Untapped Worlds – Departure

I pick up where I left off previously in Untapped Worlds — An Intro

Superstition

A rabbit’s foot, a rosary, black-eyed peas on New Year’s day, ghosts, witches, vampires, devils and angels, are all beliefs or superstitions which thrive in human brains. Why?

As noted in the previous post, our brains work on an average 12.6 watts per “normal” day awake. The brain must work very efficiently in order to maintain a good survival-rate for the rest of our body on a mere 12.6 watts of metabolic-energy. It makes deductions, connections, and inferences, spotting patterns and drawing conclusions, and makes predictions into the immediate and near futures. It stores this information for later too, sometimes accurate, sometimes partly accurate, and sometimes completely inaccurate. It also trashes or blocks information for what it perceives as the “best survival mode,” or the worst, for the moment or later, right or wrong.

Superstitions can bend or change history. In 1976 NASA’s Viking I orbiter took around 50,000 high-resolution photos of the Martian surface never seen in such detail by human eyes. The mission to the red planet was to find evidence of possible life. One particular image seemed to clearly show a giant face with two eyes, a nose, and a mouth that measured approximately 1-mile in width. Observers immediately began seeking answers, seeking meaning to why and how the face was there. Many of the explanations were that an advanced species of aliens had built the face. If anything this NASA photo convinced much of the public that extraterrestrial life was at least probable. A vintage 19th century photo of a couple became a sensation in art galleries because it possessed an oversized “Jesus-head” superimposed on the man (see slide show). Whether the gentleman in reality had his daughter on his knee, people could not see anything else in the image accept the large head.

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The imagined perception of a pattern or meaning where it actually does not exist is called pareidolia. Dr. Nouchine Hadjikhani of Harvard University says this neuro-phenomena has been hardwired over several 100,000 years into our brain. We try to detect faces from birth. Hadjikhani’s studies show that newborns direct their attention toward general facial features as opposed to random shapes. Neuroscientist Joel Voss at Northwestern University explains that to make sense of an image we “assign meaning to them — usually by matching them to something stored in long-term knowledge. But sometimes things that are slightly “ambiguous” get matched up with things we can name more easily — resulting in pareidolia.” This is a product of our own expectations or desires, also called self-generated illusions. And often, once you get them embedded into your head, it is very difficult to unthink them. We have an evolutionary tendency to construct order out of perceived chaos because chaos is seen as a threat to survival. Hence, “death” has a plethora of human illusions and superstitions attached to it. Can you name a few?

Ambiguity

Believe it or not, your brain lies to you a lot. And believe it or not, falsehoods and history go hand in hand, both on a personal as well as a global level. Whether you’re comfortable with it or not, it is practically impossible to know exactly what is fact or what is fiction, or a version of it somewhere in between.

New York Daily News archive via Getty Images

New York Daily News archive via Getty Images

A well told story can make a person believe in almost anything. Case and point, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air enactment of an alien invasion of Earth broadcasted on the radio in 1938. This mass hysteria caused by the radio broadcast was later retold as “never before seen in the annals of news broadcasting!” But in reality the numbers of panicked listeners were insignificant due to another much more popular radio show, The Chase and Sanborn Hour airing at the same time. Only a tiny audience was actually listening to Welles’ Mercury Theatre. The asserted “nation’s hysteria” was sensationalized and inflated by none other than the major newspaper corporations who had been losing large amounts of advertising revenue to radio. Seizing upon the retribution opportunity provided by Welles, they launched a discrediting campaign against radio newscasts. Otherwise, the “panic-inciting” War of the Worlds broadcast would have never become an overgrown myth. The Salem Witch Trials would be another case and point to the power of well told stories of fiction (fear) versus facts.

Why do political candidates practice public speaking, body language, and appearance to their TV or campaign-tour audiences? Why do major fashion and cosmetic companies hire celebrity endorsements for advertising their products and services? Why do sporting companies like Nike or Under Armour do the same? It is called the Halo Effect and it permeates our decision-making all the time.

The halo effect is not only evident purely by appearances either. It can be shown by personalities. For example, a job applicant with an outgoing friendly personality will on average be rated by an employer as intelligent, competent, and qualified more times than one with an introverted quite personality. And even being aware of the halo effect does not guarantee your perceptions or decisions can avoid it. Diminishing its influence takes a lot of disciplined cognitive training to counter it because our own sphere of influence and personal highly subjective life experiences often dictate our decisions between real, the possible, and the unreal or impossible.

