Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Your Mind Lies to You: Crazy Stuff your Brain Pulls

Internet, I...I did something horrible this week. I was weak and...I hope you can forgive me because I'm not sure I can forgive myself.

I opened a Twitter account. *shudder*

I'll be updating it weekly with new posts plus through the week just with cool stuff I find so if you, too, are a lost soul, searching the twitterverse for something meaningful, come follow me at @TomUnderReview. You can also follow Ivy at @LokiKnits to get more news about her awesome made-to-order scarves and just general cosplay goodness.

Source: Selene Estrada

I feel dirty.

Outside of that, this week's been very quiet for me not counting working my ass off to get the Minecraft server ready to go. Did I mention that? That's a thing that's still happening. We just hit a bit of a lull, but we're back on the ball and nearly ready to go. We're doing something crazy and adding a STORY to our server! That's exciting! Also totally within my purview. That's good, too, because I'm awful and building and a lot of the tekkit mods go right over my head.

Alright, well, news is done, Sleep time cometh, let's set this one up and tap viciously at it until it goes home crying.

Your Mind Lies to You
Crazy Stuff your Brain pulls

It's probably a safe assumption that you more or less trust your brain. Sure, you know not to leave it by itself for too long and that it probably makes scary stuff scarier than it actually is, but in general, your brain is the command center of your body, possibly with a steely-resolved Sean Connery or Captain J.T. Kirk sitting in a tiny chair in the middle of it. Your eyes, nose, ears, skin, so on send your brain/ship bridge information for your respective captain to consider and use to make rational, informed decisions about how best to handle whatever situations may face it.

Except it is exactly nothing like that. Your brain is less Captain Kirk in expert control of the whole Enterprise and more like a Redshirt who happened to walk onto the bridge and just started making guesses as to what the buttons do. 

For anyone I may have just lost, here is an example of what Redshirts do.
In the course of a day, any given brain will guess, fudge, omit, estimate, irresponsibly extrapolate, and even just straight-up make stuff up on a terrifyingly regular basis. Because I like my readers like I like my women (horrified, yet fascinated) we'll start right there with the making stuff up bit.

Specifically, we're talking about False Memory Syndrome where your mind, for whatever reason, completely fabricates entire memories. This isn't just people remembering things wrong, but creating entirely new, self-contained experiences that never goddamn happened. Most people usually aren't in extreme danger of having this happen to them, at least not on a regular basis or to a huge degree but you can read here about a woman named Nadean Cool who became convinced that she joined a Satanic cult, ate babies, was raped, and had more than 120 personalities, including one of a duck somehow. 

Quack! Quack! Hail Satan! Quack!
It's important to note that Nadean wasn't crazy--she didn't have a major psychological disorder that would make her just dream this stuff up. She did adamantly believe all of these things for more than a decade though, all because in 1986 she went to see a therapist who decided to help her uncover some memories she must have repressed

Repressed memories are another bit of misunderstood psychobabble that Hollywood likes to throw around, so let me clarify a couple things. Repressed memories are not, as far as most respectable head doctors are concerned, a real thing. Not insofar as being things that affect your behavior subconsciously, at least. In fact, it was cases like Nadean's that lead to the idea's being generally discredited. Turns out, most of the "successful" cases of unearthing repressed memories were just stuff that got made up during therapy either by the patient or accidentally (or at least I would hope) by the therapist. 

So you can't trust your own memories and holy shit that's a huge thing to not be able to trust. You've got to live in the moment, memories mean nothing, so your world's only what is right in front of your eyes. Except you can't trust those, either. For a few reasons, actually. Turns out your eyes are about as trustworthy as a drunk in an AA meating; they mean well, but....

The first sight-related mind madness we're going to look at is...actually, just watch this.

Did you watch it? 
Go watch it right now. I refuse to continue with this article until you have.
Okay, good.

That video is actually a much slicker (and much more British) reproduction of an experiment having to do with Selective attention, also known as the Cocktail Party Effect on fridays and whenever there's a Karaoke Night. In simplest terms, it's your brain's tendency to filter out white noise and distractions (like similarly colored shapes moving around what you're trying to look at) when it's trying to focus on something. The more complicated the something and the more homogeneous the background, the more gets filtered out. That's why you didn't notice a man in a goddamn bear suit moonwalk across the screen; your brain didn't notice because it was similarly colored to what you'd been implicitly told to ignore. 

