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Shuttle128's avatar

Is our perception of the world a product of our brain's configuration?

Asked by Shuttle128 (2979points) April 13th, 2009

Or could it be objective somehow?

Why can the world be reliably observed and agreed to be objective by all of us if each one of us is different? Isn’t reality subjective?

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23 Answers

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RedPowerLady's avatar

Perception is Definitely subjective. How could it not be?

mrswho's avatar

I LOVE THIS QUESTION! Reality is perception. I don’t know what you mean by the “all of us” if all I know is that I am and as far as I’m concerned no one else nessicarly has to exist. There is no possible way of definitively proving that anything else is or that what I see as green is what you see as green. There is no way to extend beyond your mind so Descartes was right in all that I know is that I am. Given that, anything else I perceive to be real is equally valid. The fact that I observe it makes it as real as anything else is no matter what others think.

When I was a wee little tot I was bothered by imaging that I was surrounded by monster who had my eyes rigged up to some machine and that I was actually in some secret monster lair unable to tell where I was. I decided that there was no way for me to know and that if they had me tied up I didn’t know any better so I shouldn’t care.

nikipedia's avatar

We perceive the world the way we do as a consequence of how our brain operates. Our brains are the machines we use to perceive the world. We have no other organ or equipment that is ultimately responsible for perception, and they are so similar between individuals that our perceptions tend to be similar as well.

So the world can be reliably observed and agreed upon because our perception machines have pretty similar components and operating principles. Light waves stimulate rods and cones in your eyes, which transmit signals via bipolar cells to retinal ganglion cells. These are sent along the optic nerve into the brain, specifically, the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus. The LGN projects to different layers of the visual cortex (area V1, in the occipital lobe) depending on what kind of information is being transmitted. V1 then communicates this to V2, V3, and V4 in two parallel, interconnected pathways. These pathways project to different regions of the posterior parietal lobe and inferotemporal lobe, again depending on what kind of information they’re transmitting.

This is a highly specialized system that varies minimally between individuals. It is subject to environmental and developmental effects, so it would be interesting to see what would happen if you raised someone in low light, in blue-tinted light, etc. They probably would have a markedly different visual perceptual system than the rest of us. But for the most part, our visual experiences tend to be within the same range, so even particular environmental effects wash out over the course of your entire experience.

upholstry's avatar

This question doesn’t make sense. How could we have any perception if it weren’t for our brains?

Ivan's avatar

Reality is objective; our perception of it is simply flawed.

Zen's avatar

@bob_ LOL. @shuttledude, welcome to fluther. Finish your homework, and lights out at 9. Milk and cookies over there >>>>

Just kidding. Enjoy, and welcome!

Zen's avatar

@Ivan Smart! @upholstry Smarter. @bob_ Stil laughing…

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

There is what is, and what we perceive. Our perception is the culmination of our senses and our interpretation of the input they take in.

Our senses can deceive us and lead us to make incorrect assumptions of what is.

If we all had an extra sense our perception of the universe would definitely change as a result.

girlofscience's avatar

@nikipedia: You neglected mentioning amacrine and horizontal cells in your shoddy chain of events between the photoreceptors and the retinal ganglion cells. The rest of your explanation is, at best, an oversimplification of the process by which light is interpreted in the brain. Specifically, your statement, “V1 then communicates this to V2, V3, and V4 in two parallel, interconnected pathways,” is a gross exaggeration of the visual pathways.

@nikipedia: lol i love you!!! <3 <3 <3

DrBill's avatar

Reality is the result of electrical impulses as interpreted by our brain.

Shuttle128's avatar

@nikipedia That’s exactly what I was getting at. Since our brains and sensory equipment are basically wired the same (ignoring higher cortex analysis and associations gathered through experience) we can perceive what we believe to be an objective reality.

In reality we observe things subjectively. Our brains, since before birth, were altering our analysis and associations of our perceptions. Everything we observe calls up an association that we can identify. However, some of those associations are ones everyone agrees upon. These inter-subjective associations form what we can reasonably rationalize are associations inherent to physical reality.

These inter-subjective experiences are classified in the amazing filing cabinet that is our neural network brain. The associations are classified by the simple nature of the neural networks ability to output similar results based on similar inputs. These classifications are what makes up the explanation of existence.

I wonder what would become of us if we could not classify? Is it possible to perceive reality as continuous or even whole? Imagine a brain that identifies each new experience as a completely new entity. Could it associate anything?

nikipedia's avatar

@Shuttle128: I am not sure it’s fair to think of classification as its own function. Classification of sensory stimuli is a byproduct of discrimination, which is a necessary component of perception. Classification of more abstract concepts is a function of learning—so I think what you’re really asking, then is two separate questions:

1. What would become of us if we couldn’t perceive?
2. What would become of us if we couldn’t learn?

The answer to (1) is, it depends on what you’re not perceiving, but there’s a whole garden of agnosias that address those possible deficits.

