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Ramachandran, Dr V S - The distortion of perceptions to fit belief systems



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Phantoms in the Brain – Dr V. S. Ramachandran [Professor and Director of the Centre for Brain and Cognition, University of California and visiting fellow All Souls College, Oxford]

At any given moment in our waking lives, our brains are flooded with a bewildering array of sensory inputs, all of which must be incorporated into a coherent perspective that's based on what stored memories already tell us is true about ourselves and the world.  In order to generate coherent actions, the brain must have some way of sifting through this superabundance of detail and of ordering it into a stable and internally consistent belief system – a story that makes sense of the available evidence.  Each time a new item of information comes in we fold it seamlessly into our pre-existing world view.  I suggest this is mainly done by the left hemisphere [of the brain].

But now suppose something comes along that does not quite fit the plot.  What do you do?  One option is to tear up the entire script and start from scratch; completely revise your story to create a new model about the world and about yourself.  The problem is that if you did this for every little piece of threatening information, your behaviour would become chaotic and unstable; you would go mad.

What your left hemisphere does instead is either ignore the anomaly completely or distort it to squeeze it into your pre-existing framework, to preserve stability.  And this I suggest, is the essential rationale behind all the so called Freudian defences – the denials, repressions, confabulations and other forms of self delusion that govern our daily lives............... The penalty of course is that you are lying to yourself, but it's a small price to pay for the coherence and stability conferred on the system as a whole.


the left hemisphere's job is to create a belief system or model and to fold new experiences into that belief system.  If confronted with some new information that doesn't quite fit the model, it relies on Freudian defence mechanisms to deny, repress or confabulate – anything to preserve the status quo.

 The right hemisphere's strategy, on the other hand, is to play 'Devil's advocate', to question the status quo and look for global inconsistencies.  When the anomolous information reaches a certain threshold, the right hemisphere decides that it is time to force a complete revision of the entire model and start from scratch.  The right hemisphere thus forces a 'Kuhnian paradigm shift' in response to anomalies whereas the left hemisphere always tries to cling tenaciously to the way things were.

The source of the experience

Ramachandran, Dr V S

Concepts, symbols and science items


Activities and commonsteps