Sunday, April 10, 2016

Vulnerabilities of the Human Brain

Just yesterday, I watched the movie "Regression".  The reviews were just a little above 3 stars, but really, you should watch it.  It states at the beginning that it's based on a true story.  It definitely is.  (Spoilers ahead!)  I remember living through the period when it seemed every day or so you could easily read an article about yet another person who underwent hypnosis therapy, only to find that they were sexually molested by their parents, a friend, a relative, etc.  I remember thinking at the time, "This is ridiculous!  Maybe some of these are true, but really, don't we all know that you can get a person to say or do just about anything under hypnosis?"  Sure enough, it took about a year, but finally enough professionals in the field started investigating.  We now that a lot of innocent peoples' lives were destroyed by what we now, finally, recognize as "Junk Science".

Today, I saw that Texas and California now have laws which allow for an immediate hearing for anyone who was convicted solely on "Junk Science"; i.e., science which has since been shown to not be as reliable as we once thought.  This is a good thing and badly needed.  All jurors need to know about this possibility.

But, believe it or not, that's not what prompted this blog entry.  What prompted this blog entry was reading Dr. Carrier's article, "Did the Apostles Die for a Lie?".  Yes, the two are very much connected.  Just hear me out.  In this article, he discusses the question of whether the Apostles would have knowing died for what they knew at the time was a lie.  Read the article, as there are far too many ways this could, indeed, have happened (and has happened many times) for me to go into here.  The easiest, and simplest, explanation is simply that while they may have been totally convinced that what they "knew" as true, that doesn't mean it was true.  There are far more possibilities than simply, (1) they died for the truth, or (2) they died anyway, knowing it wasn't true.  If you don't know about The Law of the Excluded Middle, then you should learn about it.

But, that's just the beginning!  The brain is an amazing thing!  Always keep in your mind that what you know, what you see, what you hear, is totally within your brain.  If you brain says, "this is true", then it's true, for you, no matter what's happening outside!  I'll mention here that I had an experience once which really drove this home for me.  It was late morning.  (I love late morning.  I have the strangest dreams during late morning, and I usually remember them.  It's fascinating looking at how your brain is making sense of the random signals and random inputs (mostly from your ears)!  I dreamed a whole story line, which finally led up to an event which culminated in a loud noise.  That noise woke me up.  At that point, I realized the noise was a car horn.  Now, think about this.  My brain had no way to know that this car was going to blow its horn at that point, so it couldn't possibly create a story which led up to that, yet it did!  This means that in the instant when it heard the horn, it created the backstory to explain it, and I "knew" that story had happened, even though it couldn't possibly have done so!  Your brain totally controls your perception of time itself.  Amazing!

The brain is capable of many more things which of which many people are not aware.  I give you, the Selective Attention Test.  If you haven't taken the test, you should.  You will then become unfit for jury duty, because you will know too much about the lack of value of an eye witness.  (I was tossed off a jury for mentioning it last year!)

Now, do we even need to go into Confirmation Bias?  A good book on this is, "Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why we Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts".  Read it, especially if you work in the Judicial System.

There are many ways to alter your view or understanding of the world, even without drugs.  One of the more interesting ways, not mentioned in the above article, is to simply toss your head back and forth.  Do this for quite a while, even in time with music if you like, and you will produce a euphoric state.  Supposedly this is due to the large amount of endorphins which are released.  We know this today because studies have revealed it, however obviously many religions didn't know this at the time, which is why so many religious ceremonies involve this type of action and claim that it, "brings one closer to God!"  I'll also mention here that other studies have clearly shown that a magnetic field across the brain in just the right place can produce a sense of being in the presence of God.  (I don't have to make this stuff up!  The world is plenty interesting all by itself!)

So, now that we know all of the many ways in which the brain can be tricked in seeing, or not seeing, things which are there, producing whole stories around events which other actual explanations, even producing whole backstories to explain an occurrence, and producing mental states which clearly show we're in the presence of a divine being, simply because we're wearing a helmet(!), can we really continue to allow our children to be caught off guard by these things?!  Shouldn't we be teaching, in elementary, or high school at the latest, all of these known phenomena, so that when our kids end up having some strange experience during a camping trip when they were exhausted and hadn't eaten lately, they'll realize what's happening?  Wouldn't it be good to hear, just once, from someone that, "I had a really strange, other worldly experience, and it felt as though I had died and gone to heaven", only to have the next sentence be, "but I know what caused it, I know that it's rather typical of the state I was in, none-the-less it was interesting and fun!"

We need to educate our kids about all of the ways in which their perceptions can not necessarily be trusted.  If they know about these things, then they will be better prepared when (not if) the situations occur.  It's normal physiology, just like knowing how to lift a heavy load without hurting your back, just like understanding the causes of deja-vu (which can also be artificially produced).  People need to learn about these things, so they can stop hurting, and even destroying the lives of, others (as well as their own selves) by misinterpreting these things, when they happen.  (They always happen eventually.)

Don't trust your perceptions and stay safe out there!