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Book review: An introduction to the world the mind is not trained to see

Prehistoric Man saw only what he needed to see in order to survive, says Beau Lotto. Our challenges are new, and we need new ways of seeing.

fitness Updated: Jul 20, 2017 11:51 IST
Madhusree Ghosh
Madhusree Ghosh
Hindustan Times
Beau Lotto,Perception,Reality
Beau Lotto’s book, Deviate, touches upon subjects such as the physiology of assumptions and the role of perception in innovation.

  • Author: Beau Lotto
  • Publisher: Hachette
  • Price: Rs 399 (Hardcover)

Our brains are tricking us all the time, seeing only what we have been preconditioned to perceive and leaving out much of the world around us.

That’s Beau Lotto’s take in his intriguing book on how the brain works, and why it leaves out what it leaves out.

In Deviate: Seeing Reality differently, Lotto says his goal is to reveal the “hidden wonderland” that is the readers’ own perception and he does this through a combination of case studies and visual exercises.

He starts with the example of ‘The Dress’ that broke the internet in 2014 as people around the world argued over whether it was blue-and-black or white-and-gold.

Lotto then takes the readers back to 18th century France, when the French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul first explored the principles of harmony and contrast via colour, studying why people see certain colours differently, especially in different lights. Essentially, he said, context is everything when it comes to colours — and who knows what else?

The ten chapters then touch upon subjects such as the physiology of assumptions and the role of perception in innovation. Some parts are a bit repetitive, but along the way, Lotto touches upon how our perception is shaped by our history, culture, evolving societies and the eternal tug of war between society and individual, conformity and deviation.

Millions of years ago, man learnt to see only what he needed to see in order to survive, Lotto says. Since our past determines the physical makeup of our brain, it also determines how we think and behave.

“Our brain is a physical embodiment of our ancestor’s perceptual reflexes shaped through the process of natural selection, combined with our own reflexes as well as those of the culture in which we are embedded,” Lotto writes.

It is vital, he suggests, to begin to engage with the world as it is now.

Whether it’s climate change or renewable energy, refugees or terror, the solutions that will work have not been arrived at yet. Quite simply, it’s a dangerous time to think inside the box as a species.

And in order to do this, we must begin by changing our perception of uncertainty. Where we had once programmed ourselves to move away from uncertainty, and to suspect it, we must now embrace and engage with it.

We must begin to celebrate doubt and encourage ‘deviation’; use science to impartially observe our own perception, and in doing so develop the habit of thoughtful deviation.

We must start, he suggests, by listening — that key indication that you are opening your mind to other points of view. Because there is more at stake here than the colour of a dress.

First Published: Apr 29, 2017 19:49 IST