Have you ever stopped to consider the nature of your own consciousness? What if we told you that the contents of your consciousness are simply controlled hallucinations? This theory may sound far-fetched, but it’s a concept that scientists have been exploring for over a century. In this article, we’ll delve into the second aspect of consciousness: content. We’ll discover that what we consciously experience as real is just our brain’s best guess at reality.
The Blind, Deaf, and Unfeeling Brain
Whenever we are conscious, we are conscious of something: sights, sounds, smells, or our own thoughts. And usually, we have a distinct feeling that what we are conscious of corresponds directly to what’s out there in the world. But that’s not really the case. Our senses are not like windows that allow our brain an unfiltered view of the world. Far from it! Our brain is actually blind, deaf, and unfeeling. It just does its best to make sense of the nerve signals coming in from our sensory organs.
The Process of Unconscious Inference
In the nineteenth century, German scientist Hermann von Helmholtz came up with a radical new idea. He suggested that any perception was a process of unconscious inference. Drawing on past experience, our brain is constantly forming hypotheses about what’s out there in the world, and then uses sensory signals to correct those hypotheses. Conscious perception doesn’t work from the outside in, but from the inside out.
The Reality of Perceptual Hallucinations
This is what makes the contents of our consciousness like hallucinations; our brain is essentially making them up. Luckily, these are usually controlled hallucinations. It’s true that our brain constantly makes predictions about the world, but it uses sensory signals to correct those predictions. In real hallucinations, our perceptual expectations are so strong that they become untethered from external reality. In many ways, what we call reality is just the perceptual hallucinations we all agree on.
So, is the whole world just a dream? No. There’s a physical world out there, and its physical objects have primary qualities like texture, motion, and the occupation of space. But their secondary qualities – like color, taste, or smell – all depend on our perceptions of them. Understanding that the contents of our consciousness are controlled hallucinations can give us a new perspective on the nature of reality and our own minds. Next time you’re conscious of something, remember that it’s just your brain’s best guess at reality.