should have would want things that don’t belong to them in any way. Or maybe just for personal spot in history. And in their envy and pettiness they could create reality where wars fought to steal would be justified in people’s minds. (reason why there are wars: somebody with power wants something that doesn’t belong to them)
  • these and thousand other things I would do, just to make faith exactly it sounds like: very hard to believe in.

Please don’t get offended by what I’ve written . I just wanted to take a “light-hearted” shot at the matter.

Nope, but I’ve been told I’ve always been this way, even as a kid.

My dad used to call me a psychopath (actually still does).

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Not offended, but I’m not sure I understand your point.

No, people march to their doom to often for that

I’ve had an untestable hypothesis before that feeling is itself the phenomena of the subconscious perspective moving

Maybe shrinking, maybe expanding, maybe just moving, tilting, etc.

I wonder sometimes if it’s possible to feel something without it changing the person

I fell and bled, I ran to mommy crying. She kissed it and it stopped hurting. Magic I tell ye. This may have happened a few times
“Be more careful”. Ok.
People can’t cure my physical pain so easily any more, but I wonder how long it could have gone on if mommy didn’t want me to grow up
Or if mommy laughed instead and said mean things, would I be tougher now?

However it works, it’s comparable to programming a machine

Feelings are complicated. “Be more careful” might have hurt a ton, in the long run, in a sneaky way, not up front at the time

I think some sounds are represented differently in different cultures. Cats are said to “meow” in the West but in other cultures they hear it differently, if I remember correctly

I’m not sure if there is one. But if there would be, It could be most definetly this one: religion doesn’t need to be in war with science. Only reason those two probably fight is perception and inflexibility of mind.

That’s what make this topic actually interesting: different concepts and interpretations of same reality we all live in. As that interpretation is really a major definingffactor of just how happy or unhappy our reality is.

Besides it’s strange how poorly most of us people learn to know ourselves. Especially considering how much we spent inside ourselves.

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Pain is a neurological response. We can see it in neurological imaging. I dislocated my spine down at the L4-L5 vertebra. A friend of mine and anesthesiologist took a TENS unit and actually created an interference signal and shut the pain off. Very cool!

Agony or the suffering from pain is a product of our mind. Now without that pain signal shut off I was hurting. It didn’t just physically hurt, it damaged my sense of well being. That is suffering.

That’s also why something like a fish will dart away after getting poked or grabbed by a bird, but doesn’t actually suffer. It just swims up a couple of feet and goes right back to being a fish.
Hell, I’ve caught the same trout twice within a minute using the same fly before.

YES, but so are all the other senses.

We can describe the pain response just like you did, but we can’t really describe experiencing pain. How would you describe exactly what it feels like to be in pain to someone who never felt it, say to an alien? You couldn’t just say “it feels bad,” they wouldn’t understand.

Just like we know damn well what colors are in terms of light refraction on a surface whose atoms are made to absorb a specific wavelength. That’s a color. But good luck describing the experience of seeing a color, to this hypothetical alien (or simply someone who’s been blind since birth).

So just like pain isn’t an agent, a well-defined object or being, but rather is a reaction to something, and is thus created by our very nervous system, how isn’t everything else that we perceive also just a model made up so we can interpret reality, rather than being reality itself? I hope I’m making it at least somewhat clear what I mean here.

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So, you are kind of summarizing the problems the empiricist philosophers from Smith, Locke, Descartes, Kant, etc had. None of the satisfactorily answered the problems. Wittgenstein attempted to map reality to language and failed, which led to his theory of language games. Quine articulates it best as far as I am concerned, but reality comes down to a web of beliefs with those core beliefs closer to the center, but everything comes down to essentially beliefs (for him), even science.

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I should really start reading philosophy. Never did it and I feel I could gain so much from it.

That’s so freaking cool by the way. Makes me want to look into that and learn more.

Oh yeah, I get what you mean. Some have even postulated that it’s the shared experience that forms the root of spirituality.

That’s why people who share similar experiences can form special bonds and understandings.

I ran into a woman from my cardiac rehab not to long ago. Big hug, lots of happiness, almost a couple of tears.

My wife just looked and said “I’ll just leave you two alone for a while… :joy:”.


I love it, but I will say this. When I started studying it, I felt I had a pretty good grasp on the world. Science was pointing us in the right direction. Mathematics was certain. At the end, you realize we don’t know shit. They blew everything up. (Ironically, Socrates felt that understanding this was in fact Wisdom).

