Posts Tagged ‘perception’

SERMON: “Brain Seizures” by the not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

I had just dropped my truck off at the garage for a day of repairs, and had enjoyed a twenty minute bike ride back to my office downtown.  As I rounded the corner into my parking lot, I saw before me a truck that looked just like the truck I had just left across town.  But that was not my first thought.

Before I could even have a conscious “thought”, I was having the surreal perceptual (and therefore physical) experience of seeing my truck where I was not expecting to see it.  But this sight was not just the slight surprise of the unexpected, no: what was presented to my eyes was so far outside the range of pictures that my predictive brain was prepared to see in that moment that my brain kind of seized up.

I kept looking at that little gray truck — again and again — searching out the details.  I noticed the shape of the truck and the color first — both perfect matches for mine.  My eye then shifted to the details.  It had the same model nameplate.  I then looked for the black bed liner, and at first saw none, but then noticed what seemed like a line of old adhesive where one might have once been secured (which meant that my brain could not easily judge this bit of evidence).  I had to look at this detail at least three times before I was able to satisfy my brain’s aggressive impulse to see this as my truck, parked as it was in a space that mine frequently occupies.

I had never seen this truck in this parking lot before, and it wasn’t a regular visitor to my neighborhood (though I may have seen it around town — I have noticed at least one similar truck to mine on one or two occasions over as many years).

One (or both) of the two animals in this picture is very likely having difficulty processing a rather convincing delusion!

All of these things combined in that one confusing moment to set my brain to wanting to believe that this was my truck (or to figure out how it had gotten here — no matter the physical impossibility of such a thing occurring).  This impulse toward belief was powerful enough to (temporarily) completely suppress the rational part of my brain that clearly remembered having left my truck half way across town only a few minutes before!

As I got off my bike and walked into my office, I was still feeling the aftereffects of my brain struggling to deconstruct the vision of my quantum truck that was in two places at one time (or else changed location in some dramatic manner while I was riding my bike along a route different than that my magical truck took).

It’s incredibly interesting to have cognitive experiences like this, especially when one can be aware enough of it as it’s happening (or very soon after) to ponder it.  (It is akin, I think, to lucid dreaming, where one gets the rare opportunity to watch the inner workings of one’s own brain).

In this case, I got to see how it is that the brain can be tricked by unexpectedly familiar-looking things that aren’t where they are supposed to be.  In essence, I had a magical and mystical experience that was all based on a perfect mini-storm of the right amount of sensory inputs and a minor processing error in my brain.

But I don’t think my experience is an anomaly.  In fact, I think it is a perfectly normal, everyday episode of the kinds of brains we have.  We know, for one thing, that the brain works by constantly creating predictions about what we will see, say, taste or hear next.  This is how we are able to keep up in a fast conversation, or navigate traffic on a freeway.  It is also why we can be surprised (in a pleasing way) by a magician’s trick or the unexpected twist in a comedian’s joke.  It is also why we can be slow to react to the radically unexpected event (think anomalous events like a plane crash or a sudden violent act).  At it’s core — it is part of our evolved skill set for surviving in the physical world: the oblivious walk off of cliffs; the wary do not.  (And what is wariness, but a constant imagining of future events).

The most striking part of my experience with my vehicle’s doppelgänger was the urge toward belief and how that urge was able to suppress reason.  I think this is a perfect demonstration of the natural tendency toward belief that is part and parcel of being human.  After all, it seems to be well demonstrated that we are so profoundly social that we always lean toward believing what others tell us, only engaging our critical faculties after (and even then only when pushed to do so).  Mainly we prefer to believe from the start and keep on believing.  (For a quick overview of how our believing brain works, see this article by Michael Shermer).

That’s what my brain was trying to do — but the data being gathered by my critical, rational brain began to break that “belief” down.

This is like the experience I once described of seeing my dead dad at the Farmers Market (as I was painting on the street on a Saturday morning).  Of course it wasn’t my dad, but I glanced up to see an old man walking away from me who was very similar to my late father in his build, mode of dress and gait.  I merely glimpsed this man and before I knew it I was feeling my heart swell and my throat constrict with emotion.  My analytical mind pretty quickly figured out what was going on, but by then the tears had already jumped to my eyes.  It’s like Malcolm Gladwell explains in” Blink” (reviewed this blog): this middle part of our brain — that part that worked to make sense of “my” truck being in two places at once (or my dead father walking among the living) is where our split-second decisions are made, and the reasoning frontal lobes — in such situations — can only wait for the memo to get passed upstairs (even as our body is already responding to the rapid-fire signaling from the reactive brain).

