An introduction to reality

By Robin H.

Where in the world is our Experience?

If we have a sound, sight or smell it exists while it is happening, the only issue is where it exists and what it is. An observation could even be imaginary but that still means it exists in your mind and brain as something.

Most people simply assume that when they look at a page of text they are seeing the page directly. If this were true then how do the grey dots where the black lines cross in the image below get seen as on the page?

Of course, the grey dots are created by your brain and are not actually on the page that is on the computer, paper etc. outside your body in front of you. If the grey dots are not on the page then where are the black lines? We know that there are lines on the physical page out there but we cannot assume that the black lines that we have in our Experience are exactly the same lines as those on that physical page. In fact, looking at the dots, it is quite likely that the lines in our Experience are some sort of copy of the lines on the physical page held in the same place as the dots.

Here is another example of something that is not actually on the page outside your body, or is it?

All the horizontal lines in the image are parallel to each other on the physical page so where are the lines that we actually have in Experience? In your “mind”? Where is that?

In reality there are four concentric circles in the image below:

Look at the image obliquely if you do not believe that you are looking at a page outside your body that has four concentric circles on it. But where in the world are these mental images of spirals? Let’s take a look.

How do we see anything?

How is there one image

Yet two eyes ?

How do we see through a finger

And the world stay still?

The sight of the page in front of you is a visual image. It is called a ‘visual image’ because there appears to be an image in front of our eyes. Images are rare in the world. Images are not found everywhere, we have to use a lens or a pinhole to create an image on a sheet of paper. Images are specially created. We can see this is true when we pick up a white piece of paper and hold it up to the light , it has no images on it. Lenses make images and without their redirection and selection of light the light that is reflected from the objects around us goes everywhere.

Our visual image is selected and projected by a lens onto the back of each of our eyes, on to the retinas. The images on our two retinas are slightly different because each eye has a different view. The images on the retinas are also upside down. It is hard to believe, but a lot of people have never noticed that when they look through one eye they get a slightly different image compared with when they look through the other eye, perhaps its because they find it hard to wink.

We can check that our eyes have different images by holding a finger up to this page about 20 cm in front of the nose and looking at the page, first through one eye then the next. If we do this manoeuvre we notice that the image of our finger jumps from one place to another relative to the page. Try doing this now. Place a finger 20 cm in front of your nose and look at the page through one eye then the next. The image of the finger jumps because it is different from one eye to another.

The image has transparent fingers!

If the images in each of our eyes are different what does a finger look like when seen through both eyes at the same time? If we keep our finger in place, 20 cm from our nose, then look at the page with two eyes we will find that the image of the finger goes transparent. We can still read the text of this page looking through the finger. Bits of text that are covered by the finger when viewed from one eye are filled in using text from the image in the other eye. This shows that what we see as a visual image is made further back in our brain than our eyes because the whole image is not to be found in either eye. Neither eye contains an image with all of the text present or an image of a transparent finger!

Our visual image is in our brain. At this stage some people might think “I am only imagining my visual image, it is an illusion” but nowadays we have all seen television cameras and the images they make on screens so the idea that the eyes act as cameras that gather images that are displayed elsewhere should not surprise us. That what we see is not directly the things we sense should be obvious. Our visual images are no more to be dismissed as illusions than the image on a video screen. If you were using a video camera to monitor the world around about, you would not say that the video image on the screen is “just an illusion”, its an image, like our visual image.

The image in our Experience is bright and dull, has colours and its parts occur simultaneously, being laid out as if seen from a point.

Reflect for a moment on this amazing “image in Experience”.

There is no accepted scientific theory of Experience.  Terms such as "emergentism" are expressions of this lack of a theory.  One day there will be a theory.

Somewhere in our brains there are some physical events that create the geometry of stuff laid out around a point (the viewing point) and with all of the image present simultaneously. We cannot see anything flowing into this apparent central point, it is just a point that visual stuff surrounds. Nothing flows into the point.

At this stage some readers may be thinking “I am only imagining the image, it doesn't really exist as an image”. This means that they agree that they have a visual image, like we do, but want to dismiss it as “imaginary”. Lets play along with the idea of “imaginary”, where would an imaginary thing exist? Most likely in our brain, so maintaining that our visual image is imaginary agrees with the idea that our visual image is in our brain. It is a real thing, in our brains, that is based on the patterns in the light that has entered our eyes to form two separate, upside-down, optical images on our retinas.

