What exactly is a thought? It doesn’t seem to weigh anything. It feels ephemeral and ineffable. You wouldn’t think that a thought has a shape or smell or any sort of physical instantiation. Thoughts seem to be a kind of tremendous magic.
The first thing we learn from studying our own circuitry is a simple lesson: most of what we do and think and feel is not under our conscious control. The vast jungles of neurons operate their own programs. The conscious you—the I that flickers to life when you wake up in the morning—is the smallest bit of what’s transpiring in your brain.
We are astonishingly poor observers. And our introspection is useless on these issues: we believe we’re seeing the world just fine until it’s called to our attention that we’re not.
The brain generally does not need to know most things; it merely knows how to go out and retrieve the data. It computes on a need-to-know basis.
At least 15 percent of human females possess a genetic mutation that gives them an extra (fourth) type of color photoreceptor—and this allows them to discriminate between colors that look identical to the majority of us with a mere three types of color photoreceptors. Two color swatches that look identical to the majority of people would be clearly distinguishable to these ladies.
It’s easy to spot a hallucination only when it’s bizarre. For all we know, we hallucinate all the time. As we’ve seen, what we call normal perception does not really differ from hallucinations, except that the latter are not anchored by external input. Hallucinations are simply unfastened vision.
Just because we believe something to be true, just because you know it’s true, that doesn’t mean it is true.
Priming underscores the point that implicit memory systems are fundamentally separate from explicit memory systems: even when the second one has lost the data, the former one has a lock on it.
The Illusion-of-Truth Effect: you are more likely to believe that a statement is true if you have heard it before—whether or not it is actually true.
Consciousness is the long-term planner, the CEO of the company, while most of the day-to-day operations are run by all those parts of her brain to which she has no access.
While many animals are properly called intelligent, human distinguish themselves in that they are so flexibly intelligent, fashioning their neural circuits to match the tasks at hand.
The brain’s circuits are designed to generate behavior that is appropriate for our survival.
That part that you are able to see is known as the umwelt (the environment, or surrounding world), and the bigger reality (if there is such a thing) is known as the umgebung. Each organism has its own umwelt, which it presumably assumes to be the entire objective reality “out there.”
Imagine a world of magenta Tuesdays, tastes that have shapes, and wavy green symphonies. One in a hundred otherwise normal people experience the world this way, because of a condition called synesthesia (meaning “Joined sensation”). In synesthetes, stimulation of a sense triggers an anomalous sensory experience: one may hear colors, taste shapes, or systematically experience sensory blendings. (Read stories of synesthetes in “Moonwalking with Einstein”)
Your psychology has evolved to solve social problems such as detecting cheaters—but not to be smart and logical in general.
“Instinct Blindness”: we are not able to see the instincts that are the very engines of our behavior. These programs are inaccessible to us not because they are unimportant, but because they’re critical. Conscious meddling would do nothing to improve them.
The more natural and effortless something seems, the less so it is.