The answer to (2) is, in my opinion, much more interesting. For a case study about the most famous man to ever lose his memory, see HM(patient). He did, in fact, identify each experience as a new one, no matter how many times he had done it before.

Could he associate anything? Well, yeah. Your brain has multiple memory systems, and you can destroy one (in his case, declarative memory [in the medial temporal lobe]) while leaving others intact (procedural memory [in the cerebellum and amygdala]). So he could still learn some associations, but he never became aware of them.

@girlofscience: You are a fucking bitch and I love you.

Shuttle128's avatar

@nikipedia I think I was hitting more on the learning portion of what you rephrased. It is my understanding that learning is caused by the neural network of your brain responding to physical stimuli. It’s obviously much more complicated than that but for the most part our ability to learn is based on the computational abilities of a neural network. Such a network has the ability to inherently classify inputs and generate outputs to those inputs. If our brain did not operate on a neural network topology, perhaps on a digital type computer instead, would learning and association be possible? I’m sure you could always simulate a neural network on a digital computer, but that defeats the purpose of the question.

I have read a bit on HM before and found it amazing that he could identify and remember things even though he perceived things as new every time he observed them. The separate memory systems make sense. All of your body reacts to stimuli, it would be inefficient to memorize all of these reactions through only one route.

fundevogel's avatar

I wish I could think of a single way that anyone or anything could observe the world without subjective perspective.

mattbrowne's avatar

Yes, it’s a product of our brain’s configuration, on particular the part responsible for processing language. Noam Chomsky once said: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” The Inuit have dozens of words for snow.

Pol_is_aware's avatar

To turn it around, our brains are a product of trying to perceive the world.

As for reality, my favorite quote is by Phillip K. Dick:

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

Shuttle128's avatar

@Pol_is_aware I always liked that quote. It explains objectivity of reality in one of the most concise statements.

jo_with_no_space's avatar

Of course, inevitably.

bright_eyes00's avatar

Of course it is. Our perception dictates how we see things. If you are a positive person by nature then you will generally have a much more optimistic look on the world around us versus a negative individual. I find that I am slightly neutral in this, that I see the bad while I have faith and hope in the good things. shrug climate, the people around us, the material things we surround ourselves with (or lack of in most situations), the things we intake like television, movies, books music, are all things that influence the way we view the world.

ohyeahwellyourmom's avatar

but why? why do our brains dictate what we percieve? Why is percieving necessary? to exist i suppose, but then why is existence nesessary? Why is it that we exist just for the sake of existing? There’s a reason we exist the way we do, so there is a reason we percieve the way we do. What gave our brains the ability to percieve, to see the world as something? Maybe we’ve gained the ability through the evolutionary process, because it helps us survive more efficiently, but why? Why is the goal to survive more efficiently? Why is everything about survival? What even created survival and the ability to exist, and how did whatever THAT was survive and exist? Scientifically speaking, existence is impossible. But we know that to be false because here we are, existing in some shape or form, subjective or not subjective! So, is there some huge mysterious thing out there that we can’t possibly understand? I mean, there has to be because how else are we here? There’s somebody or something that decided that this is how the universe is going to work, and they decided that they wanted our brains to percieve the world in this way. Something decided that our percieving the world the way we do was important. I mean, if our thinking is just subjective, what’s the point of it? Something out there wanted all of us to percieve things a certain way, I don’t know how, and I don’t think anybody ever will, but that’s the only possible way to explain it!

bright_eyes00's avatar

Well right off the bat my first response is we perceive what we do because of our brains and how they are wired and they are wired they way they are because that is how we are made. I know that doesnt answer you question the way you would like but when you get down to the basics of it, we are the way we are because that is how we were initially created. I could get into it about God and all that or even evolution and what not, but what it boils down to is, its in our nature to perceive as we do. Take for instance the movie Avatar. He was one way before he began to see things in a different light based on how the “natives” lived and how they interacted with the world. (I didnt spoil anything for those who have not seen the movie). Take for instance a chameleon, they blend in with their different surroundings sometimes for survival. Its just how we are. I struggled with the concept of existence for a long time. Even published my first novel on the concept of existence and destiny. To quote my snyopsis “exist (ig-zist) to have actual being; to have animation; to continue to be; to survive, to persist, to endure, to last…to love…to live…”

It’s just something that I came to not question anymore because the questioning led to no resolve. One of those facts of life that people just accept i guess. I know people have been asking that question for thousands of years to no avail.

I hope I was able to answer your question even in the slightest.

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