There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. ~ Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Just another little brain twister from the friendly folks at Tentative Equinox.
There have been many simple yet really astounding experiments done using prism glasses. Here’s one. Here’s another. The gist of it is that after wearing a set of glasses that distort our view of the world, the brain adapts to see the world in its accustomed view. For instance, after wearing prism glasses that turn everything upside down, the brain will soon start to switch the image right side up. Once you take off the glasses, there is an adjustment period where the world will again appear upside down because the brain has to re-learn NOT to switch the image.
My rhetoric professor once posed this question to the class. A person blind since birth goes into have an operation to restore his sight. After the operation is completed successfully, the patient is lying in his hospital bed and the doctor removes the bandages. The patient sees for the first time in his life. What does he see?
Answer: He sees a blur.
He does not yet know how to see. He doesn’t perceive the edges of objects or know how to resolve that lumpy object in front of him into a recognizable face. It takes time to create that visual map.
Another example. How many of you have had that moment just before the rake strikes you in the nose where you think “What am I seeing?” and then WHAM!. That rake coming to your face isn’t in the usual perceptions or expectations of your visual field and so you don’t see it coming. You can’t make sense of it fast enough to stop it from happening.
We’ve learned to perceive the world in a certain way. It’s very hard to see things that don’t conform to our expectations. In many ways we can only function if they do. It’s a perceptual shorthand.
I was reading a book by Alan Alda (Things I Heard While Talking to Myself). He talks about his time hosting the television show, Scientific Frontiers. One scientist wondered if our sense of smell was actually much better than we think it is. He had someone go into a library (one room, not a whole building), pull out one book, then put it back. The scientist then smelled that person’s hands, went into the library and found the book that person handled. Alan Alda tried it and chose the book right next to the book the person had handled. So, even what we believe about our sense of smell might be just common belief.
And all this has got me thinking about ALL the other limits we place on our perceptions. What we’ll allow to be true and possible and what we won’t. Specifically, I started to wonder about time.
What if time actually goes in all kinds of directions–forward, back, sideways, up, down–but we’ve adapted to force our perceptions that time moves in one direction only? Deja vu might not be a brief brain mis-fire, prophecies might actually (at times) be reports from the future. We might be able to pay that parking ticket before the cost goes up or get those library books back on time.
Maybe it would be possible to have a conversation with an alternate reality me, or a younger me, or an older me.
It would certainly make for a different world wouldn’t it?
Your turn. Tell me, what things do you suspect might be self-imposed perception and reality limits?
P.S.: Go see the full quote from Douglas Adams on flying, it’s brilliant.