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Do Our Eyes Deceive Us?

By June 25, 2018May 18th, 2019No Comments

Or is it our brains and hearts.

Our human visual system is not only narrow and limited, but sees only as much as it is wired to see. It also has other strange quirks as a function of its connection to the rest of the brain, of which it is part. The eyes are actually a part of the occipital lobes that have migrated forward. That same brain that allows us to accomplish so much is also a trickster. There is so much that it doesn’t permit us to see that is right in front of us. In fact, there is no empty space; it is just the perception of our eyes that can not see anything smaller than a certain size.

Additionally the human cortex is where meaning is made and our brains are actually pattern and meaning makers. One of the most difficult tasks for that very brain is to distinguish between image and so-called reality. How many articles have you read seeking advice on how to see beyond image and presentation when judging a new acquaintance?

This is even more so about celebrities, actors and politicians, etc. What is there about celebrities in American culture that makes so many of us obsessed with them? So many of us follow their every move and eventually we come to believe that they are the characters that they are playing in public. Maybe some of them are. Most are not. It is an odd quirk of the human visual system that we can be convinced that image is reality, when even reality is not reality, but learned perception. These are all constructed by our sensory systems, the information they send to our brains and then again what the brain does with that information. In the end, we are ourselves creating reality.

I have had the opportunity to treat individuals who were and still are, in many cases, idolized and idealized by the general public. For many of us, they are more real and more interesting than the supposedly real people in our lives. More importantly, we see them as the characters they play, whether in the media or in everyday life. As a striking example, fifty years later, feminism has become “cool” due to prominent feminist celebrities such as Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren and many others.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m delighted that awareness of the awful ways that women are treated have become exposed, but I also wonder why it took fifty years and the voices and images of celebrities for the truth to be spoken and acknowledged. I think of how many women have taken me aside and told me that they were feminists, but would never say it in public. Now they say it in public and proudly. They want to be identified with glamour, admiration and popularity even more than they want to live their beliefs.

This, I believe, is a design flaw. Each of us has only one chance to live with integrity and honesty and it is so important that we have the courage to seize that opportunity.


Kaschak, E. (2015), Sight Unseen: Gender and Race through Blind Eyes

This article was originally published in Psychology Today.

Ellyn Kaschak

Ellyn Kaschak

Ellyn Kaschak, Ph.D. is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning psychologist, author and teacher. She is well-known as a speaker, workshop leader, human rights advocate and a public intellectual.