After years of work — both getting to know it and learning to work with it — I have decided that I have a highly enjoyable brain.  It is creative, agile and an incredible analytical and emotional workhorse for me.  But it has its own quirks and deficits that can, at times, overwhelm me.  Seeing it for the remarkable, evolved organ that it is is the most fruitful way to appreciate it best, I think.  To see it as neither more nor less than it is.  And experiences like that of “seeing” my late father (or my truck) where he (or it) wasn’t is one of those perfect reminders of my own cognitive imperfection.  And with that comes a very humane kind of humility that can, I think, benefit anyone willing to see — and accept — themselves for what they truly are: highly evolved animals with unusually large and complex brains.

t.n.s.r. bob

SERMON: “Accidentally Right” by the not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

The first sermon I ever gave on Evolution had in its closing statement the line “Because of Darwin, life on earth makes sense”.  At first blush that can seem a bit grandiloquent, but it is actually a reliably true statement.  Before Darwin (used in the inclusive sense of the important ideas that he famously made widely known) we were guessing at how life had become so varied and strange.  Before Darwin, even our scientists turned (with understandable consistency) to metaphysical explanations for natural phenomenon.  After Darwin, we had a means of seeing life as it really exists.

The reason we still hold Darwin in such high esteem (and the reason that creationists revile him so completely) is that his ideas turned out to be grounded in testable knowledge, and the scientific work that was able to follow and build upon his ideas has turned out to confirm the essential “rightness” of his theory of natural selection.  The same cannot be said for the medieval alchemists, the medical theories of the ancient Greeks, nor, I should say, the creation myths of any ancient religion (at least when taken literally).

Like the biologists that were (and are still) able to begin their research from the solid foundation of Darwin’s theories, I have found that same knowledge consistently helpful in making sense of my own experience of life.

For it turns out that there is, after all, a certain “harmony” to life.  From an evolutionary point of view, this makes perfect sense, as every process that exists tends, over time, to create a sort of balance between the forces that are in competition for space and resources.  Resources are a part of that balance, as are a myriad other factors from climate to geology to storms on the sun.  Though there continues a constant cycle of expansion and extinction of populations, both large and microscopic, and though the earth has experienced several global, mass extinction events, life itself will inevitably settle into some semblance of stability.

We understand the forces that create weather on our planet, but still find it incredibly challenging to predict it!

Stability is, of course, nothing but an impression — a perception that is available only to us humans (and other cognitively complex animals) when we observe the world we live in.  The sun rises, the sun sets.  December is cold (here in New Mexico, anyway), and June is hot.  The rains come on the fourth of July, and apples and chile are harvested in the fall.  But these are simplistic perceptual shorthand for the cumulative effect of uncountable ongoing processes both vast and microscopic: patterns of weather that are shaped by the rotation of the planet, fed by the heat of the sun that pumps solar energy into the vast ocean currents, and which then determines whether we’ll have floods or drought.

To the mystically-minded, the weather is an act of God.  (It might as well be for all the power we have to “change” it).

The fact is that life on earth (including our own lives) persist because we — like all life — are adaptable and able to change (either through genetic mutation through sexual reproduction or, in the case of humans, through the use of technology to alter our living environments and landscape).

I read an article once stating that most economists seemed to accept evolution from the neck down, and therefore failed to take human irrationality into account in their predictions of the behavior of markets.  I think most of us do this:  we fail to see that the “harmony” that we observe on the planet is really just a sort of a snapshot of a moment in time —  a stop-motion glimpse of the ever-renewing natural product of the living processes that create stasis only in the balance between competing forces.

Because we humans have the ability to observe and analyze our world, we frequently come to believe that our brains have somehow found a way to transcend their biology — that they are not subject to these natural forces.  They haven’t, and they aren’t.

There are many that hold that such a materialistic view of human nature degrades us to the level of animals (as if that is, a priori, a bad thing).  Nevertheless, I hold just such a view of my own (and others) behavior.  And I go further in believing that holding a falsely elevated view of ourselves is the root of many of our discontents.

Going into any situation with the conviction that our brains are the perfected product of a divine creative intelligence can be a set up for disaster.  How can we (and our poor brains) but fail to live up to that sort of performance expectation?

