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Are we all living in a 'conceptual prison' ?


Posted on Monday, 5 September, 2016 | Comment icon 18 comments

How much of reality are we actually capable of perceiving ? Image Credit: sxc.hu
Our brains may actually perceive only a fraction of reality to help ensure the survival of our species.
It might be difficult to imagine experiencing the world around us with a greater degree of perception than what we are accustomed to, especially given that we ourselves tend to assume that we already possess the pinnacle of conceptual awareness, yet by looking at some of the other species we share our world with it is possible to get an idea of the limitations that may, and probably do, exist.

The Australian jewel beetle for instance spent millions of years reproducing in the same way, but when humans appeared on the scene and started discarding empty beer bottles on the ground, the beetles were unable to distinguish between those and a potential mate - a perceptual limitation that almost resulted in the extinction of their entire species.

When it comes to humans therefore, are we really any different ? According to cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman, mankind may also be locked within a similarly restrictive conceptual prison.

"Evolution isn't about truth, it's about making kids," he said. "Every bit of information that you process costs calories, meaning that's more food you need to kill and eat. So an organism that sees all of reality would never be more fit than one tuned only to see what it needs to survive."

It is possible that our perception of reality is fundamentally restricted in much the same way as a two-dimensional creature living in a flat universe is incapable of perceiving a third dimension.

"Our perceptual system is our window on the world, but it's also a conceptual prison," said Hoffman. "It's difficult to conceive a reality outside of space and time."

Perhaps we are not all that different to the Australian jewel beetle after all.

Source: Wired.co.uk | Comments (18)

Tags: Brain, Reality, Perception

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #9 Posted by Hammerclaw on 6 September, 2016, 9:45
Humans developed intelligence far in excess of any need for mere survival. Our perceptual reality is similarly enhanced. No other living creature ever looked back at the Earth from the other side of the sky.
Comment icon #10 Posted by FlyingAngel on 6 September, 2016, 11:41
perception is how your brain process. Since the number of neurons is finite, the combination of multple neurons is also finite
Comment icon #11 Posted by paperdyer on 6 September, 2016, 16:09
In the words of Robin Williams: "Reality!  Wow, what a concept!"  I guess this hypothesis is better than the one where we are living in a hologram.
Comment icon #12 Posted by pfon71361 on 7 September, 2016, 5:56
Some suggest the universe is a computer simulation created by a highly advanced being or beings for their own edification or amusement. A movie with this very theme was made some years ago called "The Thirteenth Floor". The premise of the article is, I think, a valid one. Reality as we perceive it may be only a tiny fraction of true existence.
Comment icon #13 Posted by Trihalo42 on 7 September, 2016, 17:18
"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age." - The ... [More]
Comment icon #14 Posted by StarMountainKid on 7 September, 2016, 17:27
There's a short story by the Russian author, L.N.Anreyev, in which Lazarus, having being brought back to life from being dead, is driven mad by the terrifying infinity he experienced in his death.
Comment icon #15 Posted by highdesert50 on 7 September, 2016, 22:25
If our conceptual prison is a recognition of evolved survival, then omission of the seemingly unnecessary is favored, becoming the fodder for mathematical and philosophical speculation. Perhaps in those speculative probabilities we will find God masquerading in the guise of evolution.
Comment icon #16 Posted by Athena1979 on 15 November, 2016, 3:17
I knew the dress was black and blue.
Comment icon #17 Posted by spartan max2 on 15 November, 2016, 3:24
I don't know if prison is the best term. If we perceived everything all at once with nonething filtered I don't think we could function in the world. In a way our perception sets us free
Comment icon #18 Posted by StarMountainKid on 15 November, 2016, 23:45
The conditioned mind is limited in its perception. "If you want to see reality, loose your opinions", somebody said. We live in a conceptual prison when the mind operates through concepts. Reality is not a concept nor is it a condition of the mind. When I consider this object on my desk a coffee cup, I am not perceiving reality, I am perceiving a concept my mind has created. It is difficult to see not a coffee cup, but a form, an objective object free of conception.  It is even more difficult to perceive the object without the concept of ones self as the perceiver. When there is only perceptio... [More]


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