10 Weird Ways That People Misunderstand Your Brain

There is this post at Illuminutti.com (borrowed from listverse.com)  that lists some common ‘folklore’ about our brains to explain phenomenon that we all seem to experience and all of that is done without any explanation of how the brain works. There seems to be no end of folk that will offer explanations without even trying to attempt the basic explanation. Trust me when I say that trying to explain a huge Lego build without the listener knowing what Lego blocks are is going to be a failure of the four blind men and an elephant type.

Let’s just go through the ten with some commentary…


10 • Semantic Satiation – Repeating a word till it loses definition

They described this one fairly well, but did not explain it. When your brain is searching for the definition or meaning of something it uses an algorithm or three. The more you search the less there is in your head to retrieve. Your brain is only looking at the latest retrieval information. After a number of retrievals, there is nothing being returned and the simulation in your head loses context. This is because all of this work is done by your subconscious mind. Each previous retrieval is treated in the simulation as a miss… so the next retrieval is treated as a hit… but the retrieval is not cumulative. You experience the weird stuff because you are asking your subconscious to do something that does not make sense normally — keep searching because the last answer was wrong. Your brain tells you that you don’t know the answer at this point but you know that you know what the object is.. so you get the weirdness.

9 • Peripheral Theory Of Emotion – delayed or incorrect emotional reaction

This one is not even described well, using only one example. When you go out of normal environs and physically wear yourself out, you are not keeping self aware. When you wake your brain is expecting the comfort and safety of your normal sleeping place only to find that this is not so. Your subconscious mind sees a bear and initiates the flight/fight response… this kicks in and your brain catches up as it pieces together the events of the last 24 hours and the fact that there is actually a real bear looking at your nose like it’s breakfast. When consciousness kicks in, it is not immediate and can take several minutes… even in the comfort and safety of your normal abode.

8 • Earworms – Can’t get that song out of my head

This is not described very well. It is not just songs, even movie sound bites will do this among many other things. Your brain is very complex and it has working memory. In the absence of input, previous inputs will hang around. The suggested goldilocks treatment adds new inputs. Note that if you are not paying attention the ‘earworm’ won’t happen. Your brain has to be focused on the ‘earworm’ to start with and void of other inputs at the time… generally speaking. This sets up the condition where something can seem to get stuck. Music, language, and other ‘functions’ are handled by the subconscious mind… if the parts that handle them do not get busy with other stuff, that earworm is all they have going on so every time they input data to the simulation in your conscious mind it will be the same thing… gah Spice Girls

7 • Moral Dumbfounding – being unable to explain our own morality

This is where the post went right on down the garden path. There are a dozen things they should have to explain, but in a ‘top ten’ list such things never happen. I encourage you to read the post just to get this one. The simulation we run in our brains is based on rules. If we learn (indoctrination) as a child that cannibalism wrong we make that one of the rules in our simulation. If it is never challenged we cannot explain why that is a rule, only that we know it is a rule. There is no effing magic to this. When you ask someone to define their god you get some woo woo definition. Each time they are challenged they will change their definition…. but no matter how they are challenged they will continue to believe in a god even if they cannot explain why. They accepted the rule to their simulation without questioning it.They accepted it as an unquestionable truth. Incest, for example, is not ‘wrong’ … it simply increases the chances of disease because of how genetics works. With no offspring the question becomes very simple… there is nothing wrong with it outside of cultural customs. The trouble is that people accept that incest is bad without questioning why, so they can’t explain it when finally asked.

6 The GPS Effect -too much use of GPS actually makes it harder for us to create spatial maps.

This is another miss. It is not the use of GPS but the failure to use your brain to build spatial maps that is bad for you. This is like saying that toaster pastries are bad for you, so using toasters makes you fat. Many of my readers will not remember how to do 8th grade algebra… oh noes, calculators are making their brains shrink! The simple fact is that if your brain does not need a process, it will shelve it in order to use energy more effectively by only concentrating on the tools and algorithms it needs daily. Further to this, what is the definition of a healthy brain? All these folk that claim something is bad for your brain will never tell you because they do not know. The examples on this are like saying relying on your left leg is bad because when you don’t have it your brain won’t know how to function properly. That leads into prosthesis and robotics… but there is no room here for all of that discussion. If you’re not always going to have a calculator, learn math. If you’re not always going to have gps, learn to get around. There is no weird trick here.

