Do We Construct What We See?


On Friday we had a new patio table and chairs delivered, and I promptly had it set up and arranged on the deck overlooking the lake.

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To preserve the teak wood finish, I dutifully cleaned it and applied a sealant protector.  Shortly after completing the project (why do the printed directions on these things keep getting smaller?), the rain began to fall.  As I sat in my usual spot at the dining room table, I noticed a cognitive illusion.  The deck railing was tantalizing and believably continuous through the table!

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To disabuse my brain of the illusion, I had to stand up and take a different perspective.

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Cognitive neuroscientists believe that our brain does this on a regular basis, and such necessary and purposeful illusory percepts are the subject of this intriguing TED talk by Donald Hoffman who asserts that we construct what we see to live in the moment.

We believe that some elements of our conscious, or perhaps pre-conscious visual perception comes from the ongoing comparison in the brain between input from the two eyes.  As reflected in binocular rivalry, this occurs through rapid alternation of bistable percepts with its implicit advantages and tradeoffs.

Binoc Rival

But to an even more fundamental question:  Can the binocular perception of reality be reflected in an individual’s personality, and/or vice-versa?  We believe it is, and we have noted this in prior blogs – for example regarding intermittent exotropia of the divergence excess type:  When the mind is out the eye is out, and vice-versa.  This leads to the characterization of the patient with divergence excess as trending toward global thinking and creativity.  This is so fundamental, that it colors how we approach the patient in therapy.  And in some instances, this presents considerable conflict for the patient that we must be prepared to deal with when asking them to undertake change.  On certain levels, the patient guides us as much as we guide them toward change.  As an example, so-called “anti-suppression” may be protective for the patient’s mode of processing and visual stability.  If we ask the patient to forego that, we have to substitute an alternate way of seeing that confers a convincing advantage.  It is our version of what Donald Hoffman refers to as re-constructing the visual world.

These changes occur, without being sought, when patients are rehabilitating from brain injury.  And if we’re lucky, the conditions that we arrange and the conflicts that arise are solved in synergistic ways by the patient and the therapist.  I was reminded of the intimacy between personality and the visual perception of reality when our colleague, Dr. Pat Pirotte, sent me this link today.

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