Senses Inaccurate

Question of The Day January 28, 2013 ~ Senses Inaccurate

“Do the senses lie?
Have your senses ever lied to you?
How did you find out?”

The short answer is yes.

A more meaningful answer is much longer.

All information contains noise. Noise in this scientific sense is sources of error.

There are many possible sources of noise, noise in the signal, noise in the sensor, noise in transmission, noise in every sort of process that signal undergoes, prior to it becoming the final signal that produces a sensation to our awareness.

There are many levels of processing that any signal goes through, before it gets to our awareness, and at many different levels, new information from senses is compared to prior information from experience, and classified or modified on that basis.

So what we get to experience, is rarely, if ever, exactly what our senses received, there is always many levels of processing to ensure that our very slow awareness is presented only with the information that is most relevant to our current situation.

Exactly how our sense organs, nervous systems, and brains do that is a subject for many years of study at home or university. My own understanding of it involves many years of study of physics, chemistry, mathematics, statistics, probability, biochemistry, neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, cybernetics, systems theory, information theory, computer theory and programming, as well as many years study of myself and nature (as a professional fisherman and hunter).

I am very clear that the world I experience is not the world as it is, but the world that my neural system presents to my awareness based upon a mix of current sense data and past experience (which experience includes all of my childhood cultural conditioning).

One of the most vivid examples was on my fishing vessel, after working 3 days without a break, and seeing an eel on the deck, which I jumped over, only to look back and see only a vague dark smudge on the deck. At that point, I decided it was time to stop fishing, go back to port, and get some sleep (I had made the average annual income in those 3 days, and I was clear that I had pushed my systems to a limit where they were now providing me with invalid information that could put my life at risk).

A much more common example is that of anyone who is receiving instrument training for flying an aircraft in cloud without a visual horizon. Without constant information from multiple senses to establish which way is up, it is very easy to become disoriented, and think that down is up, or anywhere in between; it only takes a few seconds to happen. During training we are all given the experience, and everyone gets it, very fast. The only way to maintain spatial awareness in cloud is to keep up a regular instrument scan, going from compass, to airspeed, to altimeter, to attitude, to turn and bank, to artificial horizon (if fitted), to engine RPM, and back around; and not fixating on any one of them. Any single instrument by itself can lead you astray. It is only in combination that they provide reliable orientation.

Much the same can be said for all aspects of life.

Then there are all manner of experiences that can be induced by interfering with the brain with various classes of drugs, or various magnetic, electrical or mechanical stimulation of specific areas. It is a vast and fascinating subject.

For myself, all of this combined experience, leaves me very clear that my conscious awareness is the tiny tip of a vast amount of parallel processing of information from both current and past contexts, current and past sense data, current and past outcomes; and that while we definitely have a great deal of control in the choice of conscious context that we bring to the process, there is, and always will be, a great deal of it that is beyond both our control and our understanding – the amount of information involved is just that vast that we have no hope of consciously comprehending it. Our consciousness operates on the results of all that processing, not on the processing itself.

That just seems to be the nature of this thing we call awareness.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see
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