Out at the major intersection around the corner from my house, which I’ve passed through literally thousands of times, they installed a new left-hand turn signal where there once WAS NOT. The first time I decided to make a left-hand turn from the same familiar lane I’ve used for 12 years, I saw the light but choose NOT pay attention to what it meant… all the other lights turned green EXCEPT MINE. It was still RED! But I went anyway because that’s what I done a thousand times, NOT what I saw.
And yes, she hit me when I turned in front of her. (didn’t she see me turning???) Luckily I looked up just in time to see her heading right for me. I hit my brakes, she hit hers, swerved and she slid by just scraping my front metal SUV bumper scraping a 3ft scratch from her head lights to her front door. Did I see her? OF COURSE I saw her… unconsciously! But my conscious mind had another plan… GO! Thank God everyone was safe and not really much damage.
Has this sort of thing ever happened to you? Maybe not with a vehicle but watching a movie? Then describing it to someone that had already saw it and they describe it completely different. Or maybe remembering an event from your childhood and retelling the story around a family gathering and someone says “That’s not how it happened at all.” Or something as simple as listening to the chorus of a song, singing it back and not remembering a single story line.
Maybe some of this has to do with memory, but HOW we perceive our world and HOW we interpret it and HOW we convert it into useable data inside our brains is the real key!
It’s called perception! What we perceive, and generally believe our reality to be is nothing more than sensory input from the outside world taken into our nervous system that has been interpreted by our five senses; what we see, hear, feel, smell and taste. Perception not only creates our experience of the world around us; it most importantly allows us to act within our environment.
The word “perception” comes from the Latin words perceptio, percipio, and means -“receiving, collecting, action of taking possession, capture with the mind or senses.”
Our perceptual process allows us to experience the world we live in. For example, think about all the things you perceive on a daily basis; seeing all the sights and images, the touching of objects or the things/people that touch your skin, the smell of someone’s perfume or cologne, hearing the sound of music coming from the radio, or the taste of your favorite meal.
All of these things happening to our nervous system help make up our conscious experience, our so-called ‘reality.’ Our perceptual concept of the world we SEE, HEAR and FEEL enables us to comprehend the world around us as stable, constant and secure, even though the sensory information (what we take in) is typically lacking, incomplete and rapidly fluctuating.
The process of perception actually begins with an object in the ‘real’ world, labeled as “distal stimulus or distal object,’ meaning light, sound or any physical process which then stimulates the body’s sensory organs. These sensory organs transform all of this input energy into neural activity, a process called transduction. This raw data of neural activity is called the proximal stimulus. These neural signals are then transmitted from our sensory organs into the brain and processed.
As we take in information ( two million bits per second ) we delete, distort and generalize all of this data down to 7 +/- 2 bits. (George Miller-1956) 5 on the lower scale and 9 on the highest scale. So we LOSE something like 99.99% of the initial information our brain begins with. So consider then how much of the actual REAL world we can experience, not much at all. And I bet you thought that when you look at an event unfolding, watching a movie or listening to a conversation, you’ll getting it all.
We can never truly experience the world around as it actually exits. These resulting mental ‘re-representations’ of the distal stimulus is our mental impression of the world we experience. (we’ll be addressing this concept in detail of ‘representation’ in our chapter on Representational Systems.)
The study of perception gave rise to Gestalt psychology, which was founded by German thinkers Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohler and Kurt Koffka and focused on how people interpret the world around them. The Gestalt perspective focuses on breaking down mental events and experiences to its smallest elements, as you’ve probably have come to know; the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
OK, so here’s the rub. Because what we ‘perceive’ in our outside world is only fraction of the amount of information we can take in, the world we think we’re experiencing is not actually the REAL world live in. Does this make sense, do you see what I mean, does this sound right to you? If not, hold on, I’m about to blow your mind even more!
What this means is, as we transcode all this information into useable data for our brain to interpret, we NEVER really experience the world as we see, hear and feel it is, NEVER! At best we construct partial images, sounds and feelings inside our mind of what we pay attention to outside. now here’s where it get crazy. What we are focusing on at the moment of observation and collection of data we now sort and filter for that specific data within the millions of bits of information collected.
So not only are we deleting, distorting and generalizing all the information coming into our neurology down to a minuscule amount, but then we sift through this data to discover what is of most important to us, what we need to pay attention to and what we do not need to pay attention to. This is processed through the (RAS) Reticular Activating System of our brain. The (RAS) is a portal per se through which nearly all information enters the brain. (exception of smells which go directly into the brain’s emotional area.) The RAS filters this incoming information and affects what we pay attention to and what is not going to get attention. The primary and most important function of the RAS is to control of our consciousness; the ability to consciously focus our attention on specific things.
We now understand what the brain does and how it processes all the information coming in through our five senses. We also know we cannot ever experience something in the real world as it truly exists without first perceiving, interpreting and prioritizing the data inside our mind because our perception of the event is nothing more than a distillation of all this data.
So the next time someone says to you; “That’s not what I said!”
Respond with; “You’re right, it’s what my brain heard!”
I’d love your comments and feedback. Email me directly or leave a comment here!