I’m fascinated by the way our brains actually operate, generating thoughts that generate our framework of what we call reality. I first became interested with the way we think when I studied Social Biology at college many years ago. This fascination never relented.
Interestingly, it takes around half a second for something to happen and our brain then experiencing it. In that time there’s a lot of processing that happens where the brain is essentially constructing a story. This story, not the thing that happened, becomes our reality. Different for everyone and, in fact, meaning that we’re all living in the past by about half a second.
Our brains have far more input on what we experience than our senses provide. For example, when we see something in front of us, there’s actually far less traffic coming inbound to our brain than there is coming outbound from our expectations. These expectations make up what is called our “internal model”.
A clear example of this is what happens when we look at something. Our eyes aren’t remotely stable, they move 4 times a second. What’s actually happening is what you can recreate by filming something with a really shaky hand! But we think we’re seeing things in a really stable way. This is because our internal model is imagining what we’re seeing. The visual cortex sends information to the thalamus and the thalamus compares those to what’s coming in through the eyes. The difference between the two is sent back and updates the internal model – our reality of expectations.
This impacts everything about us, from our identity to our aspirations in life. We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are. It is tempting to assume that we get more wise, but what’s happening is that our internal model is getting more established. It isn’t necessarily better, it’s just been modified more. Our memories change as our internal model changes over time. Memory is therefore exceptionally unreliable as it is remarkably changeable. Our continual narrative gets updated and in turn, what we remember and what we think is re-shaped dynamically due to experiences which have their own significant challenges.
This is because our human biology severely limits what we experience. We only pick up one ten trillionth of the spectrum of frequencies that are running through us. In terms of sight, this is the visual spectrum of colour – again, something that doesn’t exist in the world, only in our heads. Other organisms have increased sensitivity on other parts of the spectrum, and this is scientifically down to how everything evolves.
In terms of time, our experience is not remotely linear and differs dependant on experience. Try and think of an experience, perhaps a bad one, that seemed to take ages. Or maybe a good one that went by too fast.
This time distortion actually happens in retrospect. It is a trick our brain plays. The memory of an experience expands the storyline and thus, the memory of something taking much longer, or shorter, appears real when we speak of it after the event. This could be ‘immediately’ (meaning at least half a second afterwards), or at a later date. Either way it’s a retrospective story that has been biologically invented.
Scientifically, we are controlled solely by our thoughts, for better or worse.
Reality is, in fact, whatever our brain tells us it is.