We know the world exists, we just don’t know what it actually looks like—and it’s likely that we never will, says neuroscientist Beau Lotto. Humans can only access reality, whatever it may be, through the filter of our sensory organs, which interpret “inherently meaningless” data in ways that are useful for our survival. We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world that helps us to live. It can be a concept that’s hard to wrap your mind around: how is that chair not as I see it? What color is an apple, really? Lotto calls on two clarifying examples: “Dressgate”, which blew people’s minds in 2015 and exposed that perception is not objective, and the color spectrum, of which we only see a small slice of. Beau Lotto is the author of Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently.
Transcript: Is there an external reality? Of course there’s an external reality. The world exists. It’s just that we don’t see it. At least, we don’t see it as it is. In fact, we can never it as it is! In fact it’s even useful to not see it as it is. And the reason is because it goes back to really Berkeley, who tells us we have no direct access to that physical world other than through our senses. And because our senses conflate multiple aspects of that world we can never know whether our perceptions are in any way accurate. And so this has always been a very deep question. It’s not so much “Do we see the world in the way it really is?” but “Do we actually even see it accurately?”. And the answer is no, we don’t.
So if we remember that the information that’s coming on to your eye or onto your skin or into your ears is inherently meaningless (because it could mean anything) then it means that we need another kind of data in order to be able to generate behaviors that are useful. And that data is necessarily historical, which means that the functional structure of your brain is really a physical manifestation of your past interactions with the world, and it’s a physical, active interaction. It’s not passive, receiving data like a Facebook broadcast, it’s an active engagement with that world.
Video and more on the book below
Beau Lotto, the world-renowned neuroscientist, entrepreneur, and two-time TED speaker, takes us on a tour of how we perceive the world, and how disrupting it leads us to create and innovate.
Perception is the foundation of human experience, but few of us understand why we see what we do, much less how. By revealing the startling truths about the brain and its perceptions, Beau Lotto shows that the next big innovation is not a new technology: it is a new way of seeing.
In his first major book, Lotto draws on over two decades of pioneering research to explain that our brain didn’t evolve to see the world accurately. It can’t! Visually stunning, with entertaining illustrations and optical illusions throughout, and with clear and comprehensive explanations of the science behind how our perceptions operate, Deviate will revolutionize the way you see yourself, others and the world.
With this new understanding of how the brain functions, Deviate is not just an illuminating account of the neuroscience of thought, behavior, and creativity: it is a call to action, enlisting readers in their own journey of self-discovery.