What Must We Do?

courage fulfillsThe first thing we must do is to accept the reality that our brain and its perceptions and interpretations of our self, the world in which we live, and the nature of others can be irrationally conceived. Like it or not our brains are naturally narrow-minded beginning at birth, through our childhood and adolescence, and into young adulthood. To an ever-growing extent our perceptions and conceptions are solely dependent upon many variable factors. Factors such as social, environmental, educational, political, familial, or psychological, telling the observer (us) what is being observed or being sensed. This is known as extrapolation.

The only way to reduce extrapolation, variances, or estimation, and gain more truth and precision is to test, question, and verify, sometimes repeatedly with new or modified factors. And the only way to move beyond the relative known… is to depart for the unknown. Otherwise, our brains are more susceptible to deception, superstitions, ambiguity, and flawed memory which can lead to a life not fully lived, or worse lived falsely. Besides, what are you or would you be really leaving? After these two blog-posts of how extremely limited and flawed our brains are, do you even know, with certainty, what life would be best and what life worse…honestly? Untie yourself, depart, and find out.

The next post in this series will be Untapped Worlds — Entries.
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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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24 thoughts on “Untapped Worlds – Departure

      • Allow me to be lazy and simply paste something previously written:

        “The human brain, in its simplest possible expression, is physically hardwired to find agency in nature. It is hardwired to answering a forever chattering paranoia, and for very good reason: the madness served Shakespeare’s Paragon of Animals extremely well at a time not that very long ago on the evolutionary scale when even the strongest and most cunning of men were counted as snack items.
        A breeze bending blades of grass could easily be attributed, albeit incorrectly, to a stalking lioness and all the dangers that it implied. The causal association made between the unpredictable movement of grasses and the presence of danger was a good thing, a skill, and like all skills the better practiced and more highly trained the trick the better it is for the individual and, more importantly, the population at large.
        Simply put, man’s evolutionary path rewarded the lesser of two evils whereby the cost of paranoia—listening to and acting on that paranoia—was deemed lower than the cost of more careful scepticism which, if wrong, extracts a painfully high price; namely death. The sceptical hominid might see the bending grass but take a moment to then survey surrounding trees and see if they too were bending. If they were then the probability of wind causing the movement of the grass increased but did not necessarily rule out the presence of a hungry lioness. Wrongly attributing the bending grass to an approaching lioness ninety-nine times out of a hundred was, it appears, less costly than being wrong once. The paranoid lived on to practice (or fend off) sexual advances, whereas the shameless sceptic tired of jumping at the slightest rustle met a less than pleasant demise.
        In a sentence: Nature beatified the neurotic.
        A tendency to make quick albeit mostly false associations was deemed more evolutionarily beneficial than more reliable but equally more time-consuming rational cynicism. There was a price to pay for this paranoia, a cost slowly accruing like silt behind a once useful damn wall, anxiety, but the price was evidently considered tolerable in the face of the more costly alternatives. Man is, as such, biologically attuned to this neurosis. It is, at a genetic level, his default setting—a physiological reality etched deep inside the genome of every highly strung, highly superstitious naked ape.
        Bending blades of grass are observed, synaptic nerve endings fire and the observation is linked to past events where the pattern of bending grass is followed by a blinding flash of sandy blonde fur, hazardously huge feline paws, and teeth-lined jaws that could ruin any champions day. What happens next is entirely involuntary. Up top there is a not-so mild biochemical explosion and norepinephrine floods the brain—the neurological equivalent of someone yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theatre . Adrenal glands go off like solid rocket fuel motors and adrenalin saturates the sympathetic nervous system. Neurons in the visual cortex spark off at triple normal speed and time appears to slow. Faster than thought the liver dumps its store of glucose into the blood. The heart and lungs snap into overdrive flooding muscles with oxygen, and with that the body is near-instantly prepared for Flight or Fight: a survival mechanism that has changed little, if at all, through the last 830,000 generations.
        The residue of this adaptation, of this skill, is that the human brain will always and instinctively seek to find agency in nature, but this does not necessarily translate into complete theistic propositions. Children, for example, lack spontaneous theistic views and the emergence of religion is crucially dependent on culture . All the ingredients for religion are however there, draped in almost perfect naturalism, waiting to be shaped by a mind possessed by a deep emotional need to explain the world in such a way that he can recognise and, importantly, feel comfortable with.”

