Filling the Gaps

Human beings cannot stand not knowing things. We like to know everything about our universe so that we can feel comfortable walking around in the world. As a part of human nature we tend to fill the gaps in areas where we do not have any knowledge. Science seeks to provide answers by disproving theories and has provided a great deal of knowledge, but there are still holes in that knowledge. Either through fear of the unknown, laziness or insecurity some humans feel a need to fill those gaps in our knowledge. By far the easiest thing to fill any knowledge gap with is a God or supernatural being that can explain everything. All gaps can be covered by a subset of that God, i.e. how do you explain ghosts? Ghosts are demons, and no further proof is required because the belief is based on faith. It allows for an extremely lazy perspective on looking at the world. If you have a legitimate question, don’t worry God did it!

The invention of God was possibly a necessity to fill the massive void of the universe. There were simply way too many unknowns for humans to be able to remain mentally stable without the invention of some kind of supernatural gap filler. But do we still need this? People cling to the ancient constructs of their primitive brains. Evolution is a slow process and this is powerfully demonstrated through studies of the human brain. Visual experiments demonstrate that our optical system will fill the gaps when presented with suggestive but incomplete visual data. What this means is that you cannot always trust your eyes. Your brain is calculating at a phenomenal rate, but it is doing so in order to paint a complete picture of the world around you, whether that exists or not. Your brain is literally filling the gaps in your visual field to complete the picture that it expects to see. This is in effect a type of belief. Your brain has made suppositions about the world, it believes that the world is supposed to look a certain way. As a form of confirmation bias it then determines to fill in the gaps in order to make the world look as it expects.

Psychologist Richard Gregory argued that perception is a constructive process which relies on top-down processing. For Gregory perception involves making inferences about what we see and trying to make a best guess.  Prior knowledge and past experience, he argued, are crucial in perception. “When we look at something, we develop a perceptual hypothesis, which is based on prior knowledge. The hypotheses we develop are nearly always correct. However, on rare occasions, perceptual hypotheses can be disconfirmed by the data we perceive.”[1]

Gregory identified a number of factors about vision and illusion: a lot of information reaches the eye, but about 90% is lost by the time it reaches the brain. Therefore, the brain has to guess what a person sees based on past experiences. We actively construct our perception of reality. Perception involves a lot of hypothesis testing to make sense of the information presented to the sense organs. Our perceptions of the world are hypotheses based on past experiences and stored information. Sensory receptors receive information from the environment, which is then combined with previously stored information about the world which we have built up as a result of experience. The formation of incorrect hypotheses will lead to errors of perception (e.g. visual illusions like the Necker cube).[2] An example of his experimentation can be found here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbKw0_v2clo#t=101

Over millions of years our brains have evolved to fill the gaps, creating a complete picture of the world which harmonises with our preconceptions. If the brain can do this with regards to vision there is no reason to believe that it cannot also perform this function in other ways. This gap filling behaviour has become a key part of the way that our brains work.

Furthermore, this gap filling behaviour is a part of our DNA. Our ancestors knew very little about the world and therefore had massive knowledge gaps which would provide an enormous amount of anxiety. The easiest thing of course was to create a supernatural God that could explain everything: then one could live their life without having to strain their mind over all of the ins and outs. And of course this behaviour of our ancestors has been passed down in our genes. But as knowledge increased through scientific discovery we have fewer gaps and therefore the need for this type of gap filling behaviour has diminished. However, the genetic predisposition to undertake gap filling behaviour is still prevalent. We have actually reached a tipping point where ancient superstitions and traditions have collided with modern scientific knowledge. Many people are still clinging to the ancient superstitions and “gap fillers” even when they clearly contradict scientific knowledge. As knowledge increases our need for God diminishes, and this is not a bad thing. Will the need for God ever completely perish? I hope so, but as long as there are unanswered questions in science there will always be gap filling behaviour providing an outlet for the superstitious mind. But the hope is that as science advances and we understand more and more about our universe people will find less and less need for gap filling and be able to accept the world for what it is.

[1] http://www.simplypsychology.org/perception-theories.html.

[2] Ibid.

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2 thoughts on “Filling the Gaps

  1. Most excellent take on the God of the Gaps assessment. I particularly enjoyed the helpful link as I love studying psychology and that site is a great resource for learning.

    Like

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