Can we see the world objectively? Or does what we see depend on our individual vantage points? It is a metaphoric question at the center of current events, be it race relations, political conspiracy theories, or evaluation of scientific information. But it is also a literal question that philosophers have pondered for centuries. We now have a preliminary answer. In the first of a planned series of joint philosophy-neuroscience projects, researchers at Johns Hopkins have confirmed that we have a very hard time distinguishing objective fact from what we think we should be seeing. "When humans see things, the brain identifies them by combining raw visual information with ingrained assumptions and knowledge about the world. For example, if you take a circular coin and tilt it away from you, light from the coin hits your eyes in the shape of an oval or ellipse; but your brain then goes beyond that information and makes you "see" a circle in the real world. ... Over the course of nine experiments, subjects were shown pairs of three-dimensional coins. One was always a true oval, the other was a circle. Subjects had to pick the true oval. Seems easy, yet when presented with tilted circular coins, subjects were flummoxed and their response time slowed significantly. This persisted whether the coins were still or moving; with different shapes; and whether the coins were shown on a computer screen or displayed right in front of subjects."
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