Decaying vs Solidifying Consistency Reflexes

Decaying vs Solidifying Consistency Reflexes

I’ve been fascinated for ten years now about the fluidity of reality – or more exactly, the perception of our reality. My thoughts date back to reading a hugely influential and deeply engrossing neuroscience book Phantoms in the Brain (by VS Ramachandran) that presents just how far the human brain goes to insist on consistency in the perception of reality. Since then, I have been fascinated by where lines are in the brain to ensure consistency and how to determine the myriad of ways in which the brain double checks consistency and ensure its presence.

You see, consistency implies order and rationality … Higher level functions of the brain, but yet they must operate at very low levels of the brain, below perception of reality and conception of self. How does such high level rules of reality get placed so deeply low in our brain? When do they get in place developmentally? How do they operate with high level thinking yet so underline it without our conscious awareness of even their existence? All questions I’ve been pondering in the ten years since reading that unnamed book that Kendal Miller once loaned me.

And today, I’ve been chewing on another question regarding these consistency rules deep in the brain – do they strengthen or decay as you get older?

Now some backfill on those thoughts. In his book, Ramachandran goes through a serious of mindtricks with patients that have suffer trauma, all to induce the brain to perform actions of consistency in their world that are otherwise entirely inconsistent to any external viewers. For example, he worked with arm amputees suffering from phantom limb pain. By simply showing the patients videos of them with two full arms (either with mirrors, or with computer graphics) they were able to loose their pain. He then went further to make it look like they were using their lost limb to raise a spoon to their mouth, to which they will fervently insist it is happening, despite knowing that they have lost a limb. Showing a video of themselves lying, and they will in turn contradict themselves but insist they are consistent. He literally made patients do somersaults of consistency in order to keep the order in the nether reaches of their minds. Despite this, the brain eventually adapts and will converge on a new order of consistency rooted deeply into their world view.

So with this context, I spend time applying it to my children, wondering how consistency and order are pieced together at this young and delicate age. It is fascinating to watch my youngest and to see her perception of reality come into place, to see how consistency form around what is real and not. How does she converge on truth and fiction? I can’t help but to think that objective reality as we know it comes far later in childhood development than we believe. I suspect that with so much play in make believe, it is not simply a practice sandbox for their young mind, but even further a sense of equally viable reality to their head – perhaps not even to be differentiated.

One of my greatest joys right now is talking with her about her fairies. Her older sister gets upset with me as if I am not teaching her what is real (as if I’m being unfair or a poor father), and her eldest sister seems to think it’s a game. Are these responses from her sisters merely indications of their respective personalities, or are these response indicative of something deeper – like consistency antibodies that our commensurate in kids minds for their developmental stages?


For my youngest, it is possible that my parents house to be right around the corner after flying all day. For her, a long long time can be just a few hours, or maybe that’s just yesterday, or just a moment in the future that she just thought about. She has even questioned whether tomorrow will ever happen, and seem to confuse tomorrow with yesterday in a way beyond simple semantics.

Clearly, my youngest is a home builder right now deep in the throngs of hammers driving nails into studs, erecting rooms of reality in the house that will be the embodiment of her personality and the perception of that reality. But is there a way to more discretely and concretely observe the construction? Is there a consistency to how the house is built between different children? Which rooms are tougher? Which rooms are left for later, having been relegated to the second and third floors? This is something I would study even given the chance to live again – I would totally enjoy spending a lifetime to become an expert in this topic.

Finally, I come back now to the thought I had this morning as I woke up. I could see the world around me through two eyes without convergence. I could easily slip into two separate views as my brain in its grogginess was too lazy to converge the sight into a single viewpoint ..And as I sat there with two of everything floating in front of me, I had the slightest hint of acceptance to this view of two of everything, before a huge backslap of consistency cleared away the petulance of my brain to think it to be ok that each eye had its own reality. That breaking of barriers – it made me ask myself – was it easier to allow such an inconsistency because I’m older, and these rooms have decayed with use? Or was it just grogginess and the higher (or is it lower) level functions just haven’t yet received their blood flow after having been shutoff during the dream stages (which is clearly a necessity for dreaming).

That is the question I had this morning … with a long route to get there, and no clear answer.  Sadly, I don’t have an answer.


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