According to the latest investigations into the Human Consciousness - We don’t so much see the world, as we imagine it

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When one of my hypnotherapy clients defends their negative beliefs as being “realistic” I’m inclined to point out that as biological organisms we have a very shaky relationship with reality.

Even the physical things we appear to observe directly through our senses are little more than a predictive construct in our brains. Direct sensory input is no more than a jumble of often ambiguous signals and patterns, which have to be interpreted within context and reconstructed to make sense within our perception. (Optical illusions illustrate this brilliantly.)

From inherited instinct and past experience we all form and carry within our brains, a predictive model of the world and how it works. It’s a bit like running a 3D computer simulation or video game. Our perception (or rather the part of the brain responsible for it) does take our direct sensory inputs into account, however it turns out that typically our conscious perception starts out with the prediction based on our internal model and only modifies it later if it registers discrepancies from the sensory data. In other words, initially we see what we expect to see. And even when the sensory data contradicts the prediction of our model, we don’t entirely revise our perception to match the data, instead our perception appears to use Bayesian probabilistic modeling to come up with a compromise between the two conflicting views.

So in a very real sense your perception is no more than a best guess of reality. The model, or what you expect, is as important if not more important than what your senses tell you. (This is brilliantly explained in detail by Anil Seth at the Royal Institution in his talk - The Neuroscience of Consciousness

In fact our brain is quite capable of generating a perceived reality without any sensory input whatsoever. The vividness we experience while dreaming is a familiar evidence of this. In dreams we can experience our simulated model without any real time sensory support or constraints from the outside physical world. And the phenomenon of hallucination demonstrates that under certain conditions, our internally generated simulation can completely ignore and override any external sensory input.

And that’s just in the relatively straight forward arena of sensory perception of the physical world. Imagine how much more plastic is our perception within the more subtle, conceptual inner world of beliefs, thoughts, opinions, judgments and predictions. In fact this area is so subjective and malleable that in a way reality follows belief. We literally construct our own reality and there is no objective reality to contradict it. Only the subjective views of other people, which themselves malleable and will tend to eventually conform to which ever view is put forward with the greatest conviction and by the most people. (This understanding is also open to abuse, just look at the reality Trump is creating within a large portion of the United States)


So if someone grew up thinking themselves stupid or boring no doubt they’ll find enough agreement in others to corroborate that. But seriously how certain can one be that it’s a realistic view. Why not choose a more helpful and empowering belief … it’s no less realistic or true, and if one has conviction in it then eventually, within the realm of human interactions and opinions it will indeed become true … at least as true as anything else.*

This insight has great implications for hypnotherapy. It’s the final word against resistance. The positive life affirming suggestions received in trance are at least as valid and realistic as those limiting beliefs that have been carried around like a ball and chain since child hood.

So let’s start creating our own realities. And as Socrates once told us, the only thing we know for certain is that we don’t know anything for certain. So please keep an open mind if you hear something positive, it might just be true.

*As an aside, to get even more philosophical about it, there is some experimental evidence from quantum physics (including the 2 slits experiment) suggesting the possibility that subjective consciousness may have primacy over the physical objective world. (any physicists reading this, I’m aware this is controversial and far from widely accepted so please indulge me!)