The Brain and Reality

Prepare yourself for a weird post.

Forget everything you know about the world and how it looks. Everything you have ever seen, everything you have ever heard, even everything you have ever felt and smelt, is not real. It’s all just pretend. I’m not joking either, everything you have ever experienced has been made up.

The world as we know it is just an interpretation made up by our brains. Here’s an abstract example of this interpretation. Why does the colour red, look red? Because our brains tell us that that’s what it looks like.

Not As Obvious As It Looks

Does red look the same to everyone else? Maybe, but possibly not. If I describe something as red, you will know what I’m talking about, but what if my red looks like your blue (although to you it will still be red)? This may sound confusing, and it is. The point is that there is no way of telling, I can’t see what you see.

An easier question to answer would be: Does red look the same for every other animal? Definitely not. Some animals can’t even see red, and for other animals, red is made up of several other colours that they can see (and that we can’t).

Here’s another example. Think of all the colours in the world, all the ones that you have ever seen, and ever known. Are those the only colours in the world?

No. We are only told that they are the only colours by our brain. In fact we are only allowed to see three primary colours, and all the rest are mixes of these three. Some animals can see 16 primary colours. Imagine how many colours they can make by mixing that together! In fact we are so limited that we can’t even imagine a colour that we have never seen before.

Now, here’s the tricky bit. In the real world, the world that isn’t interpreted by a brain, there is no such thing as colour. Or at least the colour that we know and love. In the real, non-interpretative world, colour looks like this:

All The Light in The World - in One Squiggly Line

Yep, it’s just a squiggly line. In fact that’s way more colour than we could ever see. We only see a tiny fraction of it near the middle, the rest is just different types of radiation as far as the brain is concerned.

The same goes to sound. in fact sound looks remarkably similar to colour. It is also a set of waves, but instead of being wavy radiation, it’s waves of molecules, particles and atoms.

Even tastes and smells are just interpretations of what the brain thinks chemicals should taste due to its importance. Some of the best tasting stuff, especially fast food, doesn’t taste that way because of its natural taste. It tastes that way because it is calorie dense and the brain thinks that is important for survival.


One of the weirder examples of this is water. We drink water because we have to, but it doesn’t taste like anything. In fact companies sometimes add tastes to make us like it more. But some animals like dogs and cats can taste water (or at least their brain makes them think that they do). And guess what, to them it tastes GREAT!

Overall the world we know is an interpretation made by our brains. It’s also an interpretation that differs between brains. This doesn’t mean that reality is fake, it is still there. We just see it in our own way.

This is what is leading me on to the next set of posts that I’m going to put up. A huge amount of our brain is dedicated to making this interpretation of the world (what Neuroscientists call sensory processing). I’m going to explain how we do this sense by sense, with a couple of odd thoughts along the way (such as how optical illusions work).

Hope you enjoy!

Leave a comment


  1. Love this post, the brain is a weird thing indeed.

  2. alleey

     /  31/01/2012

    >> In the real, non-interpretative world, colour looks like this:
    Actually, the difficulty doesn’t end here, because the truth (lets stick with the common interpretation of truth) is that color is due to the chemical reactions triggered by a photon of light upon collision with retina cells.
    But photon is neither wave nor particle []. The best we can say that in certain experiments photons tend to behave as if they are waves while in other experiments their behavior exhibit particle properties.

    • Yup and I’m going to come onto a bit more of the details in a later post. But the behaviours of photons is a bit too high level for me to put in at the moment. I will get onto physics eventually though (and will probably ask for some people to contribute as I know a lot less about physics than biology).

      In the end anything sensory is an interpretation and therefore not really a completely true view of the world.

      but it’s still a damn good interpretation.

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