“[T]he brain works around the clock to stitch together a pattern of logic to our daily lives: what just happened and what was my role in it? Fabrication of stories is one of the key businesses in which our brains engage. Brains do this with the single-minded goal of getting the multifaceted actions of the democracy to make sense.”
David Eagleman, “Incognito: the secret lives of the brain”
“How can we be so different and feel so much alike?…How can we feel so different and be so much alike?”
Janell Cannon, “Stellaluna”
The blog post wherein I make sense of Incognito, by David Eagleman.
As you read this, parts of your brain are translating the squiggly lines on this page into units of meaning. To your conscious brain, it seems effortless. Later, perhaps, you will type a comment, and your fingers will fly across the keyboard, automatically finding the right keys. If you look down at your keys and start thinking about it, however, you will likely make some rather embarrassing typos. Better let your unconscious programs take care of the typing. Hey, man, just be more zen. Don’t think. Feel. Let it flow.
Our brains operate millions of “programs” below our level of awareness. They are efficient. They keep our lungs breathing and our heart beating. They let us walk, talk, drive, eat, and think (not all at the same time) without consciously directing the actions of our muscles, vocal chords, eyes, or brain. Most of us come hard-wired to acquire language–even deaf babies babble–read facial expressions, find symmetric features attractive, seek out mates from a different gene-pool, expend the least energy possible, and adore sugar and fat.
Oh no! Cookies!
The part of your brain that evolved to seek out sugar may be shouting, “Cookies! Me want cookies!” while another part is cajoling, “Stop, fool! You don’t want to make your New Year’s Resolution to lose weight even harder.”
Your drive for instant gratification competes with the rational understanding that your future self will live to regret that cookie. You may reconcile these conflicting neural programs with a compromise. Thus: “I’ll just have half a cookie.” Or, perhaps, you’ll decide: “I’ll put that cookie in the freezer, drink a glass of water, and if I still want it in five minutes, it’s mine, all mine.” Or you might ask someone else to just hide the darn things from you because you know you can’t stop yourself.
That’s neural democracy at work.
Is “real” really real?
We perceive things differently, but just how differently? How much overlap is there between my reality and your reality? How much of reality do we even perceive? And how aware are we of what we do perceive?
Our brains take in loads of information and make millions of decisions without conscious direction or awareness. Otherwise, we would probably go insane! But, despite our constant information processing, we perceive so very little of what’s actually out there.
We cannot conceive of the rich world of scents and sounds occupied by our canine companions. (I used to have a chocolate lab who would wake up from her nap in the upstairs bedroom, start barking, dash down the stairs, and leap through the dog door whenever the mail delivery person arrived down the block. DOWN THE BLOCK. But she wouldn’t come when we called her.)
Most humans may see all the colors of the rainbow, but some birds can see ultraviolet light and even magnetic fields. We don’t know what we’re missing.
If you are color blind, you may not realize that the border of this page is blue. You don’t know what I mean by “blue.” And, you’re okay with that. Most people didn’t notice it anyway.
But if you are the mother or daughter of a color blind male, you may be a tetrachromatic woman who can distinguish that this particular shade of blue is a hue of robin’s egg distinctly different from baby blue, turquoise, or sky blue.
Maybe you have super vision. Take this test on color acuity. I scored a “0,” which is perfect. Just sayin’.
If you are among the one in 100 people who have synesthesia, the elaborate cross-wiring
in your brain may produce the experience of specific colors, smells, or music when you read certain words in this post.
To you, this is normal and it is inconceivable that others don’t experience the world this way. It is unimaginable to the rest of us. Wait, what? The word “cookie” is the feeling of a pin poking into your left calf??? I’m so sorry!
Not to get too sophomoric on you, but, Dude! Your red may be different from my red! Fortunately, if we both agree ketchup is red, then we won’t have a communication breakdown.
If only all of life were that simple, right?
Windows and Mirrors
Parts of your brain are associating this post with similar ideas you’ve heard and read, and fitting it into ideas that you already have about the world. This post is reinforcing the world-view, the “schemas,” you already possess. You may find your own reflection looking back at you in every post you read. Glad I was able to confirm that for you. No, I’m not saying you’re a narcissist. You’re just human. Don’t get me wrong!
That blog post that came to you in the night and forced you out of bed had been rumbling around in your brain for a while now. You just didn’t know it yet. A multitude of neural programs synthesized a million conflicting experiences into intuitions… into dreams… into ideas that eventually percolated up into your conscious awareness in a Eureka! moment, à la: “Listen to this! I just thought of something! “Sins of Emission.” That’s when a Catholic teenage boy doesn’t masturbate (a Sin of Commission), but has wet dreams. Now how can I work that into a blog post without embarrassing anybody?”
Now, aren’t you glad you read this far? You wouldn’t have wanted to miss that!
Blogging, for me, is a way to capture memories, check my perceptions and preconceptions, and make sense of my life. It’s a way to figure out what happened, and what was my role in it? It’s the way I open up a window into myself, peer through it and invite you to do the same.
Engaging with other blogs is way to look through a window into your lives, hopefully gain some new perspective and insight, and perhaps find a resonance. A connection.
On my one-year blog-iversary, I’d like to give a heart-felt “thank you” to the other bloggers (and non-bloggers) who engage with me here, and who have opened a window into their lives for all the world to peer through.
With our many voices babbling into the night, is there some prefrontal cortex, some higher consciousness, making sense of it all? Does it matter?
We are here.