…one recent theory is that consciousness is the brain’s imperfect picture of its own activity. To understand his theory, it helps to have a clear idea of one important way the brain processes information from our senses.
Based on sensory input, it builds models, which are continuously updating simplified descriptions of objects and events in the world. Everything know is based on these models. They never capture every detail of the things they describe, just enough for the brain to determine appropriate responses…
…our certainty that have a metaphysical, subjective experience, may come from one of the brain’s models. A cut-corner description of what it means to process information in a focused and deep manner.
To say “it’s easy to overlook the fact that our perception isn’t the same as reality,” is perhaps the greatest understatement of all time. It’s almost impossible not to overlook it. Not overlooking it takes dedicated effort which still only allows us to overlook it for brief periods.
Everything we experience, from sounds, to smells, to the words on this screen, even the feeling that we are a single cohesive self, is a construction of the mind. An attempt to make sense of an influx of various vibrations and energy frequencies. This article by Anil Seth captures the idea with an eloquence I’ve not seen before:
…imagine being a brain. There you are, locked inside the bony vault of the skull, trying to figure out what’s out there in the world. There’s no light in the skull; there’s no sound either. It’s completely dark and it’s utterly silent. Your eyes and your ears just deliver streams of electrical signals to the brain.
These signals don’t come with labels attached – “I’m from a cat! I’m from a coffee cup!” – they are just electrical signals, signals which do not themselves have any shape, color, or sound. Therefore, in order to figure out what’s out there in the world, the brain has to combine these ambiguous sensory signals with some prior “expectations” or “predictions” about the way the world is. And that’s what we perceive – the brain’s “best guess” of the causes of its sensory signals.
"If we could see the whole truth of any situation, our only response would be one of compassion."
July 11, 2020 6:48 pm - Steve PetersForgive me for beginning so abruptly, but what you’re most confused about is who you are. This isn’t an attack, just a fact. I mean go ahead, who are you? Can you express it in words? Exactly. You have a name and family. Maybe you have a job. You look a certain way. Your genitals…continue reading on Medium…
Cognitive neuroscientist Anil Seth on the gap between conscious experience and objective reality:
…I’m also not saying that everything is in the mind. I think this is an important qualification or distinction. ‘There is an objective reality out there, at least as far as I know. But it’s how that reality appears in pour experience which is always a construction.
Watching the conversion of meditative and scientific views of perception is really exciting.
If we’re really being mindful as we are hearing the bell, we see that for however long the sound lasts—maybe 15 seconds, or 20 seconds, or 30 seconds—within that time, there is constant change going on. It’s nuances of sound: vibration, intensity, pitch. So many different things are happening within what we would call “the sound of a bell.” So we’re really seeing the changing nature on a much more refined level.
And the same thing happens with the familiar meditation object…the breath. Normally we go, “Oh, take an in-breath, take an out-breath”—as if each of them is a single unit. But when we’re really being mindful, we see that even within an in-breath, there are hundreds of sensations that are happening. And the quieter we get, we tune in, we refine our perception.
It’s something I call NPMs, Noticings Per Minute. In the beginning, our NPMs are pretty low, maybe 10 or 20. But as we cultivate awareness and mindfulness, the NPMs go way up and we see within a breath, or within a step, so many different changing sensations happening
And we also see the changing nature in our minds, the rapidity of thoughts arising and passing.
Well worth a read. It’s not often that something like attention is described in such a precise yet relatable way.
What is the self? As with any complex and slippery concept, we can draw on literally thousands of years worth of philosophical discussions in both the eastern and western traditions to address the question. But perhaps it will be simpler to begin with two contrasting definitions from a dictionary:
A fascinating look at the stoic’s concept of the self from IAI.
Just beautiful stuff from the late, great, Alan Watts:
What do you do when somebody says “pay attention”? What is the difference between looking at something and taking a hard look at it? Or between hearing something and listening intently? What’s the difference? What’s the difference between waiting while something goes on and enduring it? Why the difference is this:
When you pay attention instead of just looking, you screw up your face. You frown and stare. When you will, you grit your teeth or clench your fists. When you endure, or control yourself, you pull yourself together. Physically. And therefore you get uptight. You hold your breath. You do all kinds of muscular things to control the functioning of your nervous system.