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Culture & Religion

Reality Is *Very* Different from How Your Brain Perceives it

By using magnetic fields to disrupt local brain regions, scientists have recreated the kinds of distractions that happen in daily life. It turns out these distractions greatly color our perceptions.

What’s the Latest Development?

Magicians have made a living out of exploiting short circuits in the brain’s wiring. Now, psychologists are taking their tricks and testing them scientifically, showing how colored our initial perceptions of the world really are. In one test, an experimenter stopped strangers on the street to ask for directions. When two confederates walked between them, blocking the stranger’s view, the experimenter switched places with one of the stooges, but in the majority of cases, the stranger continued giving directions, not noticing that they were talking to a completely different person!

What’s the Big Idea?

What is happening inside our brain when it misperceives the world in such glaring ways? Scientists believe that simply distracting our attention is sufficient to alter our perception of the world in drastic fashion. By using a transcranial magnetic stimulator to disrupt the parietal cortex, which controls attention, scientists have found that individuals failed tests which asked them to distinguish between the faces of two different people. “Such blind spots confirm what many philosophers have long suspected: reality and our perception of it are incommensurate to a far greater degree than is often believed.”

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