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Most people have an intuitive concept of perception that is compelling and simple . They assume that waves from the environment trigger our sensory organs, and these then just produces images in the brain. Objects exist in reality, and we see them. We then feel, act and think based on our perceptions.
If nature were like this view, there would be no subliminal perception, people would either perceive an object or they wouldn't perceive it.
In fact, noticing works in some way like that. Either we perceive an object or we don't perceive it. However it turns out that perceiving something is not exactly the same thing as noticing something. We perceive things and react to them, without noticing the effect or their existence. Why can this be possible ?
Our brain evolved to serve as a recorder of senses, however also as a guidance for our survival. The result is that it records objects as faithfully as it can be useful, and it distorts the objects if this is useful. The sensory systems also evolved to be flexible in analyzing what we perceive. That means that we can answer adaptively and quickly to changes in the environment.
This doesn't mean that people create their own awareness from a whole cloth. Actually, it means that people take an highly active role principally through the learned experience, values, needs, and expectations in interpreting the perceptions. The counter-intuitive and remarkable point about this whole theory is that a part of it happens unconsciously.
One of the main tricks used by mother nature to help us to survive is to design brains as predictions engine. People can constantly predict what they perceive. This happens without be aware. We can be continually guessing, below awareness, about expectations.
All these guesses have different names, depending on the theory being considered. Schemata, expectancy, and perceptual hypotheses, are distinct ways of describing the way we organize experiences and answer to stimuli through prediction.
Predictions serves several useful purposes. They can make us ready to react with a rapid response, or they provide a way for us to efficiently and quickly recognize when we're off course or need to correct. All these things that break our expectations also get our attention, triggering an bell in our mind. But, when all things are going according to familiar patterns or expectations they tend to somehow fade out of our awareness, a process called habituation in the scientific literature. We mainly respond to stimuli rather than produce stimuli ourselves.
Our readiness is fundamental and researchers can find that even in some spontananeous task, our readiness potential in the mind show up. These reaction occurs before we actually realize that we have decided to answer to a stimulus. That means, the process can also be principally unconscious.
But the main point here is our profound state of readiness it aids to determine what we can notice consciously. We don't receive passively sensory impressions or bring them to our awareness. The understanding and awareness are based upon a fundamental way on our prior experience all the interactions with our environment, or the perceptual assumptions we could make.
There are quite simply points where there is not enough information available to the senses to solve some problems we need to manage to solve daily, unless we are already prepared with some kind of assumptions.
That's why cognitive scientits are obsessed with illusions: because they reveal assumptions we make in perception.
Meaning comes from physical and personal experience. Our awareness is dependent upon meaning, and this meaning is derived from our prior experience. The manner in which experience structures action and perception is completely guided by unconscious processing of cues and all the emotions and imagery triggered by those cues.
Sensory perceptions begin as an unconscious detection of all features and becomes fully aware at a specific point if higher processing neurons are activated. And our brain show these differences on responses to images and responses to stimuli. In each case, different areas are activated.