We’ve got a means of dealing with the world, which allows for the ambiguity of our incoming messages, allows us to assess what the cause is likely to be, by using this inferential process based on prior knowledge. But that should give us pause, because it’s telling this: perception is an active process. It’s not a passive, a receiving of a veridical world out there.
And if the process is active enough to allow us to suppress the noise, recognize the signal, remove the ambiguity, is it also active enough to create perceptions? We are very prone to creating our own perceptions.
So here we see a famous triangle illusion, where most of us will have a very strong sense that there’s a white triangle super-imposed upon these black shapes. The reason we see that probably is because the way the shapes are arranged below it seems to strongly imply that there is a white triangle, and therefore, we create it.
There is actually nothing objectively there. There is no border here. There is no perimeter. We’re seeing something that’s objectively not there. And it’s only 10 minutes ago that I defined that as a hallucination. So this is a hallucination in action. And as Von Helmholtz described it, perception itself is controlled hallucination.
So we have this situation where we have a balance between what’s coming in and what we already know. Under some circumstances, we don’t have any strong expectations, in other circumstances, we have these prior expectations, and we will weigh them.
And this offers us a mechanism for beginning to understand the emergence of phenomena like hallucinations, because it suggests that we don’t need to hypothesize some gross derangement of function, some horrible lesion somewhere. We all define ourselves according to our internal models of the world. We define our place in relation to others, in terms of shared models of the world.
And if somebody’s building a model that isn’t shared by other people, that’s a very, very isolating experience, because their reality becomes different.
Now, I think science can come some way towards trying to look at mechanisms and develop clinical ideas of that, but ultimately, as is encompassed in the theme of today’s talks, really we need to think about experiences like this at other levels.
And that includes – I think very strongly – the arts. My funding body, the Wellcome Trust, are very keen on getting their scientists to work with artists, and they’ve given me a number of fantastic opportunities to discuss these ideas with artists. One example of that was putting me together with a writer, dramatist, and filmmaker, Julian Simpson, who deals a lot of the time with the idea of a brain trying to construct a reality out of sensory inputs.
And a consequence of this discussion and collaboration, although I can’t claim much credit for it at all, was a play that he wrote called “Fugue State,” which actually has already won a few BBC drama awards.
The other collaboration the Wellcome encouraged me with and one I would have never really predicted is with a video game design company, who approached me, because they want to make a video game about an 8th century Celtic warrior who suffers from certain experiences of psychosis.
Well, I was skeptical initially, but having gone to meet them, it actually became very clear to me that they were trying in a very respectful, and sincere, and honest way to try and recapture some of these experiences. So we’ve had a number of meetings where we’ve got together with them and with a wonderful team at Recovery East led by the magnificent Tracy Bartlett, who are a group of individuals who have had experiences of mental illness and who are working towards recovery and are recovered in many cases. They were kind enough, generous enough, and indeed, brave enough to discuss their experiences with the team at Ninja Theory and me.
And a consequence of that is that the game is being developed around these experiences, and Ninja Theory have very kindly given me a clip of film that I just like to leave you with. This is some video from the game itself and some sounds that are really based upon the discussions that we’ve had.
(Video) (Man) Coward
(Woman) They’re coming
(Man) Coward. Coward
(Woman) They’re coming now. They’re coming
(Multiple voices) They’re watching. They’re watching. They’re watching.
[Sometimes the world appears like a kaleidoscope. It can be beautiful.]
(Multiple voices) Out! Get out. Get out. Out! Get out. Get out of here. Get out of here. Get out. Get out of here. Get out. (Video ends)
So this is still very much work in progress, but I hope it leaves you with the impression – which I intend to create – which is talented artists can say more in two minutes about this than I could probably say in an entire series of lectures.
So thank you very much.