Your Brain Is an Illusion Factory: Time, Color, Causality | Dean Buonomano

Your brain is playing tricks on you. And most of the time you have no idea what is really going on.

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Dean Buonomano: Time is complicated, I think more so than space. If you think about our mammalian ancestors, our mammalian cousins, all animals have a fairly good understanding of space in the sense that they know where a predator is located behind a tree; or if my dog loses its treat it knows to go behind the couch or beside the couch or over the couch.

But time—we navigate space, right. We take left turns, we have a map of space within our heads and we know that if somebody goes around the corner where we can go after them.

But time we don’t navigate time, right. Time is this one way street. And I think in part because of that time is something that we never involved to manipulate to map out because we have very little options. Time doesn’t have any branches or right turns or exits or 180 degree wraparounds. So I think the brain of most mammals didn’t involve to manipulate, to think about time as much as in space.

Although I think humans are unique in the sense that we and perhaps we alone have this notion of past, present and future being fundamentally different from each other an ability to map out time. And the same is true by the way in science. If you think about what’s probably the first field of modern science. Let’s say that’s geometry, right. Geometry, as formalized by Euclid over 2000 years ago is probably the first field of modern science. And why?

I think the reason is is because the universe is a simpler place if we can ignore time. So geometry is basically the study of a universe in which nothing changes. It’s space and objects that don’t change in time. It took another 2000 years for people, great scientists like Galileo and Newton to fully incorporate time into mathematics and physics and to further bring physics into its renaissance in which it fully embraced time and its complexity. Biology as well. Up until the 1800s biology was fairly static until Darwin came along playing the role of Galileo and said “Look, species change. They’re in motion. They’re mutating and adapting.”

I think neuroscience is just reaching that stage now in which it’s fully coming to embrace the time and its full complexity along with dynamics and look at the brain as a time machine of sorts.

So the brain is indeed an illusion factory. Many of the things that we experience in the world around us are an illusion in one sense of that word. So a common example is color.

So color we perceive in this vivid array of different sensory experiences, is something that in many ways an illusion because color doesn’t exist in the physical world.



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