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The mind-blowing science behind how our brains shape reality

Do we see the world as it really is, or are we creating our own reality? We delve into the neuroscience behind the world that we experience

Source | | Dr Lisa Feldman-Barrett

There is a classic Monty Python sketch in which a customer, played by John Cleese, enters a pet shop to buy a cat. The dodgy shopkeeper, played by Michael Palin, whips out a terrier instead and offers to convert the dog surgically into a cat, a budgie, or a fish.

“Terriers make lovely fish,” he assures the customer. “I could do that for you straight away. Legs off, fins on, stick a little pipe through the back of its neck so it can breathe, bit of gold paint…” In real life, we often view our pets in terms of other animals, and no scalpel is required.

Perhaps you’ve met dogs who are so aloof that they seem like cats, or cats who are so affiliative that they’re more like dogs. My family used to have a pet betta fish named Ariel who seemed more puppy than fish. She’d allow us to pet her without complaint, and when we dropped food in the fish tank she’d nuzzle our fingers.

This topic might seem frivolous, but it reveals a superpower of the human brain. We can consider a physical object, such as a fish, and impose new functions on it that are not part of its physical nature, using only our collective minds. To my family, Ariel was a puppy, even though nothing about her body was dog-like.

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