Dr. Adam Zaidel - Do We Really Perceive Reality?

Dr. Adam Zaidel - Do We Really Perceive Reality? (Enlarge)

You run into an acquaintance in your neighborhood and say hello. But if you bumped into that same person on a street in Shanghai, would you do the same?

 

According to Dr. Adam Zaidel, of BIU’s Leslie and Susan Gonda (Goldschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center, you may not even recognize that person at all! Although the visual stimulation sent to the brain is identical in both encounters, the sensory data is influenced by other factors, such as context. Dr. Zaidel explores the neuronal mechanisms creating our perceptions of reality. The findings of his collaborative study with American colleagues reveal that the world we perceive is a combination of sensory data AND prior knowledge. This counters the long-held assumption that just the sensory areas of the brain are responsible for perceptual decisions.

 

“Sensory data is integrated with other information that may be transmitted from higher areas of the brain – prior knowledge, expectations, contexts, etc.,” says Dr. Zaidel. “We can’t separate one data source from the other. When sensory signals reach the brain they are already intertwined with non-sensory data.” He gives the example of optical illusions, which expose the gap between visual intake and prior knowledge (coming from higher areas of the brain), which the brain utilizes in the data absorption process. Sensory information alone is often unreliable and ambiguous.

 

The results of Dr. Zaidel’s innovative study on perception could have various important applications, among them a novel way to understand the perception mechanisms of people on the autistic spectrum.