What does it mean to see something with our own eyes? According to recent brain research, not much. I’ve been thinking about this lately having read Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. According to the author, David Eagleman, our brains are quite adept at interpreting the barrage of information our eyes present and creating a cohesive picture of the world. In fact, every moment we have our eyes open our brains are assimilating the data from both eyes to create what we call vision.
What most of us never realize is that our eyes have a blind spot. Both eyes have a spot slightly off center that cannot see anything (there are visual graphics that demonstrate this point). While at close distances this effect is minuscule, panorama experiences make this quite profound since no one experiences two voids of darkness when looking at a country field, a sunset, or across the room. Our brains take all the data our eyes have provided and fills in the rest of the picture to compensate for these spots. This is precisely why all of us do the occasional double take having thought we saw something that wasn’t really there, our brains mistakenly filled the void.
This has me thinking about all the gaps in reality we have, and not just visually. Our brains are very good at taking all the random information we receive, all the random experiences, and presenting a coherent view of reality that may or may not be accurate. Most of us can look back on childhood and realize how much our perceptions and ideas have changed, and, as we grow older, many of us can look back at how our opinions have continued to evolve.
What concerns me is how we can also hold our current opinions and perceptions as absolute truth. We can easily find ourselves thinking our own beliefs, politics, and way of life is some how divinely ordained, when, in fact, we simply have too many gaps, too many blind spots, to hold such attitudes.
Quite simply, our brains are profoundly fallible.