the illusory nature of perception: senses can be deceiving

This note contains a very important concept that has had a profound impact on my outlook on life and I have been thinking a lot over writing this important theme to add to our Ponder series. This is a very important concept that can shake up your consensus and is a very important secret of the true nature of our life in this world. I would recommend paying very close attention to these notes and read it very attentively and carefully thinking about it and slowly pondering on it to make the most benefit of them. I am hoping that this is conveyed well. And to note in particular, this is not a philosophical opinion, it’s the latest bleeding edge scientific consensus as well. Thank you so much for your glance and I truly hope that this touches you in some way.

We all have a basic, intuitive understanding of how our senses work. From a very young age, we are taught that we see the world with our eyes, hear sounds with our ears, feel textures and temperatures with our skin. Through these sensory modalities, we build up our perceptions of an external reality existing independently of ourselves. We grow accustomed to the idea that our senses provide us a window into the real, objective world around us.

But is this really the case? When we take a closer look at the scientific findings regarding perception and neuroscience, a very different picture emerges – one that calls into question the reliability of our senses and the nature of reality they purport to reveal. As it turns out, the relationship between our perceptions and the world we think we are perceiving is far more complex than our intuitive assumptions would suggest. In truth, our senses present more of an illusion than a direct experience of objective reality.

Let’s explore this concept in more detail. The starting point is that our senses do not actually perceive the external world in its original, unmodified form. Rather, specific physical stimuli – like light, sound waves, molecular odorants and flavor compounds – enter our sensory organs like the eyes, ears, nose and tongue. But these stimuli are not transmitted directly to the brain in their original state. Instead, they are transformed. Light is converted into electrochemical signals by photoreceptor cells in the retina. Sound waves cause mechanosensitive hair cells in the cochlea to fire action potentials. Volatile molecules bind to olfactory receptors, initiating intracellular signaling cascades.

This initial transduction is just the beginning. The sensory signals then travel via neural pathways to specialized processing centers located deep within the brain. It is here, in areas such as the primary visual cortex or auditory cortex, where the raw sensory input gets fully reconstructed and interpreted. Complex neural computations synthesize tactile textures, object contours, melodic patterns, harmonies and more – all from the basic stimulus encodings. Only after this extended transformation do we begin to experience sights, sounds, smells and other qualitative sensations.

Let’s deeply think about the act of seeing. The process of seeing is quite remarkable when explored further. When light from an object, such as the flame within a glass lamp, enters our eye, it first passes through the outer lens. This lens bends and focuses the light rays, making them converge on the retina at the back of the eye. Here, specialized light-sensitive cells called photoreceptors convert the patterns of light energy into electrical nerve signals. These signals then travel through the optic nerve into the brain. It’s at this point where things become truly fascinating.

You see, the place where these signals are finally decoded into the experience of vision is located deep in the brain, within an area called the visual cortex. Despite being positioned at the very back of the cranium, this tiny region – only a few cubic centimeters in size – is where sight truly happens. All the complex imagery we perceive, from books to breathtaking landscapes, is reconstructed within this small zone based on the neurological impulses sent from the eyes. What’s more, the visual cortex is encased in neural tissue, completely isolating it from any external light. So while we may view a flickering flame through a glass lamp, the process of sight takes place entirely in the brain which is pitch dark. Our brain constructs vibrant scenes of color and illumination behind perceptions, yet the organ doing the perceiving lives in perpetual darkness. Though a mundane act, seeing reveals the marvelous creativity in our inner vision – we watch light and scenes with eyes that have never directly witnessed either. It is a curious paradox that illuminates how much is hidden behind even our most familiar senses. Think about it. Have you thought about this before?

Now, all other senses like smell and taste also work in the same manner.

The sense of smell works through a process just as fascinating as sight, if not more so. Consider a boy bent over a colorful rose bush, breathing in the sweet fragrance. On a molecular level, delicate scent compounds are evaporating off the flowers’ petals and making their way to his nose.

There, specialized receptor cells located within tiny hairs in the nasal epithelium await contact. When the airborne odor molecules dock with these receptors, they initiate a complex signaling cascade. Impulses are then transmitted through the olfactory nerve deep into the brain – particularly two small processing areas called the olfactory bulbs and olfactory cortex. It is within this dark, inward space that smell truly emerges. The boy’s experience of the rose’s perfume exists solely as patterns of neural activation, reconstructed from the basic molecular registration at the periphery. Quite remarkably, the scent-producing molecules themselves never internally penetrate past the nose – all that travels inward are electrochemical representations. So while the boy inhales nature’s fragrance with evident enjoyment, the true nature of that outside stimulus remains quite veiled. His perception of the rose is fabricated within his mind, through processes that convert sensory essence into an internal experience we term “smell.” All the scents he knows, be they pleasant or foul, inhabit only his brain – their outer reality remaining obscure and unknowable.

The sense of taste functions in an analogous way. Located on the tongue are different types of chemical receptors tuned to detect saltiness, sweetness, sourness and bitterness.

When foods or beverages make contact, these receptors transduce the perceptual qualities into neuronal signals. The experience of flavor truly emerges further inland, after transmission via the cranial nerves to destinations like the gustatory cortex. Here, our impression of a chocolate bar’s richness or a fruit’s natural sweetness arises solely as reformatted electrochemical activity. Remarkably, we never literally taste the food item itself – only our brain’s reconstruction from limited data. If these gustatory pathways were severed, as in nerve damage, one could place anything in the mouth yet experience no sensory experience of flavor whatsoever. Further, there is no guarantee that what one perceives as “tasting chocolate” is equivalent to another’s perception of the same substance. Fundamentally, taste remains a solitary phenomenon – even when experiencing so-called external qualities, each is confined to their own subjective reconstruction alone.