For if I’m honest with myself (which I always — in the end, anyway — want to be), I am wrong about something almost all of the time.  And when I’m right, I am right — as it were — by accident.

How can it be that I have survived this long (with as many loving, business and social relationships as I have) being so wrong?  Well, because the social relationships that we have — that are so essential to our own survival — are no different than the profligate and messy nature that surrounds us.

Let me explain my meaning:  Because of Darwin’s theory of natural selection, we understand that being right all the time is not at all essential to the survival of a species — being right just a bit more than the other poor son of a bitch is.  Mostly our “false positives” are fear-based (which is another way of describing “survival” or “fight or flight” responses).  What this comes down to is that it is far better for us to be wrong and run away a hundred times than to be wrong and not run away the one time we were right!

When I stop and look at the first impressions I get — the initial reactions my monkey-mind comes up with — they mostly get things wrong.  Now sometimes they can be just a bit “off”, but other times they can attribute the absolute opposite meaning to something someone has just said to me (it is a standard joke of mine that a woman can turn anything a mans says to her into an insult, and a man can turn anything a woman says to him into a compliment).  If you examine your own thoughts, I’m certain you won’t have to look very far to find your own examples (if you don’t, it likely means you’ve got an added layer of self-delusion in your particular mix — also a very standard bit of human perceptual bias).

It’s humbling for me to realize that even when I do the right thing with another, my actions are motivated by my perception of a situation that forms the basis a sort of predictive mental picture of what outcome my actions will produce.  This is how our brains work: they constantly make “snap” decisions and “predict” the short-term future, and then give us our marching orders (for more on this, read “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell, reviewed this blog).  It is only afterwards — when things have gone wrong or not turned out as we imagined — that we have to do the forensic work to understand the “why” of the failure.  But I am finding that even when things turn out right, I was wrong in almost every way imaginable about the reasons that the other person went along with my idea!

This is startling to realize.  It makes me wonder how in the world we ever make satisfying connections with each other when we are seeing things so differently!  But of course we do find satisfying connections, so clearly getting things perfectly “right” is not the most essential component of our social relations.

We humans are wired by our evolutionary past to seek out relationships with each other.  Therefore we are motivated to make the allowances for the errors in our perception and communication with each other.  The greater the desire for connection, the wider the target we present to the arrows of Eros (in the case of romantic attraction): the lesser the desire, the harder we make it for another to “get it right”.

So what’s to be done about this?  Our brains are able to take in information and reach conclusions about hundreds of situations each day with incredible speed.  This processing takes place in a mid-level of our brain just below the more recently-evolved frontal lobes (the seat of our reason).  This mid-part of the brain is the part that makes most of our quick decisions and only afterwards sends a memo to the conscious, analytical mind (more as a sort of courtesy, to let it know what the body is already doing based on the snap decision it just made).  As Malcolm Gladwell points out, in many ways the conscious, analytical “we” are the last to know what our deeper mind and body are up to.  To expect perfect accuracy from such a system is pointless.  We operate, by nature, on a sort of two-stage system of cognition, and it is the second step of that process (the rational, analytical part) that we tend to place our confidence is as the be-all and end-all of the evolved animal brain.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of the frontal lobes.  I like that I can analyze my actions and (after some years of practice) actually observe my middle-brain in action.  This does not, of course, liberate me from that mid-brain (and the emotional roller coaster ride it sends my body on at times).  But it does allow me to put just that tiny bit of distance between my instant reactions and the actions of my body or voice.

I, like many others, have long carried a secret belief that I could be just that much closer to perfect in my thoughts and actions than the next guy.  And though we like to talk about the problem of “perfectionism” we always do it in a way that is really aimed to get the spotlight off our behavior as quickly as possible so that we can get back to making ourselves “better”.  This makes sense: our fears and our instincts are what have kept us alive for millions and millions of years of evolution.  Do you think that a few centuries of social progress and civilization are going to make all of those instincts go away?

Now I have to say that our brains are good at certain kinds of prediction: I often know when someone is about to cut me off in traffic, or not stop at a red light.  In such cases my predictive brain is responding to cues and signals of a kind that would also help me stalk my neolithic prey.  But when I take that next step and try to imagine what is going on in the mind of the jerk driver I want to flip off, I can be pretty certain I have no friggin’ clue as to what that other individual’s actual thoughts or motivations were.