The word “imaginary” also means that it is believed that the visual image is not real. We can check the reality of our visual images by moving objects around us, the relative positions of the objects in the world correspond to the relative positions of the objects in our visual images. We have real visual images in our brains containing data about the world outside our bodies. The content of our visual images is closely based on real events in the world. It is not the same as those real events outside our bodies (for instance we saw transparent fingers in our visual image) but it is closely related to those events.

We have looked at our visual image and figured out that it is a brilliant image of the world that occurs in our heads. It has the geometry of objects projected around a point so it seems to overlay the real world beyond our heads. It is a sort of model of the world around us that is such a good model that most people believe it IS the world itself. We all act as if our visual image is the world itself whatever we know about the brain.

Our visual image is stranger still. It is more cunningly constructed than simple optical images such as those captured by cameras. Our visual images are usually stable even when we move our eyes but the simple images produced by a camera are not. As an example, if you move a camera unevenly whilst recording a movie the recording becomes chaotic and the scene jumps around, however, if you look around you without a camera the scene is stable with only your direction of view changing. How is the image in our brain held stable? It turns out that the image is mainly updated when our eyes stop moving. When our eyes are moving the image stays as it was. Our nice, stable view depends on a separate, stable model of the world existing in our brain that is carefully updated with information from our eyes.

The rapid movement of our eyes from one point to another in the view is known as a “saccade”. Our image of the world is updated at the end of each saccade. Our eyes must perform many of these rapid movements because they take in very little crisp information every time they stop. Look at this page through one eye, most people can only see two or three words clearly on a line unless they move their eye. Each eye has only a small area of the world as a clear image on its retina. Our full visual image is generated by large numbers of saccades and a lot of filling in of missing information. A map of how saccades criss-cross a photo to allow the eye to gather information for a mental image in the brain is shown above.

We can get a feel for how our Experience is updated by saccades by comparing what a line of text looks like when we stare at a word with what it looks like as we continuously read it. When we stare at a word little more than a word is clearly visible but when we scan the line several words become clear.

You can see the combined effect of the small area of detailed vision collected by your eyes and the way your visual image is not updated during eye movements (saccadic suppression) by looking at yourself in the mirror. You cannot see your eyes move in the mirror! This experiment of looking at your eyes in a mirror is well worth doing because it is so uncanny.

Let’s return to our actual Experience. When you look at this page it is obvious that light enters our eyes and, as we discussed above, something is created by the brain that is the immediate image in our Experience. If there were further processes happening the image would contain the results of these further processes. Our latest Experience is the terminus, the end point of all the processes that start with light being emitted or reflected from the page and the last bit of brain activity that composes the Experience containing the page.

If our Experience is the terminus, the end point of the transfer of information from our eyes, then at some place in our brains there is a set of events that observe themselves (even Aristotle knew this). How can a set of events observe itself? One thing is certain, because the image is the end of the line, the terminus, there cannot be any further processes that are our observation. So what is our observation?

What time is like - sound

The sounds in Experience are not like sound waves in the world outside our bodies. Sound in the world is lots of pulses of pressure in the air whereas the sound in our Experience is usually continuous tones that have a pitch. Although the sound in Experience is linked with (correlates with) pressure waves in the world it is not very much like pressure waves.

Imagine a smooth sound or say “Aah”, a nice constant sound lasting for a couple of seconds. If it lasted for a thousandth of a second we could not hear it or imagine it. How much of the sound would we hear at an instant? An instant is no time at all, it is the boundary between the past and the future and has no duration (no length of time). At each instant we could hear no sound at all. For a sound to exist it must have a definite duration in our Experience. This means that our Experience extends for the time of a sound. Just listen, you hear whole words and bars of tunes. Our Experience contains whole words extended in time. Were words not extended in time they would not be sounds in Experience.

You may be surprised that sounds extend in time. This surprise comes from our science lessons at school where sound is represented as a wave in the air. Of course, sound is really what we have as sound in our Experience, not pressure waves in the air which only correlate with what happens to our ear drums and with the electrical impulses generated in our brain. The sound in our Experience is different from the physical correlates of sound in the air and in our ears.

Sounds need time. At the moment a sound wave strikes our eardrum the eardrum is stretched to a particular position. If we were able to fix this position, holding the eardrum stationary, we would hear no sound at all. The sound only happens as positions change over time: sound happens in time. The vibrating of our eardrums becomes a pitch, or musical note in our Experience but a musical note is not like a vibrating eardrum or a wiggly wave in the air. It is only related to wiggling air waves and vibrating ear drums.

