How Your Brain Twists Reality and The Truth

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to share two new studies which reveal that what we believe to be reality is not necessarily reality or the truth.

First a quick update:

“Lena Dunham”
The famous actress has now been accused of being a sexual predator or sexually abusive towards her sister following the publishing of her memoirs where in her own words she describes playing with her 1-year-old sister’s vagina at age 7 and then as a teen masturbating while her sister was in the same bed. Click to read more.

Follow me on Twitter – You can now choose to follow me and receive a few words of wisdom on Twitter: @Behavior_Expert

Now, let’s talk about two new studies which reveal that what we believe to be reality is not necessarily reality or the truth.

Did you know that Honeybees cannot see the color red, yet they have ultraviolet vision which means they can see things that the normal human eye cannot? The ability to see ultraviolet light lets honeybees spot patterns on flower petals that guide them to nectar. Birds have eyes that allow them to see color and texture that we cannot see.

This, of course, does not imply reality has changed for the birds, the bees or humans; it simply means we see reality differently.

But what if what we perceive to be real isn’t actually real? What if what we perceive to exist doesn’t actually exist?

When we read about people who hear voices we view them as suffering from a mental illness – schizophrenics hear voices. But why, as one new study reveals, do schizophrenics in the United States hear harsh and threatening voices while schizophrenics in India and Africa hear benign and playful voices? (I will speak more about this study in a moment.)

What if the ‘presence’ of a ghost or some other supernatural being that some people claim to experience is nothing more than a malfunction of the brain?

Reinhold Messner is a mountaineer “whose astonishing feats on Everest and on peaks throughout the world have earned him the status of the greatest climber in history.” Messner said that he felt a third, invisible climber, alongside him and his brother while they descended the Nanga Parbat mountain in Pakistan.

Was there really a third, invisible climber? And if so, why?

There are numerous anecdotes of people who have felt the presence of a deceased loved one appear at a critical time – during illness, tragedy, a death or some other loss or trauma. And in most cases, what is known as “feeling of presence” – the presence or ‘invisible appearance’ – the sense of existence of this invisible person resulted in a sense of comfort.

In a new study, in Switzerland, researchers were able to induce people to feel a presence behind them using a robot.  According to a new 2014 study in Current Biology, researchers identified the regions of the brain associated with this sensation and, wildly, they were able to recreate it in a lab setting. Source: They found that when sensorimotor signals get confused, people can feel presences that aren’t there. They used a robot to create the confused sensorimotor signals in healthy subjects, and they were able to create the FOP (feeling of presence) on command.

Giulio Rognini, a researcher and roboticist at EPFL’s Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience, believes that in the case of mountaineer, Reinhold Messner, the motion of climbing was so repetitive that Messner’s brain simply forgot about the movements and misattributed them to a spectral ghost climber.

“We show that when there is some damage to the brain or some trick played by a robot, a second representation of our body arises in a way that gets perceived by us but not as our body but as the presence of another human being. Physically this presence is already hidden inside our minds.”

In other words, this explains how we sometimes feel, believe or sense that there is someone behind us, only to turn around and not see or find anyone at all.

Again, our brain twists reality and we suddenly have a different concept of what exists and we then seek out explanations for these presences. And in the time of extreme stress, duress or trauma, it is possible that we will explain or believe that this particular presence is someone who is important to us, and we will attach a subsequent meaning to it.

One woman wrote of her experience:

The night my mom was rushed to the hospital dying from the final stages of Multiple Myeloma cancer, I was sitting on our patio looking out on the yard late in the evening waiting to be picked up by a sibling to head to the hospital (we had just been informed she had hours to live). I was crying & extremely upset. Suddenly a breeze came, the wind chimes began to move & jingle and I felt the distinct weight of a hand on my shoulder. I also instantly felt a presence at my side – so much so that I jumped up & ran in the house. I know this was either my deceased older sister, who died at age 26 also of cancer, or my previously deceased father attempting to comfort me. No one will ever convince me otherwise. I know what I heard & felt. (Oh, and I might add, I am NOT a religious person.)

If you read carefully her experience, you will note that she believed it was either her deceased sister or her deceased father who came to comfort her. One could easily question how could she sense it was either of them, and yet not know which one of them it was; was it dad or was it sister? Also, at such a painful time with the imminent loss of her mother, it is ‘natural’ that she would be expecting and hoping for comfort and therefore this is the meaning she has given the presence.

I am not saying here outright that FOPs or ‘presences’ do not exist for it can be argued that the fact that the brain can process or even mistakenly create a ‘presence’ does not directly imply that presences fail to exist. It can be argued both ways – that people suffering from mental illness (brain lesions) will experience and often suffer from falsely perceived presences and, that healthy people can experience presences because they exist.

Nonetheless, it needs to be noted that in the 1970s, in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes described a series of experiments where electrical stimulation was applied to a certain region of the brain which, in turn, induced auditory hallucinations and the feeling of a “presence” in healthy subjects.

This, in turn, begs the question: What is real?

Is everything we ‘see’ and perceive actually real or is it simply a function or malfunction of the brain?

This brings us back to the first study I mentioned.

Tanya Luhrmann, a Stanford professor of anthropology and first author of the June 2014 article in the British Journal of Psychiatry, reveals that the researchers  interviewed 60 adults diagnosed with schizophrenia – 20 each in San Mateo, California; Accra, Ghana; and Chennai, India. Overall, there were 31 women and 29 men with an average age of 34. They were asked how many voices they heard, how often, what they thought caused the auditory hallucinations, and what their voices were like.

“The striking difference was that while many of the African and Indian subjects registered predominantly positive experiences with their voices, not one American did. Rather, the U.S. subjects were more likely to report experiences as violent and hateful – and evidence of a sick condition…Moreover, the Americans mostly did not report that they knew who spoke to them and they seemed to have less personal relationships with their voices.” – Source:

In America, the voices were an intrusion and a threat to one’s private world – the voices could not be controlled. However, in India and Africa, the subjects were not as troubled by the voices – they seemed on one level to make sense in a more relational world. In India and Africa where it seems more culturally acceptable to hear voices (coupled with a belief that disembodied spirits can talk or that it is kin or family members giving advice) most of the subjects did not view the experiences as brain disease and generally spoke of them as positive, even entertaining experiences.

I concede that there are many conclusions and interpretations of the findings of the this study;  Tanya Luhrmann says that  “harsh, violent voices so common in the West may not be an inevitable feature of schizophrenia.” She also believes that another component is the West’s emphasis on individualism versus community and connection. Thus, in this case and example, reality or our perception of reality is changed and affected by our culture, our mindset and beliefs – “Our hunch is that the way people think about thinking changes the way they pay attention to the unusual experiences associated with sleep and awareness, and that as a result, people will have different spiritual experiences, as well as different patterns of psychiatric experience.”

The conclusion from both aforementioned studies is that the human brain can make us see, hear or sense things that do not actually exist, and that the type of things we might potentially see, hear or sense are so greatly affected and infected by the things we allow to enter in our minds consciously or not. Again, this supports one of my key platforms and teachings that everything counts in large amounts – our environment (everything to which we expose ourselves – friends, media, internet, books, organizations, etc.) determines a huge part of our success and enjoyment of life: change begins from the inside out. Change your consciousness to change your reality.  “Surround Yourself with Winners”  and “Who is Brainwashing and Controlling You?”.

You can post your comment on this newsletter below:

If this newsletter was forwarded to you and would like to receive all of my newsletters please enter your email address on the home page.

I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

Facebook Comments