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ILLUSIONS - You perceive the world inside-out, not outside-in

Open your eyes and ears. What do you see and hear? Colours, shapes, the note C? They seem so ‘real’, as if they are actually there outside of your body. And yet … they aren’t.

Light energy exists. Sonic vibrations exist. But the colours and sounds that you consciously experience do not. These experiences are ephemeral: They will disappear when you do. Colour, sound, shape, even objects, as well as fear, joy and trauma are inside you projected outward. You perceive the world inside-out, not outside-in. 


Because evolution isn’t interested in accuracy, much less reality. Evolution is interested in survival. And what kept your ancestors alive during evolution wasn’t accuracy. It was utility. So when your brain is presented with a packet of light on its retina, your brain evolved to see it as coloured, not because colour is accurate. But because colour enabled your brain to see the similarities and differences between things.  

Colour, then, is a meaning that was useful to see in the past

Here’s a case in point: In the ‘illusion’ below, which I made many years ago, you see a cube in light and shadow. On the surfaces of the cube you see a light orange tile in ‘shadow’, and dark brown tile at the top under ‘light’. But consider the fact that there is no illumination nor shadow. Indeed, there is no cube. This is an illustration … and illusion. Because the information presented onto your eye from the illustration is consistent with your brain’s past experience of light and shadow (and 3D, etc), the two tiles appear different to you even though they are identical. Had the tile in shadow actually BEEN in shadow, there would have been less light hitting it compared to the tile in bright light. Which ‘means’ the tile in shadow would have had to be more reflective than the one in bright light (just given physics). 

On the surfaces of the cube you see a light orange tile in ‘shadow’, and dark brown tile at the top under ‘light’.

This is a illusion, the two tiles appear different to you even though they are identical.

That’s it. That’s EVERYTHING: 

Two things that have similar meanings appear more similar to each other than two things of dissimilar meanings … almost independently from their physical difference. Where does the similarity or dissimilarity in meaning come from? History. In particular … your history. An example is ‘R’ and ‘L’. The sonic vibrations they create - if you were to measure them - are different physically. And yet, to the person raised in Japan speaking Japanese, a language that does not differentiate between R and L in terms of meaning, they will hear R and L as the same.  

What applies to ‘colour’ and ‘sound’, also applies to your perceptions of you. You - in a sense -  ‘colour’ yourself … and others. 

You are nothing more nor less than energy, which originated in the core of the sun. In quite a real way, you are ‘sunlight’, which has been translated into molecular energy that makes you you. More than this, ‘your’ molecules are slowly but definitely being replaced, and it’ll takes 7 years to do so. So eight years from now, you will no longer be made up of the same pieces as you are now … at least in a material sense. And yet you will continue to exist. How could this be? 

Because you are more than material. You are ARE a perceived meaning! A meaning that is both relational and historical. Your identity - indeed everything that the brain does - is necessarily ‘in-relation-to’ something else (making the concept of literal independence a farce at the most fundamental level). What is more, everything you perceive in this moment is necessarily a meaning grounded in your past moments. Neither can be otherwise.

The beauty of the fact that your brain makes meaning is that it can change its meanings - including the meaning of you. They - and you - are therefore not fixed. They - and you - can evolve. Even more beautifully than this is that you have agency over your current meanings, which then can change who you become in the future. But doing so requires three steps - and then one more thing: 

See Yourself See: You must first become aware of your current meanings as past meanings. This process is effectively what most therapists are trying to get you to do, since understanding past meanings creates the possibility to change.  

See Yourself See Differently: You must then choose a different meaning. One that is actually  useful to you and others! Otherwise you’re just becoming delusional. 

See Yourself Act Differently: You must do. Action is what changes your brain’s wiring. Too often this step is missed. While you might have awareness of your past meanings … and might even know their source … and you might even know the new meaning that you’d like to have … you still don’t act. 

There are usually two barriers to engaging in this three-step process. The first is that we try to conserve energy. The second is that we are too certain of our past meanings (I call the Certainty Trap). 

As I’ve written before, thinking is energetically expensive. Thinking differently is even more so. Cheaper to not question … to not doubt. Indeed, there are countless pop-psych articles and ‘coaches’ telling you to “never doubt yourself”. On the contrary, I believe you should celebrate doubt since nearly everything that you do that is good for you requires more energy than those things that are not: Maintaining exercise, eating healthily, maintaining romance, sex, respect and interest in your partner. Much easier to listen to ‘The Voice’ that evolved to conserve energy. 

Illusions show you that the same information can be seen in different ways. Illusions show you that you have the possibility to evolve … to see yourself and the world differently … if not more beautifully. Illusions also show you that changing meaning changes you! So if you want to see differently, don’t keep holding onto your old meanings. Let them go.

YOU CAN EXPAND YOU … but only if you actually want to. If you’re not doing it, then you don’t actually want to - no matter the narrative your brain tells you to reconcile your unwillingness to engage in the above 3-step process. 

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