EPISODE RELEASED 1st NOV 2022

HOW MUCH OF OUR PERCEPTION COMES FROM THE INSIDE-OUT, RATHER THAN THE INSIDE-IN? IS OUR SHARED REALITY ACTUALLY A SHARED HALLUCINATION?

In this episode we have the fascinating proposition that what we call reality is in fact a hallucination we all agree on, to consider. We’ve already heard in this second series in Episode #28 from physicist Paul Davies on ‘The implications of Einstein’, that indeed matter is energy and as such the world we see as solid objects with space between them, isn’t truly like that. We’ve also heard from cognitive scientist Don Hoffman that we see the world optimised for ‘fitness’ in the evolutionary sense, and not for truth i.e not to see it as it actually is. So in the same vein in this episode we’re going to find out from a brilliant neuroscientist that we are in what he calls a ‘controlled hallucination’. That neuroscientist is none other than Anil Seth.

 

Anil Seth is a professor of cognitive and computational neuroscience at the University of Sussex. He is also the co-director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science. He has published over 100 scientific papers and is the editor-in-chief of the Oxford University Press publication ‘Neuroscience of Consciousness’. His TED talk ‘Your brain hallucinates your Conscious reality’ has more than 11 million views.

 

His new book ‘Being You: a new science of consciousness’, which expands on most of what we’ll discuss today, is a Sunday times top 10 best seller, and a New statesmen, Economist and Bloomberg book of the year.

 

I’ve wanted to speak with Anil since I heard about his theory, as it seemed to match some of my worries about the disconnect between what we perceive and what is actually there, and how much of what we see is coming from our own mental and biological state, and our biases at the time.

 

What we discuss:

00:00 Intro

03:00 A first realisation of mortality

05:41 A ‘prediction machine’ perceiving from the inside-out, as well as perceiving sensory info outside-in.

10:00 Interoception: predictions about the body for self-control/regulation

14:00 The rubber-hand illusion: the prediction machine is not perfect

17:00 The more hypnotisable you are, the more these sensory discrepancies can occur

19:00 The risk of our best predictions being considered truth rather than hypothesis

21:55 Call for participants - new ‘Perception Census’ study of subjective experience

23:00 Cultural humility about differences in our perceptions and beliefs

24:15 Why we call reality is a ‘controlled hallucination’

26:55 ‘We can’t see the world as it really is’

28:40 Hallucination lies on a continuum

30:00 Pareidolia - seeing patterns in things

31:30 The body has shaped the predictive brain for survival

34:00 Brain body bidirectionally vs reductionism

37:30 Supervenience

38:00 Can different levels of description be primary to each other?

46:00 The self is illusory

47:10 The self is a collection of perceptions

 

References:

Anil Seth, ‘Being you’

The Perception Census - Call for participants

Anil on Joans Kaplan’s ‘Float podcast

Immanuel Kant’s idea, Noumenon, ’the world is hidden behind a sensory veil’

Pareidolia - seeing patterns in things

The Dream machine - Interactive flickering light experiment