Optical Illusions Show How We See

In the article, “Optical Illusions Show How We See”, regarding how information can differ depending on perception, the author asks — why is the sky blue? (emphasis mine)

“The sky isn’t actually colored at all (not blue or yellow or red or green). Rather, it’s your mind that’s colored. The world around us is physics devoid of meaning, whereas our perception of the world is meaning devoid of physics…the air in the sky is like a filter, letting primarily medium to long wavelengths through more easily than short wavelengths. Hence why the sky is composed primarily of shorter wavelengths (and so appears bluish), whereas the light from sun is composed primarily of longer wavelengths (and so appears more reddish). While the differential scattering of sunlight by the air explains the non-uniform distribution of wavelengths across the sky…

And yet color is the simplest sensations the brain has. What may surprise you is that even at this most basic level we never see the light that falls onto our eyes or even the real-world source of that light. Rather, neuroscience research tells us that we only ever see what proved useful to see in the past. [Optical] Illusions are a simple but powerful example of this point. Like all our perceptions, we see illusions because the brain evolved not to see the retinal image, but to resolve the inherent ‘meaninglessness’ of that image by continually redefining normality, a normality that is necessarily grounded in relationships, history and ecology.

The importance of these observations [of optical illusions]… They show us… that we are not outside observers of nature defined in isolation. We are instead indivisible from nature, defined by the trial and error process of interaction, a process in which we can choose to become active agents (but too often choose not to).”


In one of Jack’s earlier courses, we inquired into the feel of the field, and how we structure experience. And it occurred to me, as I go about forever fitting things together, how we structure time, perhaps a parallel to how, normally unaware, we field-structure. In that class one exercise was to consider a red apple, and how we construct the apple in our minds – size, kind, taste, fruit, rotten, glass, logo, etc., and at some point we came to color. We inquired into whether or not we actually saw the apple’s ‘redness‘. We were looking into the question of when we ‘see‘ the apple, do we see ‘a whole‘ all at once, and then build-up a kind of interpretation from our past to ‘know‘ what we recognize? Was seeing color, a ‘basic‘ interpretation, a shift from one kind of knowing to another?

In the case of looking up at the sky, seen as ‘a whole‘, does the interpretive process proceed with ‘blue‘, and continue from there to ‘the kind of sky‘, which requires comparison to skies we have seen before? It seems to me the past-present-future (ppf) structure that proceeds from the initial impression of a kind of whole, proceeds closely with that ppf structure, as soon as comparisons start spinning off, and the act of referring back, is the very act of engaging the past in the present. Many of these referrals happen in nanoseconds prior to being aware of them. The interpretive process, like lightning across synapses, as each moment picks its own lineage to proceed to include color – then we begin making our personal choices of like/dislike, value good/bad, and so on.

About David Filippone

I have been a student of Tarthang Tulku’s Time, Space, Knowledge (TSK) vision for over twenty-five years. For the past twelve years, I’ve studied TSK and Full Presence Mindfulness with Jack Petranker, director of the Center for Creative Inquiry (CCI). I have also participated in programs offered by Carolyn Pasternak of the Odiyan Center. For the past several years, I have curated the CCI Facebook page, which is often TSK-focused, and I serve on the CCI Board of Directors. The CCI Facebook page can be found at the following link... https://tinyurl.com/ybyfolcf
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