“Perception and The Mental Image”


Vision is not perception!
How often do people look at the same thing yet argue and disagree about what they “see”.

Perception – a better word for what we call ‘seeing’ – is a product of the mind / brain, not the eyes. The eye is nothing more than an optical lens and image detector, the retina. After that, what people’s brains do with the image is a rather individualistic and subjective process.

“…Light falls on its photoreceptors, which then transmit electrical signals to a thin sheet of neurons that immediately begins to transform the pristine image that has fallen on the retina. Even before these signals leave the eye, they have already been changed in a way that is no longer an exact representation of the world…. the information travels down the optic nerve to the thalamus and is then transmitted to the cortex, where a ‘mental image’ is constructed”.

Furthermore, the eye concentrates more on the centre of the image and misses many details at the periphery of the view. The eyes constantly move around, scanning the scene and the brain fills in the gaps by making guesses, based on your memory and past experiences, constructing the mental image. However, the brain sometimes makes incorrect assumptions about what it is seeing, as we all know from countless experiments with optical illusions.

Another important aspect is our concept of ‘reality’. Imagine a waterfall or crashing waves with foam and droplets thrown up in the air. Most people assume that a crisp, sharp picture of the droplets is ‘real’ – the ‘true’ representation of the world, while a blurry, fuzzy, and out-of-focus appearance is considered ‘un-real’, a mistake or camera effect, caused by slow shutter speeds. The human eye actually scans the scene and records snapshots of approximately 1/30 of a second. This time span, as with cameras, is by far not fast enough to record fast-moving objects crisp … to freeze action.

Here is where our perception comes into play, where the brain constructs the mental image. We only ‘think’ that we see sharp and crisp droplets, based on pictures in magazines we have seen in the past, imprinted into our memory, inages that were taken with cameras set to very fast shutter speeds. It is the mental image, ‘seen’ or constructed by the brain and, in this case, a phenomenon not possible before the invention of photography … Nobody before fast-shutter-speed photography could have ever imagined how a water droplet flying through the air looks like. Look at crashing waves with your own eyes and see if you can make out crisp detail … impossible. The commonly accepted concept of reality was changed!

“We take for granted that our perceptions of the world are real, but they are really specters of our imagination, nothing more than biological and electrical rumblings that we believe to be real”.
What we call ‘reality’ and believe to be a common entity, is really only our very personal one, based on our experiences, upbringing, gender, education … etc., amongst the other 7 billion realities. Our consciousness and personality is solely based on what the brain interprets and creates from detected external impulses.

“What we think we see, the ‘mind’s eye’ – is not only the reason why people ‘see’ things differently, but is also one of the main reasons they react differently, have different personalities, approach problems and challenges differently.
Unlike in antiquated Freudian notions, we know now that personalities and all decisions humans make can be traced to the firing patterns of neurons made in specific parts of the brain. This approach is known as ‘neuroeconomics’. It puts away with the idea of Mind-Body Dualism, that falsely separated human decision making from the messiness of the physical body – as if the mind exists separately from our bodies.

D-126-09_Droplets_KlausRossler-copy  D-142-06_Obj&StillL_KlausRossler-copy  D-48-08_Impressions_KlausRossler-copy  D-76-06_Obj&StillLife_KlausRossler-copy  D-298-08_Negatives_KlausRossler-copyNeuroeconomics was born out of the realization that the physical workings of the brain influence the way we make decisions. These discoveries make us understand human behaviour and why some people seem to march to a different drumbeat. Perception is one of the main reasons, besides ‘Fear Response’ and ‘Social Intelligence’, for the existence of the ‘Iconoclast’”.

“The iconoclast ( Greek: destroyer of icons ) is a person who does something that others say can’t be done. Consciously or not, he acknowledges the fact that creativity is also a part of destruction. To create something new, you also have to tear down conventional ways of thinking. The iconoclast creates new opportunities in any area, from artistic expression to technology to business.
He embodies traits of creativity and innovation that are not easily accomplished by committee. He eschews authority and convention. He thumbs his nose at rules”.


This article includes quotes and insights from “The Iconoclast” by Prof. Gregory Berns, Distinguished Chair of Neuroeconomics, EmoryUniversity


“Your joys and sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will – are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells, associated molecules and their electrical and chemical signals.”

Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA – the most important biologist of our time

(by the way: Hippocrates said the same in 500 BC)


see more at “The Brain Series” with Charlie Rose, available as podcasts – especially the episode “The Creative Brain”

Your comments are, as always, welcome


About Klaus Rossler - Photography

•Custom Photography-creative image solutions for tight budgets ......... •Fine Art Prints-limited editions, signed & numbered, archival quality . •Photo Restoration................................................................................ •Transfer to Digital-from prints, slides, negatives .................................. View all posts by Klaus Rossler - Photography

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