Body and Belief
What is the nature of our conscious minds, and how do conscious experiences relate to our physical brains and bodies, and to the world of physical material ‘stuff’ in general?
These questions have been debated for thousands of years – with no easy answer yet in sight. Nor are these questions only discussed by scientists and philosophers – they are central to many religious and spiritual traditions, with perspectives and views varying both between and within cultures.
The Perception Census is one of the largest scientific studies on perception ever undertaken – exploring how our experiences of the world differ for each of us. It’s broken down into sections, and we’re going to explore each of them in this series of blog posts. Previously, we discussed how we sense time passing with a deep dive into the section ‘Time’.
In the section on ‘Body and Belief’, we’ll ask about some of your broader beliefs and intuitions about consciousness and perception, to get a better understanding of what people think about these seemingly mysterious – but also deeply personal – aspects of our lives.
Belief in paranormal phenomena is widespread. For example, a 2005 poll found that 25% of people living in the USA believed in astrology, 20% believed in reincarnation, while 41% believed in a ‘sixth sense’, or extrasensory perception.
We may think that we see, hear and feel what’s going on around us, but how much do our experiences really tell us about what the world is actually like? Our intuitions about the answer to this question may depend on which sense we are considering. For example, people sometimes say that the sense of touch reveals more about the world than their other senses.
Some people think the world is roughly as we perceive it to be, while others think that perception is not a good guide to the nature of the world. Our feelings about this question may be affected by which sense we are thinking about and whether we are comparing ourselves with others or not.
Another common idea is that perception is more likely to reflect reality when our senses work together. According to this idea, features of objects that depend on more than one sense – like shape, which can be both seen and felt – are more likely to reflect reality than features of objects involving only one sense – like colour.
Your responses on the ‘Body and Belief’ section of The Perception Census, as well as on the section about consciousness, will help us understand more about how people’s beliefs about perception and consciousness relate to each other. For example, do people who think consciousness is purely mental also think that colours only exist in the mind? Your answers will help us find out.
Here, by ‘consciousness’ we simply mean the presence of any kind of experience whatsoever. Someone is conscious if they have an inner mental life including thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, dreams, or experiences of their surroundings. When someone is fast asleep, and not dreaming or experiencing anything, they are not conscious.
You may not have thought about these questions before, but we’re keen to see what you think. Just go with your gut intuition when answering.
More about The Perception Census:
Learn about the potential of your mind in fun bite-size chunks – a series of games, illusions, brain teasers and mental challenges that investigate different aspects of how you experience the world, teaching you about your powers of perception as you go.
The findings will help scientists and philosophers understand the unique ways in which we each experience the world around us – and the more people who participate, the more useful the research will become.