Humanity | MPI Philosophy

Imagination And Reality

Research from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden indicates our imagination can change our perceptions of reality. It appears that your mind can literally play tricks on you by changing illusions of what you think you hear and see into what seems like reality. The research helps us understand how the human brain combines information from the different senses and how imagination can alter mind-brain function.

“We often think about the things we imagine and the things we perceive as being clearly dissociable,” says Christopher Berger, a doctoral student at the Department of Neuroscience and lead author of the study. “However, what this study shows is that our imagination of a sound or a shape changes how we perceive the world around us in the same way actually hearing that sound or seeing that shape does. Specifically, we found that what we imagine hearing can change what we actually see, and what we imagine seeing can change what we actually hear.”

The research involved a series of experiments that used illusions where sensory information from one sense changed or distorted one’s perception of another sense. The results suggest that you can use mindfulness training to look at the world with an optimistic perception of the world or a cynical and pessimistic lens. These explanatory styles can alter your perceptions of reality.

In the first experiment, participants experienced the illusion that two passing objects collided rather than passed by one-another when they imagined a sound at the moment the two objects met. In a second experiment, the participants’ spatial perception of a sound was biased towards a location where they imagined seeing the brief appearance of a white circle. In the third experiment, the participants’ perception of what a person was saying was changed by their imagination of a particular sound.

These findings suggest that your explanatory style and mindfulness training can influence how you perceive reality at a neuronal level. 

Next article in this series: “Science Of Imagination”

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