The account of perception that’s starting to emerge is what we might call the “brain’s best guess” theory of perception: perception is the brain’s best guess about what is happening in the outside world.
Atul Gawande One time I was riding my bike to work in Ithaca, New York, by a slightly different route than usual, and decided to cut across a parking lot. I got distracted, looking off to the side and remembering something about the last time I was there, and, all of sudden, was lying face down on the pavement. My bike, meanwhile, was tangled in the chain that, as it turned out, was across the entrance to the parking lot. Picking myself up, I realized that blood was pouring down my face. It wasn’t, however, until after a brief conversation with a passerby who had a cell phone and offered to call 911 that I saw the strikingly unnatural direction my left middle finger was pointing, and, like Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff but not falling until he looked down, felt a sudden, overwhelming rush of agony. Two fingers turned out to be dislocated, and my first and second metacarpals broken badly enough that, in order to hold the bone parts together until they healed, the orthopedist needed to insert four “pins”—called that because nobody’d show up for surgery if they called them nails, though that’s what they were. So, for a month and a half, I had four metal hooks sticking out between my knuckles—kinda like Wolverine, except, rather than being able to hold my own against evil mutants, I couldn’t even button my pants.
But that’s not my point. What I meant to write about here has to do with the part I don’t remember, that period of a second or two when a number of really unpleasant things happened. What those things were can be inferred from the above, but they’re not my point either. My point is that I didn’t lose consciousness, but all that happened seems to have been instantaneously forgotten, as if it never happened, except for the obvious and painful consequences. It’s as if my unconscious said “you don’t need to see this” and pulled a dark curtain, and that was that. The mind, in other words, didn’t simply receive outside reality, but edited it.
Speaking of biking, right now I’m preparing for a two-day 150 mile ride, benefiting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, on September 27-28, from Cherry Hill, New Jersey (near Philly) to Ocean City, NJ (right on—you guessed it—the ocean) and back—except that, being a masochist, I’m planning on doing 175 miles—a “century” the first day, 75 the second. The photo at the top of this post shows me pre-training, pre-yoga, and here I am now:
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