I learned about yesterday’s “rubber hand” effect from a TV program on BBC that everyone was talking about at the time. The other notable illusion in that program was McGurk’s. It was discovered relatively recently, less than thirty years ago, so thanks to the science for this progress.
The gist of the illusion is that when we see a person enunciating a certain sound in a video we think that’s what he is saying even when the audio has been changed. In this particular example the presented mouths a different sound while the audio stays the same. We see his lips move to make a different sound and we discard the audio information completely.
Scientists are fascinated by physical brain work here, where exactly the illusion originates and how various conditions contribute to it or lessen its effect.
For us the first lesson would be that in acquiring knowledge hearing is more important than seeing, but in everyday life that would depend on which of the sources – visual or auditory is correct. If we hear some nonsense that goes against our books, for example, we know which side to take.
Another lesson could be in not trusting our knowledge gathering senses at all. Sometimes we forget how erroneous they might be and sometimes we might not even notice. This illusion is another nice argument to present to atheists or to people who rely on empirical knowledge.
There’s a deeper meaning here, too, I think. It’s not the discrepancy between our eyes and ears that is most tragic here, it’s the discrepancy between our preconceived ideas and the reality. In this experiment the problem is not the conflicting information coming from different senses, it’s the conflict between what we have decided in our mind and our ears.
Of course the mind has made a decision based on data coming from our eyes but that is secondary. It could just as well be coming from our memory or from our imagination or from our strong desire to see a certain type of events, from our prejudice.
If there was simply conflicting info coming from different sense organs we would be alerted and forced to make a decision but in this case there’s no perception of the conflict at all. We’ve made our minds and then we ignore any contrary information altogether.
This, of course, happens more often than we care to admit and much more often than we are capable of noticing. That’s why people are not a very reasonable species when you get to know them better.
So, what is the solution? To strive for better judgments at all times? Sounds good, right? But that is a preconceived notion, too.
As devotees we are not in the IQ race, for us being correct doesn’t mean being right or being better. We should judge ourselves by our devotion, not by our infallible knowledge and intelligence. The only thing required from our intelligence is to convince ourselves to chant the Holy Name, that’s what sumedhasa means in Kali Yuga.
Anything beyond that is unnecessary and distracting. We can really be too clever for our own good. The desire to understand the workings of this world is in principle anti-devotional because that is Krishna’s domain, not ours. Our capacity and desire to think is no different from our desire and capacity to eat or enjoy sex life. We can’t think that enjoying our senses is intrinsically bad but enjoying our wit and intelligence is good.
Another aspect of thinking too much is that it’s a relative assessment. We might take pride in figuring something we couldn’t understand earlier or something that is beyond most other people – in both cases the base line lies somewhere else, be it our previous experience or the national average. I don’t think knowledge can be measured in absolute terms at all.
Every time we think we are clever we forget about millions and billions of other people who are far more intelligent than us, and then there are demigods, too.
That is another illusion – to see our brain capacity as an objective reality having value on its own. It doesn’t because a) It’s relative and b) It’s not important in devotional service. We should never forget that.