The invention of experience
Perception is a creative act. Our brain constructs a reality from fragmented sensory data, which is shaped by expectations and prior knowledge.
Ewald Hering, an important physiologist and pioneer of perception research at the end of the 19th century, wrote: "Memory connects the countless individual phenomena of our consciousness to form a whole, and just like our body would have to be broken up into countless atoms if not attraction matter held it together, without the binding power of memory our consciousness would crumble into as many splinters as there are moments. At about the same time, William James wrote: "While we perceive part of what we perceive of the object in front of us through the senses, another part (and it may be a far greater part) comes from our own heads."
A century later, Gerald Edelman, a Nobel Prize-winning immunologist and neuroscientist, summed up what Hering and James had sensed by describing consciousness as the "remembered present." Similarly, neuroscientist Richard F. Thompson, whose speci alty was memory research, wrote: "Without memory there can be no mind." In short, these authors say that everything we see, think and feel in a given situation depends on our experiences in the past - and we experience the present through the magnifying glass of memory…
This post is a slightly edited excerpt from Joseph LeDoux's new book, Consciousness: The First Four Billion Years, which was published by Klett-Cotta at the end of September.