Similar to that is "Change Blindness" which has to do with how your brain processes information in a way similar to Selective attention. When you look at someone's face, the image isn't normally just branded into your mind forever or even for a bit; that'd waste a lot of mind space. Instead your brain just sort of makes a checklist of features and assigns them to a person. One thing you need to understand about this checklist is that, like anything memory related, especially short-term, it's very disposable and very open to suggestion. If, somehow, your visual continuity is broken without realizing it (i.e. blinking) and what you were looking at becomes replaced with something even just sort of vaguely similar looking, you're prone to not even notice. The extent to which this can happen is actually really hilariously impressive, as evinced by this video which is also a much slicker, much more British version of a similar experiment:

If you skip to the end, they switch him out with a black guy.

Just as interesting, but sadly not quite as demonstrable is something called "Saccadic Masking"

Do me a favor; without moving your head, use your eyes to look all the way to the right, then all the way to the left.

Now what if I told you that in that split second where you were looking from right to left, you were completely and totally blind. Do it a couple more times, go ahead. You might notice a tiny black flicker at best, but generally, your sight seems to stay in tact, right? This is actually an illusion created by your brain to cover up for the fact that it's turned your eyeballs off, hence the masking part. Essentially, your brain takes its best guess at how the room should look at throws that image up where normally it puts what your eyes see. Why does it go to all this trouble? Because if it didn't, your equilibrium would be trying to keep up with a topsy-turvy world that moves every time your eyes do, resulting in the human race being the only known species who's primary form of communication is vomiting.

So...you know...take some time to thank your brain when you get the chance.
A really interesting part of Saccadic Masking is that sometimes, when your brain's making up that filler image, it does it wrong resulting in a sort of artifact like you'd see in a crappily photoshopped picture. This is actually where about 90% of the "Out of the corner of your eye" hallucinations come from. They can, however, get really crazily specific, like pieces of furniture that aren't there. As a brief aside, Saccadic Masking is another thing that can bring on Change Blindness because crazy brain stuff is more fun when they work together.

But let's move away from the eyes for a bit and a little deeper into the machinations of the mind. Do you like money? I like money. Do you have money? I don't, but it's fun to talk about, isn't it? What if I asked you whether five ones or one five was worth more? If you think about it, you should be able to tell me that they're both the same amount of money, but that doesn't mean your brain agrees with you. 

It's called the Money Illusion and what it breaks down to is that your brain is awful with money. When you hold money in your hand, the smart way to consider it would be how much value it has; how much it can buy you; two beers, a happy meal, a high five if you're really lonely, I guess. This is really complicated though and your brain is awfully lazy so instead it stores the money nominally--literally how much there is, physically. There have actually been studies where researchers gave one group five one dollar bills and one group one fiver apiece and the fivers tended to hang on to their bills while the people who got singles were more likely to trade them out for jerky and soda and the like. This is why strip clubs and other places prefer you to do your business in singles because they know that your brain looks at the fistful of dollars and is like "AW YEAH, look how rich I am!"

Finally, we end our tour of the WTF centers of the brain with Cryptomnesia (crip-tom-nee-see-ah, I had trouble with it, too). Cryptomnesia is a psychological phenomenon where the brain remembers something, but doesn't remember that it's a memory and not a new idea, usually resulting in accidental plagarism. Did you ever tell a joke and insist that you came up with it yourself? Cryptomnesia. Did you and your friends invent a game that everyone's playing now? Cryptomnesia. Did you accidentally write a paragraph that was almost word for word identical to something else? Cryptomnesia. I should have saved my scumbag brain meme for this one because cryptomnesia is kind of a douche, indirectly making all kinds of people to look like thieving assholes.  If it sounds like a really convenient excuse to get away with ripping someone off...then you're only half right, as I'm pretty sure that at some point, it's been used for exactly that (Vanilla Ice, I'm looking at you). Some pretty big names have done it though including Neitzsche, Byron, Hellen Keller, and Robert Louis Stevenson to just rattle some names off the wiki page irresponsibly. 

Look, if it sounds crazy, just keep in mind some people think that cryptomnesia is a sign of past lives so...it can always get crazier. I hope this has been a valuble lesson in how crazy, messed up, imperfect, and just plain lazy your brain can be.

Thank you, Goodnight.

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