What is reality? Whatever you make of it, it would seem, to go by this sprightly look into the nature of things.
Lotto (Neuroscience/New York Univ.), founder of the London-based Lab of Misfits and a popular TED talker, ventures into fascinating and puzzling territory in this book of popular science. The author examines the difference between reality, whatever that might be, and perception, our way of sensing and ordering the world, and he locates a meaningful gap between the two in which nearly anything can happen. Contemporary philosophers are inclined to doubt the existence of reality, period, but Lotto sidetracks that to look head-on at our subjective interpretations, backing his observations with explications of the experiments—some resembling magic tricks—that he has conducted in such matters as “body transfers” and dreaming. He peppers his thoughts with Buckminster Fuller–esque exclamations (“Illusions themselves…are an illusion!” “Celebrate doubt!”) that sometimes seem faux-naif, especially in the context of his already telegraphic, elliptical (and ellipses-laden) prose: “But this won’t be easy…because you’re a frog…when it comes to perception.” Among Lotto’s most valuable contributions to our lay understanding of perception and thinking is his formulation of perception as an “ecology,” meaning “the relation of things to the things around them, and how they influence each other.” Given the differences between ecologies from one brain to the next, it’s a wonder we can agree on anything. The author closes with thoughts on genius and creativity, observing, usefully, that “creativity is in fact a very basic, accessible process” that can be enhanced by changing the questions we ask and the assumptions we make, as well as by changing our educational modes (“creativity in education…gets crunched into a competitive economic model”).
A little of the gee-whiz stuff goes a long way, but Lotto’s provocative investigation into the mysterious workings of the mind will make readers just that much smarter.