How can I?  Human behavior and thought is as complicated as the forces that combine to make weather, and I can’t predict that very well either.

The reality we find ourselves in is a complicated one without potential for actual resolution: we are alive because we are fearful animals, but that fear can actually interfere with our essential social relationships with our fellow humans.  In the end, the best we can truly aim for is the same sort of harmony that exists amidst the struggle for life in nature: a perception of stasis, a modicum of predictability and a dash of temporary permanence.  All of which are only imaginative approximations that allow our predictive brains to plan the next step or the next words we speak.  Even if they are only accidentally right!

t.n.s.r. bob

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “A Tour of the Senses: How Your Brain Interprets the World” by John M. Henshaw.

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

John Henshaw is chair of the Department of Engineering at the University of Tulsa, but clearly he is more interested than the average engineer in the workings of his own sensory systems.  And in “A Tour of the Senses” he takes us on a pleasant journey through the various types and flavors of stimulus, sensation and perception: the three necessary parts of every bit of our experience of life.

I kept thinking as I read this book “He had to do a lot of work outside of his field to write this!” (this is pure conjecture on my part and a reflection of my own bias after working and socializing with so many engineers over the years)!  But the subject of this book is something of deep interest to me, and, I believe, of deep value to any of my fellow humans that has the least interest in seeing the world (and themselves) as clearly as possible.

The book is organized into three sections (the above-referenced Stimulus, Sensation and Perception), which are further broken down into their component (and related) parts.  The book gives a very workable overview of just how our parts have evolved to do the remarkable job they do of taking everything that comes our way and turning it into electrical signals that the brain then makes sense of.  It was reading about this last part the process that made the biggest impression on me: namely the insights into the plasticity of the brain (as revealed by stories from those that have suffered damage to vital areas of the brain, for example, only to recover lost function when other areas of the brain then took up the task).

I’d call this a pleasant and informative read.  The writing is congenial, the author personable (and clearly fascinated by his subject), and there is a lot of truly fascinating information here.  I’m curious how a mechanical engineer from Tulsa gets a book on neurobiology published by The Johns Hopkins University Press (seeing that imprint is what gave me the nudge to give the book a shot), but I’m rather glad he did.

If you would like to get better acquainted with your own eyes and brain and nerves and sensors (and learn why our eyeballs perceive only the visible light spectrum) give this book a read.

t.n.s.r. bob

The rev gives it three out of four Dimetrodons!

SERMON: “It’s a Small World” by the not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

The East Coast of the United States as seen from space. NASA photo.

I heard a commentator on Christian radio proclaim that the way in which God had “hung the stars” in so “perfect” a manner was a clear sign that behind our vast universe resides an intelligent designer.

She did not explain by what measure the stars were perfect in their arrangement, or how, precisely, said perfect arrangement necessarily required an intelligent star-hanger.  She did, however, use the ancient imagery of someone hanging stars in the heavens in the way that someone might hang ornaments upon a Christmas tree.  And in so doing I think she gave me a glimpse into the mind that finds evidence for God in the apparent organization of nature.

For doesn’t the idea of “hanging” the stars give you an immediate image of someone working on an relate-ably  human scale, only on a somewhat enlarged basis?  What do I mean:  We imagine God in a gigantic (yet) human form, with face, beard, arms and hands that are able to reach out across the night sky, literally hanging stars against the black fabric of the night (which itself implies an ancient conception of there being a sort of dome stretching out across the (flat?) earth).

Which brings me to this: the only way that the idea of God as ruler of all, creator of all, knower of all — and yet intimately involved with our individual lives down to the number of hairs on our head —  works at all is because we humans naturally think small.  It makes sense.  We have to think small, for underneath everything else about us, we remain earth-bound animals that must see to our own survival.  There is no reason for our brains to be conversant in the stretches of time or distances necessary to properly grasp the age and expanse of the universe we live in.  Of what use is any sense of time or distance beyond the span of our own life times?  Why not simply invoke “God”, “eternity”, and “infinity” to paper over this yawing conceptual void in our cognitive, imaginative abilities?  This approach — this coping mechanism — has served our species well, to be quite honest, and has only, really, been challenged in the last 150 years by the discoveries of modern science.