        Liked by 5 people

        • Well my fine Sir, to say that elaboration was merely exceptional I feel would be a disservice to its pinpoint accuracy! Your “laziness” is forgiven! LOL Thank you so very much John for adding a WEALTH of significant corroboration to this series! *Professor bows humbly*

          Please stay tuned for the rest of the series! You can add MUCH to its spectrum, I assure you! ❤

          Liked by 1 person

        • Hi John,

          In my comment that I made about this blog below I mentioned to the Professor how beneficial it would be teach these cognitive biases and how the brain works at the adolescent to teenage years, but your point reminds of another thing that I think would be important for people to understand and that is probabilities. This is another thing that we really don’t have a good sense for because our minds are not built for very large (or very small) numbers. While nature certainly favored the better safe than sorry, I suspect that the skeptical rational side of the brain at some point would say…well we can’t always just keep running either. Maybe there is a better way to make sure we are never eaten by a lion. Likely they would come up with these things in their off times…you know…when they weren’t running from lions. 🙂 But I think over time they would get a pretty good sense of how many times they were being eaten by lions and reach some sort of balance to say…hey, sometimes we are just going to get eaten by lions and then come up with some new solutions. They would have a rough idea of the odds because the hunter gatherer group would have been no more than several hundred people. But now we live in populations so large, and we hear about all these people getting eaten by lions and we have no way to intuitively understand the odds. Because if each day 300 people get eaten by lions…this seems like a lot, because our hunter gatherer self is like “Holy shit…300 people have been eaten lions…that’s my whole tribe. But if your country had 300 million people…lions probably aren’t your worst problem. This is a huge source of cognitive dissonance. Here is a nice article that talks about this issue as well. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/29/science/jared-diamonds-guide-to-reducing-lifes-risks.html?_r=0

          Liked by 3 people

        • Nicely said.

          “then come up with some new solutions”

          We did… we went proactive and killed them, then thought some zoo’s might be nice. You know, a place where we could watch lions from behind one meter thick perspex windows while enjoying our sandwiches, and playing lotto 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

  1. I’ve read of these connections the human brain makes before, and found this a most interesting take on the subject Professor. I too shall elaborate extensively, but purely through the medium of interpretive dance; *proceeds to do so for a good forty minutes*

    – sonmi seeing faces everywhere upon the Cloud

    Liked by 3 people

  2. What a very interesting and thought provoking blog! The “Halo Effect” portion was extremely eyeopening. As to “our brains are naturally narrow-minded beginning at birth, through our childhood and adolescence..” concept, I can share an experience which highlights that very fact.

    When my son was about 6 or 7 years old, we had gone camping along the Guadalupe River outside of San Marcos. As we adults were all sitting around in the water, he, with his mega super-soaker and his fellow buddies, began squirting people as they floated down river. He yelled to his friends, “Only shoot the pretty ones!” This bellow reverberated off the canyon walls and could be heard for quite some distance. We laughed many times after that about what some of those floaters-by must have thought if they didn’t get squirted after hearing that command. Now I wonder if those that “knew they were pretty” were anticipating the water squirt, as I am sure those who didn’t get squirted wondered why the children didn’t think they were pretty. Or, if the ones that thought they were pretty and didn’t get squirted felt jilted for not being squirted – realizing the young boys didn’t see them the way they saw themselves.

    It wasn’t until your post that I now know there is a scientific explanation for the way he and his follow river soakers were thinking… 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • That is a great everyday example, perhaps a form of, the Halo effect Lonestar! Thank your young son for that. 😉 I also wonder how varied, how diverse everyone’s definition of “pretty” might be, particularly when their super-soaker ran out of water right at a critical time or malfunctioned! What does that mean!? “Standards”, in this case soaking-standards, are so incredibly relative and often not well thought out in quick everyday circumstances, huh? Much of the time I think they’re just instinctual and subconscious.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Superb post, Professor, and the video to boot. I should have included the Halo Effect in Swarn’s recent post because that would also explain the behaviors and perceptions many people have regarding personal responsibility. If one is attractive they are likely to be more “forgiven” for mucking things up for others. Hail dopamine: the great deceiver.

    I also loved John’s comment. I read several studies showing that when people live in stressful environments (poverty, authoritarianism, war) or if a stressful event has occurred, such as a natural disaster, terrorism), superstitious behavior increases, church attendance increases, and so do conspiracy theories. Is it any wonder why America has gone mad? It’s like the movie, Idiocracy, was prophetic.

