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> Perception of Motion
post Apr 11, 2015, 10:29 PM
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My friend says to me that our perception of motion is an illusion, is it right? He says that he study the cognitive part of the brain, so he gets this conclusion, I need to ask you guys, look his theory, is it right?

Let's try something simpler. Let's say you watch an animated film. Your brain gets the perception of objects, moving. But there are no objects, and they aren't moving, and you know this. The only thing in the animated film is a sequence of drawings that give your brain the illusion of motion. Artists know how to do this, of course, and they study for many years. After all, the know how to smear dirt on fabric to give the illusion of objects:


The text says "this is not a pipe," and of course, it isn't. It's a painting.

So animations are an extremely clear example of the brain getting the illusion of motion. In this case, your statement that the brain perceives motion is simply wrong, and it's extremely obvious.

Now that we know that the brain gets illusions of motion, the question is what it does when looking at reality. I think it's fair to assume that some sort of reality exists. I'm also aware that for 2500 years at least, there's been an idea, which George Lakoff calls "objectivism," that sensory perceptions are representations of reality. I'm well aware that nearly everybody takes it for granted, especially those who call themselves rational and skeptical. I know it's hugely popular. I'm just saying that it's wrong.

First, it completely fails to explain cognition in a lot of ways. I'm not going to try to explain that, because it would take too much text, but if you are interested, try the first couple of chapters of Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things. This stuff is also pretty new.

But it also fails to explain or even jibe with things we know about reality and physics, and these are much older, so they are closer to common knowledge. Since we are talking about light, this is fairly important. A brain illusion of objects moving works pretty well with rocks, but it fails with light. It fails for cases as simple as two photon emitters and two detectors.

The picture given by QED, which you can find out about from Feymann's lectures QED in NZ, is like this. You calculate an imaginary or illusionary trajectory for all the possible ways light can go. That includes straight, curved, back and forth, around in a circle, and so on. Then you add them up in a certain way, and you get a high amplitude. Often, this is as if the photon had gone by a particular illusionary trajectory, say, a straight line. But there is no information from physics that says that it did, really go on a trajectory in a straight line. There is evidence that it didn't go along a classical trajectory, which is the entire basis of our intuitive conceptions of motion. That is, that intuitive concept that is used for light or animations is wrong. This is why I call the perception an illusions. We imagine motion, and it works for some cases well enough, but we know that it's just plain wrong. We therefore cannot, if we are sufficiently skeptical, blithely assume that the mental conception of motion maps onto something real.

Note that it also demonstrably fails for subliminal objects, provided that the quantum number is small enough. Here's a pretty good video on the Schroedinger model of the atom:


Pay particular attention to the bit where he asks, "does it teleport, or what?" That's very interesting, cognitively. How I see it is something like this: "We assume motion and trajectories. We can understand the electron as moving around in the separate volumes. But that doesn't make sense at all between the volumes, because the electron is never there. So we give a name to our confusion and ask if it's 'teleporting.'"

I don't look at things this way. We can mathematically describe the Schroedinger atom perfectly, and it works, way down to more decimal places than we can conceive of. So that's a description of reality. Our conception of the electron "moving" is not a description or representation of reality. It can be thought of as a useful approximation, especially as it's easy to think about. But it's still wrong. The mental conception of motion just doesn't work. We can find this out for electrons and photons more easily than we can with rocks, but since rocks are made out of electrons and protons and neutrons, is't a wrong view. It just doesn't work.

Note that I'm also against the notion of fixing it up with "magic," which is what people do with concepts like wave-partical duality. It's not like it's a particle on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and a wave the rest. That thing that it is, which we know we can model perfectly well with math, it just is. And it doesn't map onto our cognitive views of things like motion. It simply doesn't. So our perception of motion is an illusion. It's related somehow to something, of that I am pretty sure. That it, it is related to and informed by reality, but it isn't a representation. It's an illusion.
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