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Is Seeing Believing? Or, Is Believing Seeing?

suntet-magic-1250119Magic or Psychology? Making Something That Doesn’t Exist Disappear on PsychCentral’s News blog, reports on an Oxford University study led by Dr. Matthew Tompkins.

Dr. Tompkins said, “The founding fathers of psychology were keenly interested in understanding how magicians could manipulate people’s perceptions.”

Participants watched videos, some of which contained magic-acts, some of which didn’t. Yet, many of the subjects saw magic acts occurring, even when there weren’t.

Dr. Tompkins said, “We think what may be happening is that people are effectively confusing their expectations with a true sensory experience. Today, we have more opportunities to be manipulated into false beliefs than ever before.”

We know that there are many things that are real that cannot be seen by the unaided eye (or at all). Bacteria. Viruses. Amoebas. Light waves and particles. Atoms. Our ancestors’ faces.

We also know that there are many things we “see” that are not “real.” The characters in animation. The story in a novel. A virtual-reality game. The family in a cereal commercial.

Since the advent of the movies, television, and the computer, it’s as if entire worlds are created. We more easily can enter a visible alternate reality than say, reading a book or watching a play, which our ancestors did. In a play, for example, our field of vision more easily recognized the stage, the audience, and so on. Reality was less suspended.

On the one hand, today our vision is more sophisticated, and we are not as easily “fooled” into believing that what we see is always real.

On the other hand, because we require more and more sophisticated representations (trickery by any other name) in order to believe in something, the false realities being presented to us are extremely compelling. (Just compare old television commercials vs. today’s slick, highly-produced product insertions and pop-ups.)

We all know or sense that darkness often appears to be enlightenment. So how do we know what to believe? How can we differentiate between lies and the truth?

It isn’t easy.

Especially now that history, such as that of cultures, nations, public or political figures, can be literally erased–on the internet, anyway. Something to think about as we hurl towards a new American election.


Is Seeing Believing? Or, Is Believing Seeing?

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2016). Is Seeing Believing? Or, Is Believing Seeing?. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 5, 2020, from


Last updated: 10 Aug 2016
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