    Quote:

    “You may not want to hear this,” says cognitive scientist David Geary of the University of Missouri, “but I think the best explanation for the decline in our brain size is the idiocracy theory.” Geary is referring to the eponymous 2006 film by Mike Judge about an ordinary guy who becomes involved in a hibernation experiment at the dawn of the 21st century. When he wakes up 500 years later, he is easily the smartest person on the dumbed-down planet. “I think something a little bit like that happened to us,” Geary says. In other words, idiocracy is where we are now.”

    “Untie yourself, depart, and find out.”

    lmao

    Liked by 2 people

    • A great correlation Victoria: Idiocracy. And I have to agree with you…

      …several studies showing that when people live in stressful environments (poverty, authoritarianism, war) or if a stressful event has occurred, such as a natural disaster, terrorism), superstitious behavior increases, church attendance increases, and so do conspiracy theories.

      I’ve personally experienced exactly those symptoms several times in my life — as I know you have as well — and observed them materialize in others too. In each case, I noticed an inward-collapsing of objectivity, gradual or fast depending on the severity & extent of the crisis or paranoia. As a result, I’ve learned a bit more HOW improved objectivity can be achieved through my trials and errors. I’m not so scared anymore of errors and flub-ups. LOL 😛 I think too shame and regret are more properly put into perspective and managed if homeostasis is never too far away.

      Hail dopamine: the great deceiver.

      LOL…is dopamine all bad!? Is it nothing more than a trickster 100% of the time? If so can we remove it completely…and if removed, what sort of human life & human interactions remain? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nono, it’s not all bad. Not at all. It’s only bad when when we don’t understand that if the action feels good, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you. We’d die without it, but we can also die because of its abuse.

        Swarn and I just got through talking about how easily we can be deceived (due to things like the Halo Effect, or the Coolidge Effect, etc, so much so, that people end up voting against their own best interests, or take risks that could have devastating, long-term effects on our well being.

        As you know, religion is very dopaminergic, which again, those warm fuzzy superstitious beliefs can lead us to thinking it’s good for us. Anyway, I just got through watching a ABC 20/20 show about speaking in tongues, and this man, apparently a minister, would walk down crime-ridden streets at night, alone, speaking in tongues. He said he was speaking “God’s” language, therefore he had special protection. You wrote:

        “As a result, I’ve learned a bit more HOW improved objectivity can be achieved through my trials and errors. I’m not so scared anymore of errors and flub-ups.”

        True that. Being far removed from traditional religious beliefs has played a role in me no longer being too self-reflective, and just embracing my humanness. I do think that trials and errors can be beneficial, but too many trials can impact the brain, causing atrophy, mental illness, and neurological disorders. People seek escape by deluding themselves to help alleviate the harshness of reality, but there are always side-effect to any drug.

        The smoking gun for the evolution of religion (for example) is that it rewards believers, neurochemically. And nature rewards adaptive behavior. University of Colorado at Colorado Springs psychologist Tom Pyszcynski advocates in his “terror management theory” that we need to delude ourselves to survive. Delusion is adaptive. Psychologist Cordelia Fine in her “A Mind of its Own: How Your Mind Distorts and Deceives” is another case in point: her term for this behavior is our “deluded brain.”

        Neuropharmacological studies reveal that we can be easily seduced and manipulated by that which makes us “feel” good.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. A wonderful post Professor. And as always your writing style is so fluid and enjoyable, I sometimes forget I’m also being informed. 🙂 More than any other field, I know of no person that researches the brain who isn’t an agnostic or atheist. Apparently neurosurgeons like Dr. Ben Carson don’t really research how the brain works, but just simply how to fix it, because that guy doesn’t seem to get it. Or else he knows it all too well and is simply lying through his teeth to manipulate people.

    Victoria and I have talked several times about how important it is that we get this stuff taught in schools. It actually isn’t very hard to demonstrate our cognitive biases through participatory exercises and goes a long way to make us better critical thinkers.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Swarn; and thank you for your feedback. 🙂

      I couldn’t agree more with you and Victoria about neuroscience getting taught in high schools. Yet the three of us — and others here that follow our various blogs & participate in discussions — know that “knowledge” and education regarding very broad (and extensive) subjects of Nature, Human Nature, and the world & Cosmos we live-in are unwelcomed subjects in certain geographical areas & ideologies. “Questioning” things or people, examining things/people, testing, retesting theories, etc, are frowned upon in those certain circles. Can you imagine what it would be like for the super-curious like you, me, Victoria, John Zande, Lonestar, et al, if our public libraries were heavily restricted and had only 1 or 2 subjects, only 10-15 books on their shelves? 😮

      It actually isn’t very hard to demonstrate our cognitive biases through participatory exercises and goes a long way to make us better critical thinkers.

