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Why Perspective Matters

November 14th, 2009

Our major interaction with the environment occurs via the visual system. Everybody's brain is capable to reconstruct surroundings in three spatial dimensions. We are 3D-animals which do not possess an intrinsic way of consciously measuring time or other dimensions. Perspective results from the brain's computation of electrical signaling initiated by a set of shapes, brightness levels and contrasts.

However, as a result of system-inherent restrictions even our 3D perception of the outer world is unprecise: Incoming signals are processed with a specific uncertainty and ambiguity. Therefore, optical illusions are part of our quotidian lives. What you see is what your brain perceives: a digitalized blurred interpolated version of the environment. The degree of details in the brains representation of the outer world largely depends on the focus of attention, context, and emotional evaluation.

Historical neuronal changes affect our way to perceive the outer world by enhancing the threshold for perspective changes. As a consequence we are rather inflexible in changing our perspectives and depend on an initial voluntary decision to do so - we may call this a refractory period. This inflexibility helps us to work with assumptions about the outer world, allowing for faster reactions by avoiding time-consuming experimentations in slowly changing environments. Yet at the same time it makes us blind for subtle changes and makes us, moreover, vulnerable with regard to more dynamic surroundings.

Paying attention to these restrictions of our perception processing system opens new opportunities to adopt alternative points of view and become more open minded towards differences. As the focus of our attention shifts we become more susceptible to out-of-the-box thinking and additional details of the outer world which would have slipped otherwise our consciousness.

Tags: perception, brain