Bo Lotto, a neuroscientist and professor at the University of London, has been researching human behavior and perception of reality for more than 25 years. In his book «Refraction» Lotto talks about why we do not perceive reality as it is, and how this can lead to the development of creative potential and helps to take a fresh look at work, love, play, relationships with relatives and other important events in our life.
Life is a fairly ordinary thing, although, as we all know, it is not easy. At any moment, the brain (as well as the brain of any other creature) makes only one decision: to go in the direction of something or from something. The reaction that we (or they) choose is based on beliefs rooted in our history, just like that frog from the YouTube video.
We are talking about a popular video on YouTube, in which a hungry frog jumps on the smartphone screen and tries to lick «digital» ants, guided by his past experience.
Thus, all feelings and actions are only a direct expression of what was useful to us in the past. However, how does our brain differ from the brain of a frog, surely it must be different in some way? What makes it beautiful? (…The answer may surprise you…)
As you know, for the brain, «reality» is a much broader concept than our narrow ideas about it. We are used to thinking that the physical experience is real, and the fictional one is unreal. But for the brain, there is almost no difference — to imagine visual images or to see them.
At the same time, delusions, as an opportunity to see or imagine something that we do not observe at the moment in the physical world, are an important tool of our consciousness. With their help, we create new and meaningful images of perception that allow us to change the brain, acting from within, and (in the future) the perception itself. But if the human brain is the physical embodiment of the entire history of trial and error-from evolution to learning — and any perceptual reaction is reflex, how can people (even those who are most mistaken) change perception? After all, we all know very well that the past stubbornly does not want to change. What has already happened has happened. However, when it comes to the inner workings of the brain, everything is not simple, because we, as we know, never remember what really happened, let alone the time when it happened.
«You change what you perceive. In other words, since the brain has not adapted to see reality in the process of evolution, you have complete freedom to choose what to see.»
The brain carries with it into the future is not the actual past at all… and certainly not a reliable reality. Based on the history of perception of reality, the brain builds basic beliefs that manifest themselves in its functional architecture, with the help of which we perceive the current moment. These beliefs determine what we think and do, and help us predict what to do next. It is important to note the opposite: they also determine what we do not think and do not do. Apart from the specific situation, beliefs cannot be bad or good. It’s just us … all together and individually.
THE IMPACT OF EVOLUTION
We are very lucky that the brain has learned to create beliefs in the process of evolution, while the bulk of them seems to be the same as the air we breathe — invisible. When you sit down on a chair, you are sure that it — and usually it is-will not break under you. Every time you take a step, you know for sure that the ground will not go out from under your feet; the foot will not turn up; that you put your foot far enough forward and correctly redistributed the weight for the next movement (because, after all, walking is actually a continuous process of falling). These are inherent beliefs.
And if you constantly had to think — how to walk, how to breathe? Or think about all the other extremely useful things that are done unconsciously, which your brain performs without putting any effort. Most likely, you would not have moved from your place.
FEAR OF HEIGHTS
With the help of the experience gained, the brain acquires as many beliefs as possible, hoping to find laws that can be applied in different situations (like theorems in physics). For example, fear of heights. Oddly enough, it seems that we are not born with this fear and knowledge about why it is dangerous. A recent study using «visual reset» showed that young children avoid heights, but do not show fear automatically. However, time goes on, and development goes on: we fall from the top tier of the bed and hit ourselves painfully; parents shout that we should not go close to the cliff — this is how life experience is acquired. Thanks to this, a hierarchy of beliefs is introduced into us, which eventually allows us to take into account the danger of heights. Regardless of the reasons for our caution, a very useful belief is born, with the help of which we ensure our safety. There is common sense in this, but from the very beginning there was no such confidence in our head. Other basic — level beliefs that influence behavior — and there are thousands of them in total-relate not to physical, but to social survival, and at the same time they are also quite natural.
What you are currently experiencing or experiencing is just a stable scheme of electrical activity transmitted through the brain; this is an unromantic view of perception, but quite accurate. Throughout life, the electrical circuits created in the head as a response to stimuli become more and more «stable», and in physics this is called an attractor. Dunes in the desert or a whirlpool in a river are examples of attractors, even our galaxy is an attractor. All of them are stable schemes formed as a result of the long-term interaction of many individual elements. In this sense, they have their own stable energy state, or a moment (in which it is difficult to move them), which turns out to be the most natural to continue to exist in it (although the state of the brain of children is not as stable as that of adults). The task of evolution is to select certain attractors, or, more precisely, a sequence of the most useful attractors.
FREEWAYS OF BELIEFS
Electrical circuits are created by neural pathways that connect different areas of the brain… this infrastructure of connections is like a highly intricate and extensive highway. The created schemes increase the probability of some actions and reduce the probability of others. Studies have shown that the more such communications, the more diverse and complex beliefs are (for example, the more stable vocabulary and memory). At the same time, despite the abundance of connections in the brain and their importance for perception, the number of neuroelectric impulses received and used during life is very small. This is because, strictly speaking, their potential is almost infinite.
Beliefs make you who you are. That is, most of what you perceive about your conscious personality will be at risk if it is questioned at some point. At the same time, the process of creating brain-based deviations that shape us as we are also makes us the unique people that the world needs so much.
«So, how can we use mental images to develop creative perception? The answer again comes down to the practical benefits that the brain stores, and how the perceived data determines our views on the future world. The immutable truth about perception, which I explained earlier, has not changed: we do not see reality, but only what was useful to see in the past. But here is the deceptive nature of the brain: the previous experience, which determines how we see, includes not only real sensations, but also imaginary ones. If so, you can influence what you see by thinking about it. The connection between true and imagined sensations is that what we are considering now represents the history of what we have seen before — in imagination or not (although not all have the same weight). That is why we not only experience what we feel, but also create our own sensations!»
Based on the materials of the book «Refraction».