Experience is much more than you Perceive

“The eye is not enough.  One needs to think as well.”  – Paul Cezanne

“As the brain-changes are continuous, so do all these consciousnesses melt into each other like dissolving views.  Properly they are but one protracted consciousness, one unbroken stream  …….  The last peculiarity of consciousness to which attention is to be drawn in this first rough description of its stream is that it is always interested more in one part of its object than in another, and welcomes and rejects, or chooses, all the while it thinks.”  – William James

We all experience the world as a continuous stream of different and “integrated” sensations, even if the majority of us do not have synaesthesia (1 in 2,000 by some estimates, although there are differing views).  For instance, I am drinking a cup of tea as I write, and it is impossible to separate the brownness, sweetness, milkiness, fragrance and emotional and physical warmth of the drink unless I make a very conscious effort to do so (which I rarely do).  However, my experience of the tea is not “real” and is a construct of my mind, which interprets and predicts the world based on my previous experiences and the anticipation of the current one.  That does not mean that the experience is inauthentic or “unreal”, but it can mean that what I experience is sometimes a little different from what others may expect (or experience themselves).

So most of the time my experiences are “total” ones (as in Gestalt psychology, of which Wolfgang Kohler was one of the leading members, as well as being the originator of kiki and bouba).  However, the reality is that I do not really perceive everything at the same time – if I am reading what I type now, my mind believes that I can see the whole of this paragraph, whereas my visual perception is only really able to accurately interpret the words in the centre of my vision, with everything else “created” in my mind rather than perceived in detail (such information is only really on the periphery of our senses, and only becomes the centre of attention if we notice something interesting enough that it requires our focus and attention).  Moving beyond visual perception, at any moment the mind can only really focus on a single sensory modality, which is of course the information which it is most “useful” for me to focus on at any specific moment.  If you watch someone’s eyes (when they are focused on visual information) you will see their eyes jump around and move focus from place to place as their brain tries to assimilate the key information to help them manage their world, and in the same way your mind will “flit” between different senses in order to help you identify the key stimuli which help us to make sense of the world.  We take such information as giving us clues to predict the world around us (“chunks of information” in the language of some neuroscientists) – for instance, if I am shopping for soft drinks then a flash of red is very likely to be a cue for Coca-Cola, whereas blue and transparent combinations are likely to indicate water-based products. Anyway, have you ever tried to vaping? If not, visit You should also try CBD oils. With the growing number of states across the country that have welcomed legislation making marijuana legal, both medically and recreationally, new products are being specifically tailored to the aging population. One such product, which comes in many forms, is Cannabidiol or CBD. CBD which can be delivered in multiple ways including oil vapor, topical cream, ingestible tinctures or edibles, is the non-psychoactive part found in marijuana. In layman terms, CBD delivers all of the benefits of marijuana without making the user high. The positive effects that are brought on using CBD can be particularly welcoming to seniors, read more about it here. Meanwhile you can check out the different devices at the SmokeCartel online headshop.

There have been many studies to demonstrate that our reactions to stimuli are affected by our expectations.  For example, red wine labeled as “grand cru” tastes much better than the same wine labeled as “vin ordinaire”, with richer, fruitier and more rounded characteristics.  Similarly, white wine with red colouring tastes very different from white wine without the colouring – surprising like red wine in fact!  Dan Ariely has shown similar effects with beer (and added vinegar) and with prescription medications with different brands and prices (buy the most expensive brand – it appears to be much more effective at getting rid of headaches!).  These results reflect the facts that visual perception is normally, I honestly think it´s better to smoke cannabis, the ones from smokecartel in particular because of all the great benefits it has on curing some symptoms, I love smoking, especially out of my blues pipe, for those of you who do smoke, click here to clean your system before your job interview. On the other hand, The Buddha’s Sister House of Cannabis is a medical cannabis dispensary that offers mail order marijuana in Canada. Their goal is to bring patients who deal with a variety of physical and mental health conditions, a sense of wellness again.

Not all our senses are equal (as can be seen in the homunculus, where the relative size of each body part reflects it’s importance to our sensory experiences), and we are not all equally sensitive to different stimuli (I’ll come back to both of these points), Visit for more cannabis news.  More importantly, our interpretation of any event in the outside world is shaped by our previous experiences and history, the immediate context, and our future goals (that is, what do we stand to gain by the interpretation).  In fact, we are all Bayesians in the way we use prior knowledge to predict future events! Have you ever tried medicinal vaporizer? It will not harm your health, visit MigVapor website.