I am firmly convinced that the average believer in God (or the average human, as far as that goes), carries a rapidly diminishing hierarchy of other beings and concepts in their mind at any one time (I’ve checked this in myself).  We are the center of our universe (that goes without saying) so we start with a conception of ourselves in physical space and time and then move out to our immediate family, friends, those we know in our community, our collection of famous personages (that we are familiar with), a modest collection of small bands of African tribesmen (and/or Europeans or Asians), some penguins or elephants, an anthill (topped with some ants), a couple of bees, a forest, a picture of something living in the sea, the moon, some stars sparkling in the night sky and at least one image from a space probe.  Oh, and dinosaurs.  We all know about dinosaurs.

But it is the way in which we picture these things that matters here.  We almost always see them in ones, twos, threes, or small groups.  In the same way that we do not picture billions of humans living in the narrow temperate zone of an actual-sized earth, we don’t picture thousands of varieties of dinosaurs, but perhaps imagine one Tyrannosaurus chomping down on one plant-eater, not millions of them evolving, reproducing, adapting, and then going extinct of a period of 165 million years.  We see them in the numbers that almost the entire history of  our evolution has accustomed us to: small family and tribal groupings.

And we imagine the stars (if we’re honest with ourselves) as all being equidistant from where we stand as we look at them — convinced, on some level, that we could almost reach out and touch them.

And why shouldn’t we be able to touch them?  After all, we are enormous, and they are merely pinpoints of light!  We can blot them out with a fingertip held in front of our eyes!  This fact is not insignificant (and I’d love to hear about any research into how our visual perception of the world colors our cognitive organization of it).

Try this experiment:  We know that our binocular vision is only effective for a short distance, and beyond that we use inference to interpret the size of more distant objects.  What I have found is that I can disengage that part of my brain that tells me that those distant, tiny objects aren’t really tiny at all, but merely appear small because they are far away from me.  When I do that, I can actually feel like a giant — surrounded by mountains that are only a few steps away, and which I could stride over with one step.  Cars on the freeway ahead of me are suddenly the size of matchbox toys which I could pick up between two fingers (try it — it’s fun!).  It’s kind of a trip, and as disconcerting as it is entertaining, for it offers a glimpse into just how much we rely on perceptions that are not as immutable as we might like to think.

The religious criticize the non-religious for being motivated most by a desire to avoid responsibility to God.  The underlying assumption is that the non-believer is fighting against nature (the same nature that so clearly proclaims His presence) by refusing to obey God.  On one level, this is true.  For if there is one thing very clear about humans, it is that we are natural believers.  Therefore, those that move beyond belief are, in essence, fighting against their nature.  But what does that say about the believers, then?  Could it be they who are the ones most locked into their natural, animal nature?  That would be truly ironic: if it turned out that they are not the enlightened ones, but instead are the deniers of reality that they imagine all those nonbeleivers to be!  The believers, then, turn out to represent the primitive in humankind, and not the enlightened after all.

I don’t blame them.  I’ve been a believer and so I get it.  And I don’t expect their numbers to drop dramatically in my lifetime (if ever).  I just want it to be known that they are, ironically, the very thing they criticize in the non-believer: they are the ones maintaining a reality almost completely dependent upon belief.

(I need to be clear here that irrational belief is not the sole domain of those that believe in God.  A human is just as capable of attaching irrational belief to non-theistic sources, be they aliens, computers or any number of conspiracy theories.  I am equally opposed to all irrational belief).

So, to get back to where we started:  Did an actual God reach out millions of light years away from us, and hang every single star (as well as every grain of cosmic dust that floats in any number of the galaxies we will never be able to see from earth)?  Did he create those long-dead stars that coalesced and collapsed upon themselves in titanic explosions, creating the elements that he then used to form the individual cells with which each of our bodies (and every other living thing on earth) are formed?  In light of what we actually know about the universe, could this idea be any more absurd?  And it is the non-believers who are the deniers of reality?

We humans struggle so hard with who and what we really are.  It’s really a difficult thing for us to imagine with any sort of consistent clarity.  But, then, evolution did no better job preparing our brains for a realistic self-conception that it did setting us up for grasping the distance between the stars.

One thing is for sure, however: the distance between us and the stars we see at night is not just greater than our human brains can comfortably imagine: it is greater than any God we humans can imagine could possibly reach.

t.n.s.r. bob

SERMON: “My Three Brains” by the not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

How can something that is not “real” have “real” consequences?

