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Seeing is believing: Where science meets religion

Inverted qualia: What is the relationship of a strawberry's physical properties to the human imagination and physical brain state? Image by Was a Bee/Wikipedia Commons.

Mysteries surrounding awareness, particularly visual awareness, have intrigued philosophers for centuries. Now we are developing tools to study the brain and awareness in a quantifiable manner.

Emory biologist Alex Escobar, whose research is currently focused on this topic, says that we produce bits of awareness, called "qualia," in our brain. Much like the points of color in a Seurat painting, these bits of awareness create an overall understanding of the sky, trees or people on a lakeshore.

In a way, "you are the scene that you're perceiving," Escobar says. "Everything that you experience is actually part of who you are."

Escobar believes that the field of awareness is the point where science and religion meet. "When we fully begin to understand it, we're going to open the door to a whole new way of understanding ourselves and the world around us," he says.

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