TED Weekends explores how our minds shape reality

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colored pencilsGreen. Blue. Red. Grey. Few of us give much thought to the way we see color. But in a classic talk given at TEDGlobal 2009, Beau Lotto shows how the colors we see do not necessarily line up with what is actually there. Lotto uses color as an illustration of how our perception is tinted by evolution, our minds linking visual cues to behavorial cues discovered in past experiences.

Today’s TED Weekends on the Huffington Post further explores the way our minds connect the dots of reality — sometimes correctly and sometimes erroneously. Below, some of the TED Weekends essays that riff on this mind-bending theme.

Beau Lotto: Optical Illusions Show How We See

Imagine… as you wake later than usual rolling over towards the window, you notice that it’s a gorgeous day outside. Warm, yellow sunlight shines in through glass illuminating floating “dust angles.” On the other side of the glass, past the oak tree with yellowing leaves, you see a brilliant blue sky. For the first time it occurs to you that a blue sky is a contradiction: the sky at night is devoid of color, so why during the day does the world seem to be shrouded in a blanket of blue? Years previously as a child full of questions you asked your parents, but the answer they offered seemed somehow inadequate at the time… less than magical. And so the question remains… as it does the most of us.

The answer is this: The sky isn’t actually colored at all (not blue or yellow or red or green). Rather, it’s your mind that’s colored. Read the full essay »

Mario Livio: Reality, What a Concept!

Optical illusions reflect limitations in our perception of physical reality. But what really is physical reality? While dozens of philosophers have struggled for millennia with attempts to directly answer this question, modern science settled on a more modest goal — how can we explain reality’s behavior? More specifically, to identify those laws of nature that rule the cosmos and all phenomena within it. Admittedly, this search for a “theory of everything” in itself implicitly assumes the existence of some objective physical reality.

The famous mathematical physicist Roger Penrose even suggests that we have to explain not just one world, but three, with three mysteries interconnecting those worlds. Read the full essay »

Ben Thomas: We’re Pretty Much All Tripping, All the Time

The year was 1943, and the Pentagon had a problem. They’d poured millions of dollars into a new voice encryption system — dubbed the “X System” — but no one was certain how secure it was. So the top brass called in Claude Shannon to analyze their code and — if all went well — to prove that it was mathematically unbreakable.

Shannon was a new breed of mathematician: A specialist in what’s known today as information theory. To Shannon and his fellow theorists, information was something separate from the letters, numbers and facts it represented. Instead, it was something more abstract; more mathematical: in a word, it was non-redundancyRead the full essay »

Tom Cornwall: Are You Right? What Makes You So Sure?

We all like to think that we are right. And we will often go to great lengths to persuade others that our view is the right view. But what Beau Lotto reveals in his powerful TEDTalk on optical illusions is that the reality is very different. He shows that our reality is merely a perception and, as Beau puts it, “the light that falls on your eye is meaningless”. Or in other words what we see is merely our perception of reality. What’s interesting is not just the way in which our mind can be tricked by these playful optical illusions but also how this affects our day-to-day decisions, our behavior and the world we live in.

Suppose that you were given a creative task to complete and that the test is given to you in a red font. Now suppose that another similar task was given to you the following week but this time in a blue colored font. Would this change in color have any effect on your performance? You like to think of yourself as creative so surely you would be creative regardless of something as trivial as the color of the font? Read the full essay »