I seem to have hit a period of recurring themes, coming back to haunt me like a Sierpinski triangle.
A boss of mine some years ago (nice chap) was adamant that he had reached a stage in his life in which ongoing decline in his mental faculties was inevitable. “As everyone knows,” he preached at me, “the brain reaches a peak in your mid-twenties, and then you start to lose brain cells — and they never regrow.” I didn’t believe a word of it at the time; I was convinced that if he was experiencing a drop-off in his mental abilities, he was simply suffering from a severe case of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Recent advances in neuroscience have borne out my belief. Common sense, ‘what everyone knows,’ has failed again: brain cells can regrow. The brain can be thought of as a muscle: it benefits from exercise. I keep getting spam messages from Lumosity that try to persuade me to pay to play their brain games. I’ve held off long enough that they now offer me 35% discount — I’m holding out for 50% :)
If you’re human, you’ll probably see the same as me: the group of circles on the left appear as indents in a surface, whereas those on the right look like bumps. If we rotate this image through 180 degrees, the bumps will be on the left, and the indents will be on the right — right?
We evolved in an environment where light always comes from above (from the sun); everything we see is interpreted by our brains in that context.
Shadows can lie.
The phrase ‘seeing is believing’ is, in many respects, a nonsense. We never have a true picture of what’s happening in the real world because there’s simply too much information to process. Our brains pick and choose, and interpret incoming data in a way that allows us to perceive the world in a way that is useful to us. This may go some way to explain the problems of cognitive dissonance in general, and climate change denial in particular.
“The world is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine” — JBS Haldane.
Once we begin to appreciate this truth, we are in a position to question the assumptions we make as we go about our daily ‘normal’ lives. And it’s only when we do realise that the world is different from how we’ve always thought it to be that we’ll be in a position to address some of the challenges facing us, such as climate change, overpopulation, peak oil… and so on.