in Cognitive Wisdom, Prism of Life

Our world experience¹ is not only affected by what is ‘out there’ (the data our senses collect) but also by the structure of our sense organs and our minds.

Perception is really a two-step process involving:

  • Sensation — provided by the world
  • Interpretation — provided by our minds — example: visual illusions not from the data collected but from the interpretation put on the data by our brain.

As a result, what we see affects what we hear, what we hear affects how we feel, and how we feel affects what we perceive.

For instance, imagine sitting in a stationary train. As you gaze out of the window, the train on the next track starts to move forward. For a brief moment, as you see it glide away, you may feel as if you’re moving backward, even though you’re stationary all the time.

It’s not just your eyes that are susceptible to deceit. In fact, all our senses can easily be deceived by our minds. But if all our senses are not dependable, how do we differentiate between what’s real and what’s not?

A lot of time, we don’t. And that’s okay.

Our brains are the cumulative result of millions of years of evolution, and the way it interprets reality doesn’t have to be accurate, at least not all the time.

It just has to help us survive.

Nature & Perception-Hacking

Even Nature spends plenty of resources on what might be called ‘perception-hacking.’

Berries and fruits that want to be eaten develop a distinctive coloration and an attractive taste when they ripen.

By contrast, caterpillars that don’t want to be eaten have evolved to taste disgusting to their predators.

And some butterflies produce what looks like eyes on their wings because many animals react more cautiously in their presence.

These are some of the ways how Nature can hack perception rather than changing reality.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner

It is a perfect example of ‘perception-hacking’ in action.

Dreamliner’s entrance² creates a perfect visual impression of more space. In reality, it is 16 inches narrower than a Boeing 777, but to many passengers, it feels significantly spacious.

Dreamliners have comparatively little more space at the aircraft entrance. Adding this space creates an impression of a spacious cabin room, even though the main cabin may not have additional leg space.

Air passengers really can’t articulate numerous things, but those things play an essential role in shaping their overall experience.

Restaurant, Amusement Park & Dating

We think about how we feel may have little to do with our real reasons for feeling it.

Don’t believe me?

Ask yourself a straightforward question why do people go to restaurants?

The most honest answer is because they are hungry.

But seriously, someone who is merely hungry can find plenty of cheaper options elsewhere. Don’t you think restaurants’ real value and attraction lie in social connection and display of status?

Similarly, you can ask why do people go to an amusement park?

And the obvious answer is to spend quality time with family and friends.

Think again. An amusement park’s real value lies in providing an opportunity for the family to co-experience the exhilaration by sharing the feel-good chemical inducing rides.

In fact, because of this very reason, amusement parks should ideally advertise themselves as a perfect dating venue.

It’s been scientifically proven that riding roller coasters causes the body to release a large amount of hormone called phenyl ethyl-amine that causes euphoria along with a suffocating feeling of love at first sight.

Airline & Quality of its Food

Coming back to the airline, do you know that almost 90% of air passengers have absolutely no idea about the aircraft they are traveling or how a jet engine actually works, or what’s the takeoff speed of their aircraft.

But mind you, the same set of passengers will end up inferring a great deal about the safety and quality of the experience offered by the airline from the care and attention it chooses to pay to onboard snacks and meals.

And do you know that meals that are pleasant on the ground can be very dull in the air? The altitude, it seems, does leave an effect on our taste buds — strange but true.

The endless complaints we often hear about the airline food is not because the food is terrible, but because it’s the wrong type of food to eat at an altitude of 20,000 feet.

No one knows the exact temperature, air pressure, and humidity inside an aircraft. Still, these are critical things that play an essential role in making people comfortable inside the craft.

Pulling it all Together

The fact is, while we know how we feel, we can’t accurately explain why.

Nature cares a lot about feelings, and feelings primarily drive what we do, but unfortunately, they don’t come with an explanation.

As we have seen above, the truth of the matter remains that ancillary details have a far more significant effect on our emotional response and behavior.

As a result, our perception is mostly a psychological process that combines what our eyes see with what we already think, feel, know, want, and believe.

We use this combination of sensory information and preexisting knowledge to construct our perception of reality.

People are much more comfortable attributing the success of a business to superior-tech or better supply chain management. As a result, they often end up downplaying the role of unspoken human feelings.

For a business to be truly customer-focused, it needs to go beyond what people say in words. Instead, it needs to concentrate on what people feel and desire and deliver them a wholesome experience.


Want more info on this topic? Here’s where to look:


[2] Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life: by Rory Sutherland

Insight: The Power of Self-Awareness in a Self-Deluded World: by Tasha Eurich

The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes: by David Robson

Originally published on Medium.


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