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"Reality": Construction,
Deconstruction, and Reconstruction


Studies on the nervous system offer new perspectives on old problems. Among them is the relationship between "objective" and "subjective" descriptions of the world and oneself. Is there a single "True" description of "reality"? And is "objectivity" the route to and measure of it? Work on the brain suggests alternative perspectives: that "objectivity" is actually rooted in "subjectivity,"; that we all have our own distinctive descriptions of the world and ourselves; and that "objectivity" and "Reality" are actually terms we use for those things about which we have achieved agreement.

Neurobiological research suggests that one's interpretation of the world is a result of (no more and no less than) processes occuring in the material brain. The brain as an inquirer takes input from various sources and weaves them into a cohesive "story" about what's "out there". Interpretations, perspectives, and understandings are influenced by past experiences (both conscious and unconscious) as well as one's own inherent, individual characteristics. Understandings are not only always "summaries of experiences", but also only one of a number of possible ways to make sense of those set of experiences. They are also therefore amenable to change by future experiences. From all this follows the conclusion that any perspective is "subjective"---unique and always open to future change. And hence that both "objectivity" and "Reaity" are constructions of the brain rather than external standards to motivate and evaluate its understandings.

The exhibits below are offered to give you experiences which support this evolving understanding of "reality".

See also:

Illusions, Ambiguous Figures, and Impossible Figures: Informed Guessing and Beyond
Getting It Less Wrong, the Brain's Way: Science, Pragmatism, and Multiplism
Perception: From Five Senses to Synesthesia and Beyond
The "Objectivity"/"Subjectivity" Spectrum: Having One's Cake and Eating it Too?
What would "reality" look like outside the brain?: Variations in Perception and their Significance



Contrast/Color "Illusions"
Does your brain show you what is "really" out there? Is what you see what you get?

Ambiguous Figures
Can the brain have more than one "story" about something? Does free will play a part in influencing one over another?
Hofstadter's Road Sign
Practice changing between intrepretations of an animation.
Chance in Life and the World
What would the world look like if viewed from "outside the brain"? "Noisy"?

Seeing More Than Your Eye Does
Tricks of the Eye, Wisdom of the Brain
Map your bindspot

Does your brain "make up" what you see?

Spiral Illusion

Is color "out there in the world"?

Ball and Shadow Illusion

How does your brain use the information in a scene to create an overall picture? 

Figure Ground Reversal

What influences your perception of a figure ground picture?

Presumptions Underlying Contrast Illusions

Is reality constant?


Posted by Laura Cyckowski and Paul Grobstein 18 April 2009. Last updated 8 Nov 2009.


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