Our perception of our reality is based entirely on the information supplied by our five senses, i.e. that of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Ultimately, these are all chemical reactions created by stimuli from our surroundings transformed into electrical signals and fed directly into our brain. Our brain has the unenviable task of interpreting these signals into the picture that is made up of our reality. To paraphrase a quote from A Course in Miracles, we give all meaning to all we see around us. Or, we see exactly what we want to see.
If we start with us, we can say we are constructed of millions upon millions of cells all gathered together to form our body. The constituents of any cell are a collection of molecules (several atoms bound together in specific ways) interacting to provide a particular function and, together with other cells, will create a complete human being, a bird, an animal, a rock, a crystal etc.
An atom is composed of one or more electrons orbiting a central nucleus. The constituents of an atom are extremely small, so small in fact that there is vastly more space than there is solid. Extrapolating, we are mostly empty space. What we think of as solid matter is actually mostly empty space. Atoms move around so energetically that we perceive the billions upon billions of them as forming solid objects. So, in reality nothing physical exists. Everything therefore, exists in its energetic form, as energy masquerading as physical objects.
This energy is in the form of waves – vibrations or oscillations. These waves can be likened to television signals – they contain information, but before you can see that information, you will need a television set to translate the signals to view the picture. Our brain can be thought of as a television set interpreting the information it receives via our senses.
Sound waves travel through the air by rapid changes in air pressure. These waves arrive at our ears and create movement in the cochlea fluid causing the tiny hair cells to vibrate. This vibration generates an electrical charge which is directed towards the brain via the nerve fibres. Our brain interprets this electrical stimuli as sound. Does an echo exist if there is no one there to hear it? The answer of course, is no. The changes in air pressure are simply an oscillation, it is the brain of a living being that gives the echo all its meaning.
The eye consists of many thousands of cells which respond to light. There are basically four types of cell, one that reacts to intensity of light and three which react to the three primary colours of red, green and blue. In response to light falling upon them, these cells generate tiny electrical currents which travel down the optic nerve to the brain. As with the ear, the brain will then interpret these signals into the picture we see. In fact, it would be more correct to say ‘think we see’ for nothing really exists. Light can also be considered as a wave motion.
Someone shows you a picture of black blobs on a white background. Can you see what the image represents or is it still just a series of blobs? The image is actually a Dalmatian dog. It does take a moment for the brain to interpret what it is ‘seeing’ but the picture eventually forms into a dog. Of course, it is not really a picture of a dog, it is just an impression. The brain is the force that gives the image all the meaning it has. In the end, the picture is still just an illusion, a shape of the black blobs on a white background.
Have you ever wondered why, when looking up at the clouds, when looking at patterned curtains or carpets, you see faces and objects like animals. The brain interprets these indefinable shapes as something recognisable. This ability is very ancient and prehistoric. It is a safety measure harking back to the early days when man took his first step out in the wilderness. This capability gave humans an advantage over other mammals in allowing a quicker response to danger. Animals and birds usually only respond to movement. That is why cats can stalk birds easily.
The most fundamental and basic instinct of a new born baby is to be able to ‘see’ its mother. This instinctual feature allows the infant to ‘see’ and recognise the shape of two eyes, a nose and a mouth and interprets this as protection and nurturing. The infant responds to this primal shape easily as it programmed into our nature. It is so ingrained in our make-up that we too respond to these shapes even though we, as adults, no longer need to be in that nurturing, protective space. We still ‘see’ faces and animals in clouds and curtains.
When a child is born its brain is not yet fully developed. It consists of a labyrinth of synaptic pathways connected in a myriad of different ways resembling a spiders web. In fact one part of the brain is actually called the arachnoid. As impulses travel from the outside via the senses, many synaptic pathways are reinforced with continual use while others wither through lack of use. When a baby first reaches out for a toy, it misses repeatedly, but the moment a touch is felt, the brain triggers the synaptic pathway for that touch and it gets reinforced.
This cause and effect scenario continues with our sight and touch until the eye-hand coordination is developed to a point where we can interact with our environment without conscious thought. The other senses play their own part in the matrix of our brain, building and reinforcing pathways and destroying others to form the picture we have of our environment. No synapses are destroyed, they simply unhook from the surrounding tissue and move elsewhere to assist in creating new connections.