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“Reality” Is Constructed By Your Brain. Here’s What That Means, and Why It Matters

“It’s really important to understand we’re not seeing reality,” says neuroscientist Patrick Cavanagh, a research professor at Dartmouth College and a senior fellow at Glendon College in Canada. “We’re seeing a story that’s being created for us.” Most of the time, the story our brains generate matches the real, physical world — but not always. Our brains also unconsciously bend our perception of reality to meet our desires or expectations. And they fill in gaps using our past experiences. All of this can bias us. Visual illusions present clear and interesting challenges for how we live: How do we know what’s real? And once we know the extent of our brain’s limits, how do we live with more humility — and think with greater care about our perceptions? Rather than showing us how our brains are broken, illusions give us the chance to reveal how they work.

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