Inventing Reality by Jeffrey Schrank, is an expansive synthesis of scientific and philosophical thought supporting the startling conclusion that our world is not so much perceived as it is created by our own minds. Quite apart from the world as it is in itself, the worlds we create are the products of our neurology, our metaphors, and the deep biases forged into the human brain.
Schrank’s writing is situated in the celebrated tradition of popular American science writing alongside authors like Oliver Sacks and Stephen Pinker, with whom he shares a multi-disciplinary approach informed by neuroscience and psychology. He quotes both authors frequently, and appearances are also made by the likes of Daniel Dennett, William James, and David Hume. Interestingly, unlike some of those authors, Schrank expresses no particular antagonism toward religion.
Inventing Reality offers many provocative insights: That our brains fill in gaps that our eyes don’t actually see, that it’s impossible to see without individual interpretation and, consequently, that all our perceptions are inherently biased. Perhaps even more concerning, our biological preference for creating patterns in our perceptions leaves us inevitably vulnerable to conspiracy theories and magical thinking. Moreover, it seems to render ideological partisanship all but a foregone conclusion.
If there is a weakness in Inventing Reality it’s that Schrank’s case against objectivity is so convincing that it leaves readers reeling with potential consequences. In the polarized time in which we live, a discussion that seeks a way past our partisanship and conspiracy theories would be welcome. But Schrank’s work is primarily descriptive and offers few prescriptions for grappling with that, leaving readers with an overall feeling of moral relativism.
Nonetheless, Inventing Reality is a compelling read: an intensively researched and thoughtfully composed treatise on the vagaries of the human mind in the style of the best science journalism. It’s an impactful work that will leave few of even its readers’ most basic assumptions about the world unscathed.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.