Sounds extend in time. The existence of sounds in Experience as objects that stretch through time is obvious to all of us yet most of us live as if only the instant between the past and the future exists. Which is peculiar because an instant contains no time at all.

When we have a sound in our Experience extending in time, the parts of the sound are separate and do not overlap each other. Time is like another independent direction for arranging things that is separate from the three independent directions in space (up-down, left-right, forward-back). Lets listen more closely.

A bird’s song is conventionally supposed to be entirely in the past yet we hear the bird song now. The listening point is now and the song is spread out in time over there, at the position of the image that is like a bird’s head in our Experience.

Sound in Experience is modelled by our brains to create a “virtual reality” in almost the same way as we model vision. This auditory clip shows how we fill in missing sounds and misplace the order of events:

Sound Test:  Clip of Phonemic Restoration.

(Warren, R. M. (1970) Perceptual Restoration of Missing Speech Sounds. Science 167, 392–393).

(Sound Test: click on the icon above to hear the clip demonstrating phonemic restoration and attend in particular to the temporal position of the cough).

Our brains take in the data about pressure waves in the air around us and create short clips of sound in Experience. The process of making these clips can involve filling in sounds that are not actually in the data reaching our ears and changing the order of sounds. Each clip that our brains create as Experience containing the sound is about half a second to a second long. Longer sounds involve successions of clips. Notice in the sound clip of the word “legislate” in the “Sound Test” above the missing phoneme is inserted at the correct position in the word which entails knowing how the word ends (when the missing phoneme occurs the word could be legi--late or legi--timate etc). To do this the clip in Experience must be delayed by about half a second. Our model of the world, our Experience, is about half a second behind the real, physical now.

In the same way as we can simultaneously have events distributed over space as a view in Experience at a viewing point we can simultaneously hear sounds distributed through time at a listening point:

Where more than one sense is involved the viewing point should be called an “Observation Point”.  (Like the "viewing point" the observation point is a geometrical phenomenon, not a point that receives a flow).

Imagination and Experience

When we look at this page then shut our eyes most of us can imagine the page fairly well, or at least the general layout of the page on the screen or paper. If we reach out to touch where we imagine the text to be we will find that our finger is near to the text. The space of our imaginary images overlaps the space of our visual experience. If we say “hello” then say “hello” using our inner speech without actually verbalising the word we notice that the two “hellos” are at the same place in our Experience. Everything that we think or sense is out there in Experience which is a model of the world in our brains.

Suppose we decide to think about a particular apple that we can see. If we shut our eyes and imagine the apple with its green and red skin and small stem it is out there in Experience. If we imagine the apple slowly spinning it is out there. The apple is modelled in our visual experience and when it is taken away we can model it in our mental image in Experience. Nothing flows through the observation point into our mind to be thought about, what actually happens is that the visual image of an apple is replaced by a mental image of the apple. Our thoughts (inner speech) are similarly in Experience.

A Brief Description of Experience

The discussion above of visual illusions, the two, different, upside-down images in our eyes and how the constant visual image is maintained by intermittent saccades showed us that our visual images are in our brains, not on the things that provide data to create those images.  We make a visual model about the world in our brains.  A similar process occurs in the case of sound.  What we hear is also a model of events that happened in the world.

All that occurs for us is out there in the internal model that is Experience. Our observation point is not the centre of any flow, it is a geometrical phenomenon, it is a point and nothing is in it. Actions, thoughts and all experience are out there in the model, in Experience.

This description of what actually happens is different from the way most people believe things happen. The conventional story is that when we see an apple there is an apple shaped image in the fruit bowl and when we think about the apple we transfer information about it from the image in the bowl through an impossible, single optical focal point inside our two eyes into our mind which generates words and reactions in some sort of psychical space. The common belief about how Experience occurs bears little relation to reality.

When we examine what actually happens we find that our experience, both sensory and internal, is laid out somewhere in our heads and becomes a simultaneous observation, as if from a point, due to some cunning, as yet unknown, physics that creates a geometry. The key feature of Experience is that everything we see, think or compute happens “out there” in the model. Events are in the world and a sort of copy of events is in Experience which contains a model of events in the world. Even our mind and thoughts are in the space and time of Experience. The observation point is separate from Experience but contains nothing, being a geometrical phenomenon.

Next Chapter: Qualities and how its all connected. The nature of the viewing point.


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