Seeing is NOT Believing

wdegue's picture

When it comes to the topic of reality and the nervous system, most of us in the class will readily agree that the brain summarizes what we perceive and consequently acknowledge it as ‘reality.’ To be able to feel everything our sensors communicate to our nervous system would be overwhelming. Can you imagine being constantly aware of each and every piece of clothing you are wearing, the acrylic on your fingernails, the perfume you wore over three hours ago, the jewelry you have on, and the empty spot for each piercing you have? Intense right?! That is why the brain provides us with only what we need to properly function and survive.

In discussing the issue of the nervous system and reality from this perspective, one controversial issue has been that of perception variations. If we hold true, that for each individual there is a brain that is concocting its own summation of the continuous present, then there are ample rooms available for summation variations. On the one hand, it is reassuring to know that on a fundamental level we are all the same, yet very unique individuals. On the other hand, it is somewhat unsettling to know that the variations have the prospect of being so diverse. Some are convinced that regardless of variations we all come to an average summation that is more or less equal, others maintain that some perceptions are consistently different due to experiences, position/place in society and age among others.

In addition to a summation of the sensors’ input, the brain also makes up for the retina’s lack of a photo receptor in the back of the eye where the optic nerve connects the eyes to the rest of the brain. In other words, due to the opening in the back of the eye, each eye has a blind spot (oh yes, you’re walking around with two big blind spots). The brain fills in the information for us, so we never know what it is we are not seeing in each sight.

Take color for instance, after learning how color is not something out there but something that is perceived by the eyes cones and rods and is as individual as the two set of eyes themselves, professor Grobstein aimed to start a discussion on whether or not we should label people color blind. One of my classmates raised her hand and claimed something to the effect that it is our world, thus we should label people who do not see color similar to the mainstream colorblind if we want to. Flabbergasted, I brought it up during lunch with a few of my friends. To my surprise, two of the four of us at the table agreed with her comment. At that moment I really had to step back and wonder: why do we feel entitled to label someone if they are out of the norm? Of course truckloads of sociological perspectives could come to my rescue for that question; however, I was looking at it from a neurobiological perspective. So I continued to ponder on what it is about the human brain that pushes us to put people in categories under the pretense of truthfulness: ‘If she thinks that blue is green then she is indeed color blind’. Then it dawned on me: our brain only fills in or summarizes what we are lacking; the blank if you wish, with something familiar. Therefore, when faced with something completely new it aims to categorize it with something it already knows in order to make it more palatable to the human experience. That is why we label; so what is foreign and out of our frame of reference becomes less foreign and less threatening. The brain fills in the blank and thus individually colors our everyday perception and understanding.

This leads the way for another aspect that we have yet to consider. We have not talked about this specifically, however it is insinuated in class that we are born pre-wired in some way to enter the world. Although I agree that we are predisposed to learn languages and to adapt, I cannot accept the overall insinuation that we enter the world with a set of predispositions that determine most of our traits and characteristics. I believe that one’s environment, experiences, available resources and opportunities, among other things, allow one to develop differently from another that does not have these same inputs into the nervous system. It’s similar to language, we are born ready to learn languages, but we have no predisposition towards a particular language or culture. We embrace whatever language we are born into and learn how to express ourselves from that perspective. Subsequently that perspective will serve as a pair of lens through which our experiences will undoubtedly be viewed and understood.

In conclusion, according to the findings of neurobiologists, everything that we see and understand is not “out there” but in us, in our nervous system. Knowing this information, we should all be aware that there is much room for variations. Thus it is important that we allow ourselves to be more open-minded when it comes to different experiences and cultures because it is not a matter of one being better than the other, it’s a matter of perception. Who’s to say that your perception and the culture that you grew up in and became a part of, is not the one that is completely wrong?





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