The brain takes in perceptual data and works like the dickens to make sense of it.  As Gary Marcus points out (in Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind — reviewed this blog) the brain works in a contextual framework — meaning that it pulls from past experience any potentially applicable memory to match up with new stimuli.  The results can be amazing, tragic, generally helpful or humorous.  That this “system” works as well as it does may be more a testament to its sheer computing power than its perfection: our brains most assuredly are not perfect, but they are big.  And they are fast!  (How fast?  Read “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell, reviewed this blog).

So what about the times when the brain gets it wrong?  By the time our firing synapses return a faulty “mental Google” search from the dusty shelves of memory, our brain has already initiated the creation of a chemical response to the situation it thinks we are in (again — see “Blink”).  For those of us with “anxious” brains, this usually means a sudden fear response: a chemical climate for fight or flight.  So although the mental perception is false, the physical response is none-the-less real.  With the result that we can easily perceive a non-threatening situation as threatening (or fill in your favorite response here) aided by the evidence of our body chemistry, which is pretty damn hard to ignore.  (As Joni Mitchell sings: “It’s hard to tell, when you’re in the spell, if it’s wrong or if it’s real.”)  This, in short, is how we make ourselves crazy: this is where we get the idea that we create our own reality.

Yes, we humans have huge brains!

This is what we deal with by having the brains we have.  We are completely capable of reacting — or more to the point, over-reacting — on a regular basis.  We now know why this happens:  We are still animals at our core, with a more recent, rational mind layered on top.

We are like a mental three-layered cake, and when our finely-tuned senses make that snap decision that the chips are, indeed, down, the animal takes over and the rational brain is bound, gagged, blindfolded and taken along for the ride.  Only in the safety and calming that follows can we analyze what just happened and figure out whether we were right to run.

The survival implications for the persistence of such an extreme fear reaction are obvious: the ones who run with a few false positives survive — the more thoughtful who linger just once too often, don’t.

But the implications for our modern life are enormous:  in short, we are not well adapted to the safe, comfortable lives we actually lead.  We are anxious and ready to defend ourselves in a world where that magnitude of response is rarely truly called for (unless you have a pride of saber tooth cats living in your garden).

Road rage, domestic violence, mental anguish, panic attacks.  If we added up all of these emotional/psychological events and measured the proportionality of the response to the actual (physical) threat to our life that each triggering event represented, do you think we would see anything resembling an equal scale of input to response?  Of course not.  We all know this.  We understand it.  But we are nevertheless subject to the continued discomfort of what we’ve now labelled as stress, anxiety and a portion of our mental disorders.

It’s a challenge — one of the many of living with the quirky brains we actually have (as opposed to the perfect brains we’d like to think we have).  I heard Garrision Keillor once quip that “There’s no “off” switch for genius”.  True, that.  But there is also no “off” switch for our brains: even while asleep, they are churning away.

So there are reasons that our neurosis are so damn tenacious.  But external reality is not always one of them.  It is more often our perception of the world, and recognizing that we are animals bred for wariness can’t help but give us that much more leverage when it comes to calming ourselves enough to enjoy these rather remarkable lives of relative luxury and ease that we now live.

Civilization has been the means of our move away from individual violence (which, contrary to popular perception, is historically much lower than it was in our past).  As we have domesticated ourselves, we have learned to extend trust to strangers, and that trust has allowed us to create the wealth, safety and ease we now experience.

But our brains have millions of years of experience being wary.  It turns out to be our natural state (in fact, the chemicals of love and bonding work by suppressing our natural wariness of strangers).  Perhaps it is the counter-force to our propensity for belief in the irrational (which is likely merely an by-product of our social natures that make us want to believe anything a trusted person tells us).

So even though you and I live mostly free of the threat of real violence, we have television, the internet and popular entertainment that trade in murder and mayhem as if it were the air we breathe.  It may turn out to be that — in some fundamental way — we don’t really ever want to let our guard down, no matter how cozy our living room, plush our recliner, or seemingly content our pet cat.

Maybe our ice-age brains are still not quite convinced that the world has changed.  You and I may be modern people living in a globalized world, but the deeper parts of our brains have seen the ice sheets come, or the crops fail, or a war overtake the land.  And that ice-age human brain lives alongside the modern and the ancient lizard in our crowded skulls.

All three of our brains working together, trying to figure out what’s really going on.

t.n.s.r. bob