Have you ever heard of the allegory of the cave by the Greek philosopher Plato? 

Some people have lived chained in a cave facing the wall all of their lives. They watch shadows projected on the wall from objects passing if front of a fire behind them. They name the shadows and that is their reality.

(Fonte: Mauricio de Souza @ piteco-as-sombras-da-vida)

Don’t we all have moments where we really believe the shadows are our reality?

The obligations of the day-to-day tasks keep us going, moving, doing what we’ve gotta do, but many times we find ourselves exhausted, lacking energy, sometimes sad or even depressed, questioning the meaning of this existence.

Neuroscience explains that we do not experience the external world exactly how we perceive it consciously. Sensors in our body sense electromagnetic waves but we perceive colors. The vibration of objects we perceive as sounds. Chemicals dissolved in water or air we perceive as specific smells and tastes. Therefore, colors, sounds, smells and tastes are a product of the mind resulting of sensory processing in the brain. It goes back to a philosophic question: Is there sound when a tree fall down in the forest if there is nobody there to hear it?

So how do we know what reality really is like? Even though we are able to name the things we perceive, we don’t know exactly how such things relate to the external world themselves and we might never know.
Getting back to the allegory the people that are imprisoned believed with all their being that what they can see was real, they even named what they saw. Are we also naming our shadows and believing they are our own reality? Are we inside of the matrix?

Truly, we do not know for sure what is real or not unless we can experience it through our sensory system. Thus, our brain is the true creator of our own reality. 

Can we break free from the Matrix? Can we get out of the cave?

(Fonte: Mauricio de Souza @ piteco-as-sombras-da-vida)

Well, in Plato’s cave as well as in the Matrix we are able to see example of people that broke the chains, started to perceive reality differently and went back to try to help others to do the same. However, are all people ready to be disconnected?

Just like the man who got out of the cave, at first light hurt his eyes, but then he could really see the real world and he was so amazed by it that he wanted to go back and help the others to see as he could see.

(Fonte: Mauricio de Souza @ piteco-as-sombras-da-vida)

A great example of a woman who completely changed her perspective looking at the brain is Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. A neuroanatomist and brain researcher who had a stroke. As a result, she could sense what it was like to have half of her brain shut down. That experience transformed the way she perceived the world.

Survivors of stroke frequently experience disability and impaired quality of life. It was no different for Dr. Taylor. Unfortunately, motor or cognitive recovery takes time. She took about 8 years for a full recovery.

A field in neuroscience that study brain imaging can now count on (NIRS), which is a non-invasive near-infrared spectroscopy neuroimaging technique that can measure changes in the brain and monitor the recovery process. NIRS could also be used in combination with other imaging tools like EEG, fMRI to follow patient’s progress, or with other therapeutic tools like BCI or neurofeedback for better treatment results. In combination, those tools might be an alternative to improve treatment and reduce recovery time.

When Dr. Taylor first realized she was having a stroke, her response was “I am too busy to have a stroke”. Don’t we all use that “I am too busy” excuse in order not to experience something that could actually change our lives? I hope no one has ever to have a stroke in order to get a real change in perspective. Although it does seem ‘easier’ to transform when we face hardship or the fear of death.

Dr. Jill B. Taylor knew as a brain scientist that each hemisphere was responsible for processing information independently but that one complement the other in an outstanding way and she reports that magnificent experience in her TED talks. Check it out in the playlist bellow!



[1] PLATÃO, A República. Trad. Enrico Corvisieri. São Paulo: Nova Cultural, 2004.
[3] BEAR, Mark F. Neurociências: desvendando o sistema nervoso. 4. ed. Porto Alegre: Artmed, 2017.
[4] Yang, M., Yang, Z., Yuan, T., Feng, W., & Wang, P. (2019). A Systemic Review of Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy for Stroke: Current Application and Future Directions. Frontiers in Neurology, 10.
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