Weird Brain Tricks
Our brains are marvelously fantastic and sophisticated organs. The brain controls everything we do, think and experience. It is a fundamental tenet of neuroscience that our minds and our brains are but one entity; there is no mind without the brain.
Our opinion of ourselves as human is based a great deal in the power of our brain. Perhaps that is why we are so intrigued by the weird brain tricks that our mind plays on us. We must trust our experiences and our brain because, well, that is all that we have.
Occasionally we are confronted with a weird brain trick that shows us that how we perceive the outside world is not always the way the outside world actually is. Neuroscientists have long been fascinated with these weird brain tricks because by identifying them and studying them we are able to learn how the most complex organ in our body functions
Perception Versus Reality
Rene Descartes famously conjectured 'I think therefore I am' basing mankind's very existence on the ability of the mind to think. Our ability to function is based on how our brain processes the outside world, so that we can make wise decisions, detect danger, find a mate, etc.
To some it can be a bit unsettling to find that in processing the five senses, the brain can be tricked into misinterpreting or misreading the information that is has been given. These weird brain tricks point out unmistakably that our perception of reality is sometimes subtly different than true reality.
Danger! Hot Ice!
One famous example of a weird brain trick is the perception of temperature. Try this one on your friends: Have a friend place one hand on a moderately warm object (do not burn them!) and then have them place the other hand on an ice cold object. Almost certainly they will reflexively remove their hand from the ice cold object because their brain will perceive that the cold object is actually dangerously hot!
The brain, in an effort to avoid a burn, will make the hand withdraw. When they are slowly introduced to the cold object, they will certainly feel that it is cold, not hot; however, when faced with the best available information, the brain makes a snap decision that if one part of the body is sensing warmth and another contacts an extreme of temperature, then the extreme of temperature must be dangerously hot. The cold object is perceived as hot.
New Weird Brain Tricks
Recently neuroscientists at Cal Tech have uncovered a weird brain trick that is a bit more subtle. It involves how the brain processes color and movement. They graphically demonstrate that our brains undergo a 'binding problem.'
The area of the brain that processes color is different than the area that processes movement. When the brain sees a red, moving ball, however, the pieces of information are inseparably linked.
A link to the weird brain trick can be found at http://neuro.caltech.edu/ under the Visual illusion: Steady-state misbinding of motion and color' section. What happens is that our brains are willing to ignore the actual direction of movement of some red dots in order to make a single, cohesive assessment about all of the red dots. The reality is that the red dots are moving in different directions but the brain's perception is that they are all moving the same direction.
Researchers have uncovered dozens of weird brain tricks, each with their own story to tell about the way the brain functions. The future will likely reveal many more as we get closer to unlocking the deepest mysteries of the brain.
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