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I already have so many more questions than answers, so I guess it can’t really get that much worse? Haha.

It’s called the gate control theory. I don’t know where in neuroscience or doctorin’ it lies, but it’s pretty far along before they start letting you poke around in somebody’s nervous system. :slight_smile:

Your interest in computer science and perception reminds me of Ray Kurzweil. That guy is brilliant.

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I have heard that! I remember reading that it has something to do with pain receptors being fundamentally the same units as pressure receptors. Thus one can alter one’s sense of pain by playing around with pressure applied to those same units, creating, like you described it, an interference.

I read it somewhere on reddit that it’s at the base of the reason why it feels good to press on your head when you have a headache. Didn’t know it could be used to stop pain to such an extent though. Interesting.

What is really cool is when you stop the pain signaling it stops the neurological cascade of responses related to the trauma.

Just cuz I’m being pushy and think you need to know who he is:

No offense intended. All in good fun.

Yeah, your brain is said to use bunches of shortcuts in processing the five senses

You can only afford to focus on a small amount of it, usually

Optical illusions and similar exploit some patterns for fun, the brain has to be in the habit of taking a small amount of information and reading more into it on the fly and giving ‘you’ the ‘more’ that it added in without you realizing and second guessing the ‘extra’

Like an object rapidly getting larger is actually barreling towards you, DUCK, or RUN, or … something

Nietzsche had one I liked: he said he sometimes saw facial expressions on people’s faces in greater detail than he could without his glasses - the mind just does it

Yeah our models of the world affect our perceptions of our 5 senses, ALL THE TIME, almost literally
For example someone might walk into my mosque and see 500 Arabs, while I see Arabs, Pakistanis, Sudanis, blah blah
Same thing at a Trump rally, except someone else sees ONLY (racist) white makes
Same thing at an Obama rally, except someone else sees ONLY (racist) black males

It’s not just that one’s exposures from the five senses affects their worldview, it’s a continual process AND a two way process. The worldview affects how the senses get processed and what’s deemed by your subconscious as important enough to tell the conscious ‘you’ about

Our subconscious is running the show, it only lets us ‘see’ what it wants to, if it thinks it can trust us, currently.

(Warning: Mighty mighty wall-of-text ahead. Get comfy.)

@samul, I never expected to encounter this topic on a meathead website! While I now work full-time and exclusively as a physician, my first career (and PhD) was in Cognitive Psychology, specifically studying perception. So, this topic is near-and-dear to my heart.

At the outset, let me say that you have stumbled down the same rabbit hole that people attempting to understand perception have fallen into since such endeavors began. (This includes some of the brightest minds in recorded history, so you are in very good company.) This post of mine is intended to provide a handhold by which you can climb back out.

What do I mean when I say you’re ‘down the rabbit hole’? Recall that this expression is a reference to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland , a tale wherein the heroine (Alice) falls down a rabbit hole and lands in a dreamworld where impossible, illogical and paradoxical things occurred, and from which it was very difficult for her to extract herself. Well, with respect to perception, I think you’ll agree that that describes where you find yourself. It seems to you problematic (if not impossible) to know with certainty anything about the world because, per your understanding of the perceptual process, ‘perceiving’ is nothing more than brain activity. And if all one can ever know is their own neural activity, by what lights could you possibly say that those neurons are responding to anything that exists beyond the boundaries of your own nervous system?

The fundamental flaw—the one that tripped you into the hole in which you find yourself—is that you are trying to understand the process of perception from the inside-out rather than the outside-in. (This will take a LOT of unpacking—bear with me.) Again, you are not alone in this. At some point shortly after consciousness evolved, people became aware of sensations —of the act of experiencing light, sound, smell, taste and touch, the so-called ‘Five Senses.’ And to this day most people, upon introspection, will agree that these senses feel very distinct from one another. (I know you mentioned the phenomenon of synesthesia previously, but let’s set that aside for the moment.) Thus, it’s not surprising that early cognitive scientists—they didn’t call themselves this of course, but that’s what they were doing—concluded that each sense is a ‘channel’ that is separate and distinct from the others.

