Archive for October, 2012

Oct 01 2012

See What You Feel

One of the main themes of scientific skepticism, at least one of my favorite themes, is that we cannot take the accuracy of our own perceptions for granted. We cannot trust what we remember about what we think we experienced – a principle I call neuropsychological humility. Human brains process information in a complex way, making assumptions and adjustments that are useful most of the time, but introduce multiple opportunities for misperceptions. This is partly why we need objective evidence as a check on our perceptions.

Neuroscientists continue to document the many ways in which our perceptions can be fooled. One category of such phenomena are so-called cross-modal interactions – one sensory modality influencing another. The basic concept here is that our brains are receiving multiple streams of information simultaneously and they weave those streams into one seamless experience of reality. Therefore what we see influences what we hear, and what we hear influences what we see, which influences what we feel, etc.

By exploiting these cross-modal interactions researchers can trick the brain into a false experience – by bending or breaking the rules of these interactions. They do this somewhat like magicians, creating scenarios for which evolution would likely not have prepared us.

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