5 Sensory Deprivation – imagined sensory input during lack of input.

The simulation in your head is running while you are conscious. Without input, noisy sensors will give some input. The rest of your brain will try to make sense of it in the simulation. Ergo, you will have a tendency to hallucinate. This is not a trick, just a simple misunderstanding of how the brain works. It is not a perfect machine that knows everything. Your subconscious mind continues to look for faces, ferret out sounds from the noise of life and so on. These processes feed data to your simulation which tries to assemble cogent components from the noise… it’s only natural that things will get muddled up.

4 Sympathetic Pain – mirror neurons

This one is interesting. Your brain runs a simulation. Seeing and understanding the activities of another get simulated in your own brain and the response is the same as if the signals had come from your own body sensors. This is nature doing double duty on the sensory input thing – you seeing someone get hurt is the same signal inputs as you getting hurt so that it works out the same in the simulation. To do otherwise would require two processes, one running your own body inputs and another feeding data to the simulation from a different point for other’s pains etc. Our brains are complex, but not that complex. When you cut your finger, ‘pain’ is not transmitted to your brain, just signals… your brain’s simulation turns those signals into ‘pain’ so when your brain feeds you identical signals to the simulation in response to someone else getting hurt, you feel the pain too… but without physical sensation.

3 False Memories – How our brains connect cause and effect

On this one they get real close. This is even accurate in as much as they get detailed. The process of linking memories to and with cause and effect allows us to piece it altogether in accordance to the rules in our brain’s simulation. Without all the details our brains will supply suggestions from subconscious that the conscious mind forces together to make what seems like a coherent story – remember back to waking up with a bear salivating over the thought of your left arm for breakfast? Your brain has to make sense of that and it takes time. If you have false inputs or are willing to accept inputs/data with very low credibility, any crazy story can seem to make sense…. and that is how we get belief in gods.

2 Sleep Drunkenness – wtf?

Clearly these people have never been drunk. It might be similar, but tired people don’t fall flat on their faces and laugh about it. We’ve covered this a bit already. The problem with losing consciousness is trying to regain it when you wake. Many people are really bad at gaining full consciousness on waking for minutes to hours. I personally find that talking is difficult when just woken up. Too much sleep just means that more of the simulation has been put to rest and has to be revived. There is chemical issues going on to remove consciousness during sleep. Too much sleep can increase the chemicals which take longer to wear off… thus causing what is described here. Still, these people have never really been drunk… tired and drunk are NOT the same thing at all.

1 Hypnagogia – oh goody, they tried this one

They go on to explain that when your brain is getting mixed signals, it can hallucinate – No shit? So all that stuff about sensory deprivation is something different? During sleep your body generates the chemicals to stop motor function and shut off sensory input… when that process is only half complete there will be weirdness… any machine will do that. Go on, corrupt a spreadsheet file and see what it displays on the screen. Duh!


And for the bonus round, our home audience might rejoice at the grammar nazi issues in this post. Here’s a beauty:

And our brains are not satisfied with their games only when we are sleeping or in that twilight state between worlds—neurologically normal people can have auditory hallucinations even when wide awake.



  1. That’s a big problem of the Internet, having so much information at your fingertips, making you feel like you have so little time to digest it. The Internet has messed with our attention spans, so people feel the need to condense everything – at the expense of quality. It’s like Farenheit 451, information condensed to Reader’s Digest versions, condensed to meaningless facts that require no thought to process.

    • The Internet can be like that if you are willing to trust it as ‘the’ source…. the critical mind does not.

      Thanks for commenting

  2. I like this. I don’t think am likely to check out the links though.
    Interestingly, more than 80% of the time I wake up almost if not fully awake. My system starts to reboot I guess a few minutes just before I wake.

    • The reboot is different for everyone as it is chemically induced…

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