Your Brain Is Lying To You

By Jonathan Timar

Can you trust your brain?

It’s a more important question than you might think, and more importantly if you think you can out-think your brain, you are probably greatly mistaken.

Say what??? Out-think your brain? That’s crazy talk isn’t it?

Well yes. On the surface that seems like a silly statement at best, but consider this; how many times have you had a gut instinct to do, or not do, something, and decided to think about it and ultimately end up doing something that was contrary to your original instincts?

How did that work for you? Did you find that your decision to second guess your yourself, or out-think your brain resulted in you ultimately making a better decision?

I recently acquired eyeglasses

For a long time I thought I had somehow escaped inheriting the need for corrective lenses that both of my parents have. But then, not too long ago I was walking down the street in Victoria with my girlfriend when we somehow got into a discussion about our eyesight (she, unfortunately has fairly poor eyesight, without her glasses she sees only a blur). During that conversation in which I pondered whether I should get my eyes checked or not, she challenged me to read some signs up ahead, and to my surprise the signs which were perfectly readable to her with her glasses on,were nearly impossible for me to read without doing some major squinting.

Believe it or not, I still didn’t think I needed glasses, and the only reason I ended up going to get my eyes checked was because I happen to know the owner of a boutique optical store in Vancouver and I got the idea that I just might look good with a pair of glasses on.

Yes, that’s right, it was vanity that lead me to get my eyes checked.

So I made an appointment one day on an impulse and while I was waiting in the office I half expected I was going to be sent home with a diagnosis of “it’s in your imagination”. But that’s not what happened. I was diagnosed with astigmatism, which basically means my eyes are not quite as round as they should be. This creates a kind of “halo” effect as it causes light to be focused in two places instead of one. I was just so used to it, I thought it was normal.

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    Having glasses was a revelation, for the first time in my life I knew what truly sharp vision looked like. However, as my optometrist warned, everything looked a little distorted when I had my glasses in on. Vehicles in front of me looked like they were tilted slightly forward, and if i looked down when I walked it seemed as if the ground was slightly too close to me. But by far the most noticeable distortion was when I was looking at my computer screen. What had previously been a perfect rectangle was no distinctly trapezoidal in appearance, wider at the top.

    But I have had my glasses for several weeks now…

    …and a funny thing has happened. Just a few moments ago before I started to write this article I took my glasses off to scratch and itch by my eyelid. As I did so I glanced at my screen and noticed that it was now trapezoidal, except in the opposite orientation, now the top appeared narrower. I put my glasses back on and witnessed my screen become perfectly rectangular. I took them off again: trapezoid. Back on: rectangle.

    My brain has now compensated for the fact that my glasses cause some distortion in exchange from sharpness. It is now running a Photoshop lens correction filter in real-time. Before I even have time to think about it, my brain has already calculated the exact compensation necessary to correct the distorted image my eyes are seeing through my eyeglasses, and allow me to see the shape as I know it should be.

    I have no opportunity to argue or interfere, the process happens on a level beyond my control. No matter how hard I try, I will never see the distorted image my eyeglasses are transmitting to my eyes again, though I know without a doubt they continue to do so. That is, unless I stopped wearing my glasses at all for several weeks and then put them on again.

    The lie that is not a lie.

    Your brain is lying to you. And the lie is the truth. It knows the answer before you ever have time to think about it. It’s done all the calculations for you. It’s taken your vast database past experiences, your emotions, your personality, and your needs and desires into account and come up with a solution for you. It’s done it all for you, like the supercomputer that it is.

    And then you decide to think about it.

    When we over-think things we get into trouble. We take an already perfected answer and try to improve upon it. We do this especially when we are worried or under pressure or afraid, or trying to prove something. We do it when we don’t like the answer we already have, or when we are trying to please someone else by setting aside what we really want and we need to convince ourselves that we aren’t.

    But over-thinking can be dangerous. It’s not unlike over-steering a car, if you aren’t careful, you’ll lose control completely, as an ironic twist of fate when control is what you are trying so hard to maintain.

    Maybe you should trust the lie.