Savage Thoughts -- The Mind, The Eye, and the Mind's Eye
By Leo Savage
We don't see as well as we think we do. Bear with me -- this is going
somewhere. Really, the only sharp focus in your entire field of view is
a spot about the size of your thumbnail held at arm's length. It doesn't
normally seem like that, unless we conciously pay attention. Why not?
Worse than that -- we don't hear as well as we think either. Or feel, or
smell, or anything. Why not?
The answer is that we aren't really experiencing the world around us.
Our minds run a simulator, updating it (from time to time, here and
there) with input from our senses, and that is what we're really
experiencing. Here are some examples to prove it to you:
Have you ever been looking for something and been unable to find
it until it's pointed out to you? Of course you have. The shaving cream
is right there in front of you, but you can't see it until your
significant other says "It's right there! and points to it. Then
suddenly it is there, and you can't understand why you didn't see
it before. The reason is because it wasn't there in your simulator
until some external influence forced your mind to include it.
If you've ever moved to a totally new place, you've had the
experience that the new place is huge, vast, confusing. Until you've
lived there awhile, and then it's small and comforting. This is because
the "map" of the place isn't in your simulator at first. Every time you
turn around, your brain has to sort through hundreds or thousands of
impressions because it doesn't already have it all in your simulator.
Related to that is a little exercise I learned from a fellow who
taught me photography. You may find it educational. Take a camera and
go to a place you think you know. Close your eyes, turn around a few
times, snap a picture, turn around some more, and then open your eyes.
When you get the picture developed, you probably won't recognize it.
This is because you unconciously frame a photograph based on what you
already expect to see (because of what is in your simulator). Try this
little exercise -- you will be amazed.
Have you ever experienced deja vue? This is where you go to
someplace totally new to you, but it feels very familiar, as if
you've been there before. This happens because your simulator is pulling
up a simulation based on something you have seen before. The
experience isn't perfect, because the reality doesn't really match the
simulation very well, but the experience is quite eerie.
Somewhat less common is jamais vue. This is where you are in
a familiar place, but it feels like a strange place. This is
because your simulator is not pulling up the familiar simulation, but is
instead treating it like a novel situation (as with moving to a strange
place, mentioned above).
Even less common is presque vue, which is where you are in a
familiar place, and it feels like a familiar place, but it also feels as
if there are things about it that you aren't quite seeing. This is
caused by your simulator adding things that your senses don't indicate.
This is a harder one to explain, but I think it's caused by your
simulator pulling up the wrong simulation, so you keep getting hints of
things that aren't there. This is rare, but is even more eerie than
When you see something totally new, it takes awhile for it to make
sense. I've had this happen a few times watching far-out movies, but
also in other contexts. Your eyes just can't grasp the sense of what
you're looking at until it has been integrated into your simulator.
This even explains dreams. When you go into the dream state, you are
experiencing your simulator running with no external input at all, or
perhaps random input, which makes it go off in all directions. In
addition, you have a mental censor that keeps check on your simulator to
make sure that it stays within reasonable bounds, but the censor is
disengaged during dreams, so you will accept whatever your simulator
shows. This is why "dream logic" is so strange. The oddest things can
happen in dreams, but during the dream you will accept it.
Peripherally, this also explains how you can "not believe your eyes",
because your eyes reported something that your mental censor is rejecting.
So far, this isn't all that revolutionary. Lots of people have theorized
that what we see isn't really the world around us. I am, perhaps, going
a bit farther than most, since I am presuming that our senses are very
much poorer than we normally think. The world does not appear to us to
be a big fuzzy blur with one sharply focused spot, because that is not
how our simulator presents it to us. But that is how our eyes
present it to us. Similar things happen with all of our senses, but it's
harder to explain or demonstrate because we are so strongly visually
But now I will take a bit of a departure. I don't think our memories are
all that good either. Just as we see the real world as a simulator
updated by little bits of real-world input, I think we experience
memories as simulations based on little bits of remembered input. It is
well understood by police and criminal investigators that the worst sort
of evidence is eye-witness accounts. This is because five spectators to
the same sequence of events will give five totally different accounts of
what happened. All will give quite detailed reports, and all the reports
will differ markedly as to the details, and usually as to the gross facts
as well. Your quite vivid recollection of an event will differ markedly
from that of others, who have just as vivid a recollection as you -- just
different. Anyone who is married, or who has had a "significant other"
for any length of time, will have ample proof of this.
All of this is well established. Where I am adding to what I have heard
or read before is in explaining the "why" of it. Just as your eyes do not
report the entirety of what you see, serving only to enable your internal
simulator to recreate the world around you, so also your memory does not
report the entirety of what you remember, serving only to enable your
internal simulator to reconstruct the memory you think you have.
I'm not sure quite where this insight gets us, but at least it's worth