Tag Archives: brain

Blog #4: Data, and the gullibility of the brain (Week 6)

How good, really, is our brain at retaining data? For instance, can you remember how much money you spent yesterday? Can you remember how many days it rained last week? Unless you’re Rainman, I’d say that the vast majority of people couldn’t correctly answer simple data-related questions such as these. Wolf states that we “make decisions with partial information. We are forced to steer by guesswork,” which is a flawed system which will invariably result in mistakes. Computers, on the other hand, are able to collect and collate data in a totally impartial and objective way, which adds more credence to the data itself.

“The brain is a gullible machine,” says Lehrer. This is true in many ways. For instance, he mentions an experiment where a group of people had to buy the same energy drink, half of whom purchased it at a discount, and then solve some puzzles. The people who bought the drink at a discount fared worse, because they felt the drink was less potent. This simply wasn’t true. The nature of how we acquire an item will change how our brain perceives it. I remember as a kid that my mum would buy bags of chocolate from Go-Lo. They were proper brands (Snickers, Twix or whatever) but because I knew they came from Go-Lo they always seemed to taste worse. CALL ME A SNOB.

Because of this, blind taste tests always interest me. In the same article, Lehrer describes a blind taste test of various wines. Often, people would say they liked the cheaper wines better. I’m sure, however, if they knew the prices beforehand, they would have preferred the more expensive wines. Our brain can be kind of dumb sometimes.

Lehrer, J 2010, ‘The Frontal Cortex: Self-Tracking’, viewed 17th April 2013, http://scienceblogs.com/cortex/2010/05/03/self-tracking/

Wolf, G 2010, ‘The Data-Driven Life’, viewed 17th April 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/magazine/02self-measurement-t.html?_r=0

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Blog #2: Control of the mind (Week 4)

The human brain has always fascinated me. When you see one in the flesh, it looks like nothing more than slimy, pinky-grey glob, when in essence it is one of the most complex single objects in the known universe; confounding to this day scientists who attempt to uncover its countless mysteries. Our brain is the epicentre of our being. It controls how we perceive the world, and crucially, our consciousness and sense of self. Noë believes that we “make consciousness dynamically, in our exchange with the world around us,” which is an interesting thought because I’m sure that most of us would like to think that we have full control over our brain and, in turn, our consciousness.

On a personal level however, our brain (please excuse the pun) seems to have a mind of its own. I am quite good at remembering faces, but, rather frustratingly, am not so good at remembering names (almost as if my brain is toying with me). In this regard memory is certainly a fickle thing. Andrew talked in the lecture about how sensing certain things can bring back memories. For instance if I ever smell chlorine, I remember in vivid detail the swimming lessons I took when I was a child. On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes I forget the password to my email.

Our brain, our mind, our consciousness (whatever you want to call it) is a mutable thing. It can change. You can improve your memory by teaching yourself memorisation techniques, for instance. BUT, external forces are also able to change how you think. Pamoukaghlian writes that “today, the horrifying landscapes that Orwell imagined are all scientifically plausible,” which is probably why I am as cynical as I am. I don’t want the media (whether it be news sources or advertisers) getting into my head and telling me how to think.

I need to believe that I can think for myself.

Noë, A 2010, ‘Does Thinking Happen in the Brain?’, viewed 27th March 2013, http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2010/12/10/131945848/does-thinking-happen-in-the-brain

Pamoukaghlian, V 2011, ‘Mind Games – Science’s Attempt at Thought Control’, viewed 27th March 2013, http://brainblogger.com/2011/12/28/mind-games-sciences-attempts-at-thought-control/


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