This conclusion attained the status of scientific dogma when a 19th century German physiologist named Müeller integrated the introspective notion of sensory channels into the then-burgeoning science of the nervous system. Specifically, Müeller argued that sensory experience, ie, the sensations of light, of sound, of taste, etc, were due to the stimulation of particular nerves, not to the stimulus itself . For example, anything that caused the neurons in your optic nerves to fire would make you experience the sensation of ‘light.’ This is easy to demonstrate—just rub your eyes. Doing so mechanically stimulates the photoreceptors, resulting in an experience of light flashes called phosphenes . To Müeller, this was proof-positive that sensory experience was not a function of the outside world, but rather a function of the nervous system itself. This idea was instantiated in a doctrine known as Müeller’s law of specific nerve energies .

As the science matured, physiologists realized Müeller was wrong on an important point. He thought ‘light nerves’ differed from ‘sound nerves’ differed from ‘taste nerves,’ etc, and that the inter-nerve differences accounted for the unique sensory experiences each produced. Subsequently, physiologists realized that all nerves function essentially identically, which means the variety of sensory experience cannot be attributed to stimulation of unique nerve-types. Instead, they realized that sensory experience was determined by which portion of the brain was being stimulated. It didn’t seem to matter how a particular brain area got stimulated; eg, we can now do it directly, during brain surgery. What seemed clear was that sensation was something that happened in your head, not in the world.

Further, introspection led cognitive scientists to realize that the input provided by each sensory channel could—and therefore should—be atomized further. Consider the sensation of light . Introspection seems to reveal it to be composed of a subset of more basic experiences: Color, brightness, etc. Likewise, the sensation sound can be deconstructed into the more basic experiences of loudness, pitch, timbre, etc. Thus, cognitive scientists concluded that every sensation was itself composed of a number of what might be called ‘component-sensations’ that were combined (by the brain) to construct sensory experiences.

In order to study component-sensations in detail, 19th century cognitive scientists went to great lengths to train their experiment participants regarding how to deconstruct sensory experiences—how to separate the sensation of brightness from that of hue, for example. After much careful study, they (the scientists) realized that while these component-sensations correlated with certain physical property of the stimulus (eg, hue and wavelength-of-light), they did so imperfectly; eg, the sensation of hue varied with the wavelength of light, but not in lockstep fashion. Again, sensory experience was found not to line up with the external world—it was a construct of the brain.

In like manner, it followed that overall perceptual experience must itself be a construct whereby the brain integrated input from the various sensory channels. So for example, when one eats a chicken breast, the perceptual experience of doing so results from the brain combining inputs from the distinct sensory channels—ie, the sight of the breast, the feel of it, its smell, its taste, etc—into a unitary perceptual experience. (Note that this occurs after the individual sensory channels have already done their own integration of their component -sensations; eg, the ‘sight’ of the breast is itself a construct of the hues, brightnesses, etc, that form the building blocks of the sensation of seeing it.)

So in sum: Careful study seemed to indicate that perception is a process wherein stimulation of various brain areas is integrated—first within sensory channels, then across sensory channels—to construct a neural event that we experience as an interaction with an external world. Let us call this the constructivist model of perception.

All well and good, until we look up and realize we’re down a rabbit hole.

The problems inherent to the constructivist model are multiple, but boil down to this: Because the act of perception is presumed to take place within the confines of one’s skull, there seems to be no straightforward way to link it to the external world. But it is clear that humans (and countless other sorts of critters) are able to successfully engage the world—to navigate cluttered, danger-laden environs; to locate food; etc. There’s the rub: How does one account for the fact that perception is exquisitely linked to the external world if it is wholly a construct of the brain?

A constructivist might say we ‘learn’ to interpret our perceptual experiences. Fine, but how? For example, how can I learn to make sense of the jumble of hue- and brightness-sensations constantly popping up in my occipital cortex if I can’t see what’s out there? William James (one of the fathers of modern psychology) famously maintained that a newborn’s perceptual experience is that of a “blooming, buzzing confusion,” and from a constructivist perspective he has to be right. Being a baby must be akin to the wildest hallucinogenic trip imaginable—an overwhelming cacophony of abstract (ie, meaning-free) lights, sounds, smells, etc, barreling in through each sensory channel simultaneously. Eventually, the baby will figure out how to tame the bloom and buzz, to use it to construct the coherent and stable perceptual world we all experience. But how? The seeming impossibility of doing so has led many people to question the very nature of reality/existence—you among them, hence the motivation for creating this thread.

Speaking of this thread: Given that it has lay fallow for several days (and thus may no longer be of ongoing interest), I will stop here. If the interest is there, I can go on to discuss a radically different approach to perception-and-action, the chief advantage of which is that it avoids falling down the rabbit-hole in the first place.