Monday, January 29, 2007

Filling in the Holes and Creating Them

One of the most interesting points in my recent foray into neurophysiology is the way in which the brain fills in patterns before they are actually received. As you read this right now, there is a gaping blind spot in each eye, a hole in the center of your field of vision. Close one eye. Can you see it? No, no you can't. Your eye moves a little every tenth of a second to compensate. Even then there still is a hole in the center, as well as general blindness in the far reaches of your peripheral vision. But if I look really closely with one eye open, I do detect something is going on.

The same is true for sounds. You actually process the notes of your favorite song before you hear them. If I hummed your favorite song, you would hear the next note, even if I stopped. If I said "he was a legend in his own ..." your brain actually processed the word "time" or my favorite alternative "mind." But I didn't have to write it for you to think it, and many times, you wouldn't even know.

Here is the interesting part: your brain fills in ambiguous information (like the blind spots, or gargled words) with known patterns, things it has learned. To be clear, you are not really seeing or hearing the real world. You hear what your brain thinks the real world is, based upon partial information and learned patterns that then deceive you into having a full view.

Now the ways in which your brain fools you into thinking you have a complete view are tremendously interesting. Sometimes it fills the holes in, sometimes it creates holes and pushes you in.

The subject of this week's posts will be exactly that: Filling in the Holes and Creating Them.

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