How Do We Create the External World?

This post is based largely on portions of the first chapter in Elixir J. Sternberg’s Book “Neurologic and the Brain’s idea Rationale Behind Our Irrational Behavior.”  The subtitle of Chapter 1 is “On Perception, Dreams, and the Creation of the External World.”    Many people believe we see directly what is in the external world.  These people are called naive realists and they could not be more wrong.

Human vision is the brain’s highly processed representation of what’s out there.  As it is highly processed, much detail will be left out.  Hopefully, there will be enough detail and you can get some sense of what is involved.  The brain breaks down the processing of visual information into many components.  For example what an object is and where it is  result from two different processing components.  The motion of objects and the objects themselves are processed by different components.  There are people who can see objects in motion, but not stationary objects.  Such people are said to be suffering from Riddoch’s Syndrome.  And there are people who can see objects, but cannot see objects in motion.  If this problem has a name, I don’t know it.

The brain uses at least two distinct systems to process information.  There is the conscious system, of which we are aware, and there is an unconscious system which operates with the Neurologic after which the book is named.  There is an unconscious system that recognizes patterns using expectations based on past experience, and figures how these patterns fit together.  The conscious system monitors the outputs of this unconscious processing.

Consider the following sentence:
How many animals of each type did Moses take on the Ark?
Most people respond with the answer,”two”, neglecting to remember that it was Noah, not Moses, who piloted the Ark.  The answer “two” came directly from unconscious processing.  If you noted that the statement was incorrect, then your conscious system was performing its duties correctly.

Here’s another example of a trick question.

If a plane crashes in a foreign country, where do they bury the survivors?

Noticing that survivors should not be buried indicates that you conscious processing is performing its job.

The psychologist Daniel Kahneman is famous for many accomplishments.  Foremost among these is his two system model of information processing.  System One, refers to unconscious processing, and System Two refers to conscious processing.

An experiment was conducted in which he research participants read three kinds of sentences.

Meaningful sentences such as

Baseball is played in the summer.

False sentences such as

Basketball is played outside in the winter.

and trick sentences like the two examples of trick sentences.

The participants indicated whether the sentences were true or false.
The brains’ of the participants were also monitored throughout the experiment.
The responses of the brain were normal for all three types of sentences except when the participants noted the error in the trick sentences.

I found the drawings in Neurologic of congenitally blind children and normal sighted children to be especially interesting.  What was interesting was that I could not determine which drawings were done by the sighted students and which drawings were done by the congenitally blind students!  Even though they are obviously processing different kinds of information, they are able to derive fairly accurate models of the world that are difficult to distinguish.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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