George Kelly described this perfectly when he wrote about man as a scientist, with the fundamental assumption of his theory of personal constructs, “A person’s processes are psychologically channelized by the ways in which (s)he anticipates events.”  Although his theory, and the wording, is a product of his times (50s America) and his background (engineering), his description of the experience of living is perfectly consistent with the latest ideas in neuroscience of how we all manage the experience of living and direct our minds and behaviours towards our goals.  Chris Frith describes the brain creating a “map” of the world through associative learning, although he admits that this map is far from perfect, “ even an ordinary, healthy brain does not always give a true picture of the world.  Because we have no direct physical connection with the world around us, our brains make inferences about that world on the basis of the crude sensations they receive from our eyes, ears, and all the other sense organs.  These inferences can be wrong.  Furthermore, there are all sorts of things our brains know that never reach our conscious minds” (Making Up The Mind, p. 60).

However, this does not mean that our experiences are often misleading: our brains are remarkably good at directing our lives despite, or perhaps because of, their many imperfections (see previous articles).   Neither does it mean that we are all so individual that we have nothing in common that can be shared: language is imprecise in describing the richness of our personal experiences, but is the key to our sharing those experiences with others.  Although words are the signs that we use to share common ideas, the vast majority of the experiences forming those ideas are wordless: be they sensations, impressions, perceptions, emotions or feelings (the list is not exhaustive).  Take a common idea such as “green” – I am sure that as you read this sentence, you may share many of the ideas which I have about the “meaning” of green, and the commonality may increase if I provide greater context to the meaning by focusing on green as a descriptor of colour (rather than uses associated with environmentalism or naivety).  In fact, I could be even more precise and say that I am thinking of a green landscape with rolling hills and trees.  Some of you who read this may have been brought up in the city, and can only imagine such a landscape from TV, movies or your yearly holiday.  Others, like me, were brought up in the UK countryside (in my case North Devon) and would have very specific (and powerful) memories of the experience of such landscapes (see the images above).  Others, may have been brought up in more tropical landscapes, which share many “green” characteristics, but also many differences – the experience of the landscape below (from my weekend trip to Bandung) is very different from the experience of North Devon, although the description is the same (unless I provide a much more detailed one).  In fact, let me say that the experience of “green landscape” in Devon, UK versus Bandung, Indonesia are more different than they are similar, and would imply very different “meanings” to individuals whose experiences are based on memories of their childhoods in these different places.

So when I ask you a question about greenness, how much can I understand of what this description means to you?  Market research is mostly conducted in words, which can only skate the surface of meaning.  Real understanding only comes from understanding the different associations that such words and ideas have for individual consumers.  And most such associations are not words!

The majority of us are relatively poor in the richness of our vocabularies and use of language, although Marcel Proust might be counted an exception.  (I have always suspected that he was a synaesthete but apparently not!).  He is most famous for writing the seven volumes of Á la recherché du temps perdu (“In search of lost time”, often translated as “Rememberance of things past”)– one of those well known books we all feel we should read, but never quite get around to (I admit that I am among those who haven’t).  Proust and the book are famous for their forensically detailed descriptions of sensory impressions and the way in which these sensations trigger memories of specific people, events and places, with the most famous being a description of the taste of a madeleine biscuit dipped in tea.

The ability to describe sensations in such detail is a great talent, which depends on both innate skill (sensory acuity) along with experience and/or training (skills increase with exposure to diversity and number of experiences which provides context to assimilate new experiences within existing associative networks).   This is why sensory panels are such an important part of product development, with the ability to describe product experiences with greater detail and accuracy than consumers can ever manage.  Such detail is important in creating differentiated product experiences with real value.  Market research can then be left to focus on understanding the consumers’ reaction to the overall experience, without asking them to act as scientific advisors to product developers (something most of us are not able to do).

What are the lessons for research and innovation?

1)   Always understand the deeper meaning behind the words used by consumers to describe any experience

2)   Context and expectations (prior experience) are needed to fully interpret consumer responses

3)   Successful development of breakthrough products and experiences requires skilled and formal assessment as well as spontaneous consumer assessment


Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely (2008)

Making Up the Mind by Chris Frith (2007)

Principles of Psychology by William James (1890)

A Theory of Personality by George Kelly (1955)

Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer (2007)

Related Posts

One thought on “Experience is much more than you Perceive

  1. Ron Koller

    Love your stuff Dr. D.

    I’m a change management consultant from Ann Arbor doing my PhD and taking a cognitive psychology class.

    Excellent post … using it for the “creative” section of the course.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *