This is a serialization from my book, Happiness: A Physician/Biologist Looks at Life. To see the Table of Contents and the dust jacket blurb, click here; to start from the beginning, click here; to read the previous post, click here.
Life with Illusions
As I noted in the Introduction, there are some erroneous assumptions in our lives that interfere with happiness that are not immediately obvious to us. To get to the point that we can recognize and understand these problems, and then design our lives differently, we will need to understand just how susceptible we are to various illusions in our lives.
We make decisions based on all sorts of illusions: unreliable or simply wrong information, that we never question. Not surprisingly, these decisions generally do not take us where we expect to go, and we end up unhappy. Some of these decisions are based on the faults inherent in being a human being. Others are based on things we learned from our parents, from our church, from our friends, or from our community; things that we never doubt, things that everybody “knows.”
So I want to start with some illusions in the material world that are not so controversial as the illusions we will come to later. Then perhaps we can move on to illusions in more cherished ideas, ideas we hold about ourselves and the world around us.
For example, colors do not exist. At least they don’t exist as most of us imagine that they do.
Let me explain. Light comes from some source, often the sun. The sun contains a spectrum of “colors,” that are actually different energies of light; for instance, blue light contains more energy than red light. In such a way, each color we experience represents a different energy level of light.
The different light energies from the sun travel onto the Earth, where they strike and “illuminate” different objects. When light hits say, a leaf, it absorbs the red energies, and discards the blue and yellow ones. These energies ricochet off, and blend to become green.
When the green energy enters the pupil of your eye, it passes to the back of the eye, where it encounters color-vision cells. Each color-vision cell responds to a particular color range; the one that responds to green, does not respond to red-orange, or blue-violet. When the corresponding color-cell senses the appropriate light, it fires off a signal to the connecting nerve, which fires off signals to a relay of other nerves, eventually connecting to the visual centers in the brain for processing and analysis.
This is where we can start to understand the illusion of color. Think about the different energies of light. There is nothing inherently “green” about a particular level of energy; it simply has more or less energy. And all that means is that when the light strikes the visual chemicals in the eye, the electrons there vibrate faster or slower in response. Different energies of light, different vibrations of electrons; in neither of these is there anything inherently like the colors that you and I experience.
After the light is converted to nerve signals by the eye, these signals pass to the vision centers, and along the way there is a lot of modification of the information, with sorting, switching, transferring, and analyzing. But again, in those nerve signals, there is still no particular color; there is simply a nerve impulse, or no nerve impulse.
When all of the impulses arrive in the vision centers of the brain, the whole image is reassembled. And it is there—and only there—that colors as we experience them “come into the picture.” The brain assembles all of the different impulses, and the ones that correspond to different light energies are assigned different experiences of color: green, red, blue, etc. It’s like the paintbrush from the Disney television programs that, with a single stroke, turns a black and white drawing into a color photograph. The colors are assigned to certain nerve impulses, and those nerve impulses are assigned to certain energies of light. So the colors—or at least the way we experience them—only exist deep inside our brains.
To continue reading, click here.
Fiberoptic Cable courtesy bykst on Pixabay.