      Very true. Personally, I’ve learned many times, often the hard(est) way, just how HUGE my ego can really get and can dominate my cognition. The human ego, the arrogant one especially, can be a monster! Consequently, I’ve had to often humble myself, embarrass myself even, to remind me of my TRUE place in this micro subatomic-Quantum existence and macro Cosmic Multiverse. The fragility of my miniscule size in it all… is extremely humbling! :/ But it is education, knowledge, experimenting, questioning, collaborating like this…that makes us all better Earthlings for each other. 🙂

      Like

  5. I’m still amazed about the 12.6 watts. No wonder I feel brain-dead so often.

    Part of my MBA looked at quite a bit of psychology under a module called, suitably vaguely, ‘Creative Management’. In essence it looked at the individual, ie one did a lot of self-analysis, then as part of a team (eg usual team roles) and finally as part of the wider organisation. It was very thought-provoking.

    Cognitive bias, and from that confirmation bias, are interesting. Because my trade and much of the work I did were very precise and deadline orientated I was regarded as a completer-finisher. Which yes, I obviously could do, but acc to Belbin, my actual preferences, were chair/plant/shaper/resource investigator. But, my colleagues weren’t aware of that.

    But moving on to actual visual perceptions. I remember reading years ago about how people appoint in their own image (although that can sometimes backfire badly, but that’s for another day). Similarly, something else I read, pointed out that women who wear make-up (ref your video) earned xx% more than women who didn’t :(. I’ll comment no further on that video though …

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m still amazed about the 12.6 watts. No wonder I feel brain-dead so often.

      LOL…I was astonished by that too Roughseas. But as I thought deeper and longer about it, that ‘shortage’ if you will, of metabolic-power, does explain a LOT! The more metabolic-energy one has the more of an edge he/she has over another with less — not necessarily or strictly in intelligence, but likely in a combination of bodily & cognitive activities. I’m sure you and “Partner” have an edge due to healthy diets! 🙂

      …women who wear make-up (ref your video) earned xx% more than women who didn’t :(. I’ll comment no further on that video though…

      I selected that video because within a short 5-minutes it adequately defined The Halo Effect. Much longer videos cover it more broadly and with more justice, but due to the “average attention span of most internet browsers/readers” that marketing experts, psychologists, etc, say is around 1-3 minutes at best? One study recently determined it to be 12-8 seconds! 😮 Hence, WordPress advises keeping blog-posts to around 1,000 words or less. LOL

      Point being… as you allude to humans can rarely, if ever, escape natural and social bias.

      Like

      • I’ve always had a mega metabolic rate, the only two occasions I’ve put on weight were when I first got a car and obv stopped walking for necessity as much, and this last year due to immobility. 😦 I hadn’t made the link between metabolic energy and the 12.6 watts though.
        As for attention spans … I can read through any amount of words, but videos? Nope. Too out of control. I have to watch them at the set pace controlled by the producer. Not good. Think of the amount of words I could have read in five minutes. Nor do I care that WordPress is catering for morons incapable of reading for less than a minutes. Still, I suppose WP is American. And for once, that’s not a dig, merely a reflection of comments I have read from (US) commenters here and elsewhere.
        Natural bias may be more difficult to avoid, but social bias/conditioning can be. One can read through political bias in newspapers or watching news on TV. One can see through advertising hype and the imagery that is being conveyed. And depending on our lenses 😉 we can also see that the essence of the particular video you chose, exemplifies patriarchal societal conditioning. Which is why I haven’t commented further on the video 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Natural bias may be more difficult to avoid, but social bias/conditioning can be. One can read through political bias in newspapers or watching news on TV. One can see through advertising hype and the imagery that is being conveyed.

          Really? Consumers can easily read through the hype of expert sales-staff and well-researched, planned-out “setups” and resist the urge/impulse to buy something they really do not need? Everyone on Earth can do that 100% of the time? 😉

          We will probably need to pick your point up later in the series because I’m not so sure social bias is so black-n-white clear-cut to everyone all the time for a variety of reasons. But this discussion is definitely needed for better clarification! 🙂 ❤

          Like

  6. This does not agree with my preconceived ideas about human interaction and human perception so I’ll ignore it . . . why, I might not even have read it all and just got the gist of it from the pictures. Speaking of which, it might be easier if the comments had pictures; I could then competently comment on their content.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Untapped Worlds – Entries | Professor Taboo

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  9. Pingback: Untapped Worlds – Maior Liberatio | Professor Taboo

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