In other words, what we perceive through our senses bears no true resemblance to the physical stimuli themselves or the events occurring in the external world. Our perceptions are fabricated worlds consciously experienced solely within the confines of our brains, despite the intuitive illusion that they correspond to reality. We never directly experience objective qualities “out there” – only our brain’s best guess reconstruction and interpretation of limited sensory data. Even qualities like color that seem intrinsic to objects are mere neural constructions, as evidenced by cases of color blindness.

You think reality is what your hands can touch and your eyes can see. But in dreams as well, you can see with your eyes and touch with your hands. The important thing though, is that in dreams your real hands and eyes aren’t doing anything – it’s all happening in your brain.
Your dreams make you feel like you’re living in a real world, but there’s nothing real about the dream world except what’s in your head. This should make you realize something – your real world might not be real either! When you’re awake, your brain is just making you think this life is real, like how it makes dreams feel real while you’re sleeping.
The only difference between dreams and real life is that real life feels more solid because that’s what we’re used to because of our habits. But when you think about it, there’s no logical reason the world has to keep going when you wake up compared to a dream ending. Your brain could just be keeping you stuck in a really long dream the whole time! So maybe one day you’ll “wake up” from earth like you wake from a normal dream. It’s all happening inside your head either way.

The implications of this insight are profound. We are confined within and defined by our brain’s internally generated models, unaware of any reality that may lie beyond them. No matter how vivid or high-definition our sensations feel, they remain clever illusions – adaptive representations but not direct contact with absolutes. Our perceptions do not so much reveal reality as construct it.

This interpretation is further supported by neurological experiments demonstrating that sensory pathways are bi-directional and context-dependent. Stimulating or inhibiting different brain regions can respectively generate pseudoperceptions in the absence of stimuli or entirely block real stimuli from consciousness as per latest studies. If perceptions were hard-wired reflections of an objective world, these manipulations should not alter experience so radically. The malleability of perception undermines any claim of veridical correspondence with external facts.

Perhaps most remarkably, even our basic sense of self, our physical body and surroundings arise as byproducts of neural interpretation rather than direct acquaintance. Our perception of the physical body, the boundaries between self and other, and the space immediately around us – all of these depend on a continuously updated model constructed within the brain while insulating us from direct access to whatever exists beyond. We live fully immersed within the virtual reality generated by our own neurobiology, unaware of any external reality outside this domain of representation.

In the end, all that can be said with certainty based on scientific evidence is that our perceptions arise from elaborate neural computations performed on streams of coded sensory input. Any external actualities those inputs might correspond to remain forever hidden from our direct experience due to the filtering and modeling functions of the brain. At best, our senses provide us adaptive illusions – but they cannot be taken at face value as transparent windows onto objective truth.

This insight leaves modern people in a strange position. We have developed complex cultures, societies and technologies based on the intuitive but ultimately illusory insights granted by our perceptions. Yet we now understand on a deeper level that the world we perceive and interact with daily is a constructed simulation, not reality as it exists independently of conscious experience. How we reconcile this novel understanding with our more primitive, intuition-based relationship to the world remains an open philosophical question. Though perception deceives, perhaps through open-minded scientific inquiry we can catch glimpses of greater truths beyond the veil of illusion.

The Illusory Self

If our perceptions do not provide veridical access to an independent external world, then what can be said about our own nature and existence? Science tells us that the brain, like all other objects we are aware of, is merely complex assemblage of basic physical components following deterministic rules. Within the brain tissue there is nothing but proteins, lipids and the electrochemical interactions between them – no immaterial soul or essence.

But then who or what is experiencing this virtual world of perception? Who is perceiving the sensations, images, thoughts and emotions arising moment to moment? We intuitively feel ourselves to be autonomous, volitional agents behind our experiences. Yet upon deeper analysis, the very notion of an independent self breaks down. Just as perceptions do not reside “out there” but are synthesised within, so too the sense of an enduring self is a fabrication of neural architecture rather than any direct acquaintance with an immutable inner essence.

Perhaps we are nothing but transient patterns of neuronal activation, momentary crystallizations of complex information flow without any permanent substratum. If even our own existence is an illusion constructed by the virtual reality simulator between our ears, then to what do we truly have access? All signs point to a supremely masterful Creator behind this extraordinarily rich simulation – an intelligent designer whose power transcends everything we can conceive based on our narrowed, model-dependent experience of existence.

Glimpses of the Absolute

Faced with incontrovertible evidence that our perceptions do not reflect any objective external reality or inner essence, one is left wondering what is the essence of existence beyond this veil of neural representation. If all is illusion, then what explains the profound ordered complexity, information and even purposeful design apparent across all scales of nature?

Reason demands there must be some Real, independent of all conceptual frameworks, which grounds this whole cosmic drama of contingent being. science and philosophy alike point to the signature of an ultimate intelligent source , an all powerful Almighty Creator behind the exquisitely detailed simulation we find ourselves immersed within. Though unseen by any faculty, the signs of suprarational creativity are everywhere evident.

Perhaps through disciplined philosophical-scientific inquiry, combining both empirical rigor and intuitive glimpses, we can catch fleeting visions of that transcendent creative authority which animates all of nature’s splendors. The insights provided by neuroscience may instead guide us to a profounder mystical appreciation of existence’s deeper purpose and meaning beyond what our senses perceive. Thanks for taking time to read this long post completely and I value and appreciate your glance a lot.

There are many scientific publications that have covered themes like this.

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