Do we share a common reality, or does it change in the eye of the beholder?
November 29, 2018 by Pigalle
Katharine Round, documentary filmmaker and producer, reflects on her fascination with how we interpret consciousness and what she discovered from devising Escape to Reality, our film installation shown at FutureFest this summer.
I’ve been fascinated by the mind since I was a child, sitting in the corner of my bedroom devouring the complex characters in the books and films that made up my world. As I grew older I realised that those around me were just as complex and fascinating as any piece of literature, and so began a lifelong obsession with documenting the human condition and the myriad, messy ways we all make sense of the world and our place in it.
As I was transported into different lives, observing and capturing the stories of people from all walks of life, one overriding thought stayed with me; we all create our truths, and it is the subjective truths – the stories we tell ourselves – that determine our behaviour. I became interested in how we create and generate our reality.
In 2008, driven by this obsession with neuroscience, psychology and film, I began developing ideas for cinematically recreating how different brains perceive the world in a series of altered states. I was fascinated by how consciousness exists on a spectrum, and how our brains and memories process the world around us to create narratives about ourselves and the world.
I came on board to develop Escape to Reality as a film and sound installation, in collaboration with the composer Jamie Perera and leading neuroscientist Anil Seth. The aim of the installation was to explore Anil’s research on how the brain generates its own reality, to question whether reality might be a hallucination.
We based the film around two people’s accounts of their feelings and sensations from undertaking the same activity. We didn’t reveal their altered states until the end of the film. These were genuine accounts, not acted or scripted in any way. When I met with the film’s subjects to record their experiences, I focused on re-creating their sensory processes from being ‘in the moment’. This produced an immediate, intimate narration so that as a viewer we can hear their internal voice.
Jamie and I then worked on how an identical event would be perceived by the brains of our two narrators, how image, sound, motion, colour, space and time would be processed and perceived in each worldview. Our aim was to make the audience feel differently about the same scenario, to perceive it literally through the eyes of our two protagonists.
It was fascinating to observe the audience’s responses, and the different feelings that were generated, as they engaged in a guessing game in their own minds to make sense of what they were experiencing. This highlighted a greater truth with the experiment, that there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ state of consciousness, and that we all interpret and create our realities at all times, with our unique brain makeup, memories and context. Our past experiences and memories create an internal narrative, through which we make sense of what we perceive. The reality doesn’t change but how we process it is unique to us, and it is this that creates the truth of the world that we perceive. Which lead me to concluding that all of our brains, whether ‘altered’ or not, are hallucinating all of the time.