How perception underpins everything we think, know, and believe

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Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently by Beau Lotto, Hachette Books, US $28.00, Pp 352, April 2017, ISBN 978-0316300193

On February 26, 2015, a photo named “The dress” went viral on the internet when half of the viewers saw the dress as blue and black and the other half saw it as white and gold. The photo originated from a washed-out color photograph of a dress on the social networking service Tumbir. In the first week after the dress surfaced, more than 10 million people tweeted about it. The dispute over the color prompted the question: “When you open your eyes, do you see the world as it really is? Do we see reality?” In Deviate, world renowned neuroscientist Beau Lotto says that we don’t see reality. Lotto explains how we see the world, and how we can see the world differently. He argues that we don’t see the world as it really is because our brains did not evolve to see the world accurately. What we see is subjective, not objective. He shows that everything we know is filtered by each individual’s past experiences.

This world exists. It’s just that we don’t see it. We do not experience the world as it because our brains didn’t evolve to do so. Beau Lotto says that it’s a paradox of sorts: Your brain gives you the impression that your perceptions are objectively real, yet the sensory processes that make perception possible actually separate you from ever accessing that reality directly. Our five senses are like a keyboard to a computer – they provide the means for information from the world to get in, but they have very little to do with what is then experienced in perception. They are in essence just mechanical media, and so play only a limited role in what we perceive. In fact, in terms of the sheer number of neural connections, just 10 percent of the information our brains use to see comes from our eyes. The rest comes from other parts of our brains. And this other 90 percent is in large part what this book is about. Perception derives not just from our five senses but from our brain’s seemingly infinitely sophisticated network that makes sense of all the incoming information. Using perceptual neuroscience – but not only neuroscience – we will see why we don’t perceive reality, then explore why this can lead to creativity and innovation at work, in love, at home, or at play.

Beau Lotto says that perception matters because it underpins everything we think, know, and believe — our hopes and dreams, the clothes we wear, the professions we choose, the thoughts we have, and the people whom we trust and don’t trust. Perception is the taste of an apple, the smell of the ocean, the enchantment of spring, the glorious noise of the city, the feeling of love, and even conversations about the impossibility of love. Our sense of self, our most essential way of understanding existence, begins and ends with perception. The death we all fear is less the death of the body and more the death of perception, as many of us would be quite happy to know that after “bodily death” our ability to engage in the perception of the world around us continued. This is because perception is what allows us to experience life itself… indeed to see it as alive. Yet most of us don’t know how or why our brain evolved to perceive the way it does. This is why the implications of the way the human brain evolved to perceive are both profound and deeply personal.

Deviate is a uniquely attention-gripping and revolutionary science book. It will change the way you look at the world. This well-researched book is packed with new knowledge on the working of the mind. Lotto beautifully shows how the human mind works and why our reality is different from others. Deviate is no less a mini revolution in the field of neuroscience. It breaks new paths for future scientific research. Lotto knows the art of writing a science book for lay people and making it enjoyable too. It is a must-read for everyone who is interested in how their minds work. Even a high school graduate will enjoy and benefit from it as much a neuroscientist.