The Neuroscience of HappYness - Part 3 Perception Vs. Reality (27th April 2019) Reading time: Approximately 3 minutes (712 words)
Our perceptions play a very important role in how we experience "reality." Reality is what IS. What we experience is "our perception" of that reality. It is not necessary that they are the same. In fact, research shows this with the help of many illusions. Even when we are aware that how we perceive is different from "reality" our brain conjures up a very vivid and absolutely realistic experience, so much so, that our brain is left with NO OPTION than to believe that it is real.
Until a few years ago, it was thought that there was one part of the brain that was associated with sight. And what one saw, was the truth! As of now, we know that there are multiple parts of the brain associated with sight - as many as 27 different parts of the brain that perform completely different roles/tasks, and all of them are then put together in the brain, to form the "illusion" of sight. (Why the brain does this, might be the topic of the next article, coming up, next Saturday.)
For example, the "Marco Polo" of neuroscience, Dr. V. S. Ramachandran, shares the case of a man who had an injury to a part of the brain. And after the injury, he believed that his parents were imposters. He said, "They look exactly like my parents, and I KNOW they are not. They are NOT my parents." Upon deep analysis and research, Ramachandran found out that the connections between the man's "emotional" part of the brain and the "visual" part of the brain were cut. And so, when the man saw his parents, he did not "feel" the same emotions that he used to earlier. And since he did not "feel" the same way, he considered them imposters! Ramachandran shares a fascinating experiment that he did, making the parents stand behind the man and speak and he reacted as though they were his parents; and whilst speaking they moved to be in his vision, and he immediately stated they were imposters! The emotional connection with the hearing part was intact. When the man heard their voices, he felt the same emotions that he used to feel when he heard them before. However, since he did not feel the same way when he saw them, led him to believe that his parents were "imposters!"
So, what one perceives as "reality" is really something that is created within the brain, repeatedly. What we create as "reality" then become versions of "memories" (article of April 20th, 2019 - Part 2 of this series on the Neuroscience of HappYness) which are again fallible and totally untrustworthy. This then leads to the question, "What do I rely on?" The truth is, really nothing can be "relied on" totally. At each moment, one must exercise their judgment volitionally, and with awareness.
At this juncture, the Thamizh (Tamil for those who don't follow the language) saying, "Kannaal kaanbadhum poi, kaadhaal ketpadhum poi, theera visaaripadhey mei" comes to mind. This literally means, "what you "see" is not true; what you "hear" is not true; what you learn from a thorough investigation alone is real." It is necessary that each of us, reflect continuously on what we believe to be the truth - be it what we see, hear, smell, taste or feel. If not all the time, at least when we start to get agitated with something that we see, hear or feel. And this is likely to happen in close relationships, and how we perceive what is going on in the world around us. Before we jump to conclusions about people, maybe worthwhile to reflect deeply and question whether what we experience as "reality" is in fact "real!" And after that consideration, to understand that others' versions of reality might be flawed, just like ours is, and lead them to experience the world differently and to behave accordingly - which might not be to our liking. And to give others the benefit of the doubt. This might lead one to be accepting of others, and become more equanimous - which is by far the most important attribute of a "Happy" person!