What is “real”? In fact, let me ask you something trickier: what is “not real”? Hardest of all, how do we know the difference between the two?

The Reality Process

To know what is real, to know that a feeling, an emotion, an idea, a friend, an enemy, a book, this sentence, is real, comes down to an ancient and intricate dance between our perception and our past experiences.

Our brains and our nervous system are surprisingly solitary. They are irrefutably central to how we tell the difference between reality and unreality (you try asking a person without a brain what’s real and see how far you get), but they alone lack the sufficient equipment that’s necessary for this process. They have no way of immediately accessing the information required to build up an experience of reality. Our body is a closed system.

They must rely on something extra: our sensory input. This comes, unsurprisingly, from our senses: the things we feel, the things we see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and more, all inform our interoceptive processes. These processes in turn inform your brain and nervous system’s sense of what’s real.

But there’s a problem with this reality process, isn’t there?

If there wasn’t, magicians, visual effects artists, authors, artists of all kinds and thousands of more professions that rely on creating something from nothing, would all be out of work.

The Proteus Effect

Psychologists, neuroscientists, medical staff and researches have been studying the horrifical fallout of PTSD for decades. This fundamental shift can happen to anyone who is exposed to a traumatising experience. Yet, in the last few years, a technological breakthrough has enabled some to create amazing progress.

By using Virtual Reality (a term whose double meaning is one after my own heart), teams across the world have allowed veterans and victims of these moments to experience similar events, but in a safe and controlled environment.

By exposing participants once again to these events, they provide a new freedom: A new freedom of choice. A new freedom to take control. A new freedom to feel the fear and change how they experience it.

This is what is called The Proteus Effect, and it can go far beyond the most extreme cases of PTSD.

By simulating how tall people are, how light or heavy their bodies, how big or small they are, researches have shown that VR experiences can dramatically alter how we literally see ourselves.

By changing just what we see and hear (and in some cases smell), we can massively affect how we feel about ourselves and our environment. In this way, the Proteus effect can radically shift our perceptions.

Your Conceptual Blueprints

This process can work in both ways. We can change what people experience as reality through their perceptions, but we can also change what people experience as reality through their conceptions.

Your brain and your nervous system are concept creating machines. They are, and by their very nature, you are constantly creating concepts based on your past experiences. You absorb these lessons and you apply them every second of every day of your life, without ever being witness to this awe-inspiring process.

Take the video above. It is only once you have seen how it is done, once you have witnessed how the ‘magic’ works, once you have absorbed the concept that a table does not have to be real to appear as a table, that you can understand how it happened. You now have a new conceptual blueprint.

Or, take the oft-quoted example of a door. If you lacked the conceptual blueprint of what a door looks like (rectangular, with a handle, in a wall etc.) and how one worked (you push it or pull it, you use it to enter a room, you use it to exit a room etc.), every time you wanted to use one, you would have to learn how a door works again.

Not only is this physically exhausting (just count how many doors your walk through in the next hour and imagine spending 5 minutes each time trying to work out how to use it), but it’s a monumental waste of energy for your brain to keep track of all these rectangular shapes that let you go where you want to go.

It saves so many more resources to store this sensory information as a conceptual blueprint called a ‘door’. It also means that when faced with a variation of a door (say, an automatic door, or the door to a lift,) your brain can also attach further concepts to the blueprint in a process called conceptual combination.

This acts as the basic building blocks of how we learn. But it is a flawed process, as we have just seen. If we are missing a conceptual blueprint, or a concept all together, we have a very slim chance of receiving the correct sensory inputs that come attached. This is what is called experiential blindness, and you can experience one of the greatest one of these for yourself here:

The Magical Loop

And now, finally, we have an answer (or one of the almost infinite varieties of answers) to the question I asked you at the beginning: what is “real”?

We make our own reality. What we experience as real is real.

Our sensory inputs can radically shift past experiences, and our past experiences can dramatically alter our sensory inputs.

How we feel, what we see and hear, how we think about ourselves and others, how we experience reality itself, are all results of the ancient and intricate dance between our perception and our past experiences. This is the Magical Loop:

And the most phenomenal thing about all of this: it happens completely automatically, without ever needing to know about it. But now you do know about it, you can begin to appreciate just how amazing we are.

This is how magic, mentalism and mindfoolness works: By highlighting this loop and showing, for a brief second, how phenomenal our experience of reality truly is.

If you would like to know more about this and demonstrate these principles for yourself, you can get the Psychological Artistry Kit right now and start learning the easy to perform and memorable tricks for yourself.

If you want to:

  • Show how we learn
  • Show how you’re different
  • Show the benefits of your service
  • Show the importance of mindset
  • Show the power of impossibility

Then the Psychological Artistry Kit, available right now for digital download, is the right thing for you! Just go to www.mindsways.com/PAK/ to get yours now.

See the video below for what you can get:

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I’m a creative thinker, designer and web developer, experienced magician and actor, writer and stage director who uses elements from Psychological Artistry (a blend of psychology, behavioural insights and mentalism) to tell effective, engaging and empowering stories. I believe that storytelling is key to developing a better and more successful business community and society. My aims are to instil a feeling of wonder, awe, authenticity, autonomy and hope in the business owners I work with and their clients.

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