3 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Always Trust What Your Brain Is Telling You

Everyone mostly trusts what their brain tells them at any given moment. Trusting that our experiences are a true reflection of reality is so fundamental to being human that most of us go our whole lives without questioning our perceptions. But your brain doesn’t always tell you the truth.

It tries to tell you the truth, but sometimes, and in different ways, it just can’t reflect reality properly. In this article, I’m going to show you how, and why, your brain can get it wrong when creating your reality.

Reason 1 for not always trusting your brain: a broader introduction to “reality”

To understand how and why our brains don’t show us the world exactly as it is, you need to understand the bigger picture. In short: there’s much more to the world than our brains are aware of, and ever will be aware of.

Watch this video to see all the things that we’re missing when we look out at the world. From being able to pick up thermal images to seeing clearly in dark, deep, waters this video of animal vision shows that what humans see is not a full reflection of what’s out there.

 

 

So you can already see how there are lots of things about existence that our brains can’t perceive. With the help of things like thermal imaging cameras, we get to experience more of what’s out there, but there are other differences beyond vision.

For example, it’s possible to understand the physical world through sound instead of touch – bats and dolphins do this using echolocation. Other animals can use electromagnetism to work out what the world looks like; we use radio waves (radar) to do the same.

But there’s more…

…things like quantum mechanics and 10-dimensional space. I’m just going to explain a little bit about that last point. I don’t understand it properly at all, but here goes my explanation: we perceive life in 3d. An analogy would be thinking of the difference between 2-d space (e.g. a triangle drawn on a page: it has a horizontal plane and a vertical plane, but it has no depth) and 3-d space, which has the depth dimension.

Cleverer than me people think there are even more dimensions, and that they’re all curled up on themselves. We’re living in these dimensions, but we don’t know it, and if there was some sort of alien living in another dimension, the difference between how they see us would be just as pronounced as the difference that we see when looking at a 2-d triangle.

There’s a famous book about it by  Edwin Abbott Abbott, called Flatland” (published 1884). Here’s a helpful TED Talk about it:

 

 

And all of the above doesn’t account for all the things that we don’t know we don’t know, things we aren’t even aware of not knowing. There are no doubt plenty of things that are so far out of our ability to understand that the best that we can know about them is that there must exist things that we will never perceive or know about.  (I sound like Pinocchio from Shrek with this paragraph).

Bit mind bendy all that.

 

Reason 2 for not always believing your brain: it’s inventing parts of your vision

Everyone has a blind spot in their eyes. You might be aware of this if you’ve ever had the eye test where they give you a little clicker and you have to click each time you see a flashing light. They’re trying to work out how big your blind spot is – if it’s too big, it can be a sign that your optic nerve is swollen.

So we all have a blind spot where our optic nerve attaches to our retinas.

But think about this, if a part of your vision is blind, why isn’t there a patch of vision that’s empty? I don’t know about you, but I think I can see everything in my field of vision.

You’re not seeing the full picture. What’s actually happening is that your brain is filling in the blind spot from the stuff that it’s seeing around it. It’s making it up. You’re seeing a small patch of hallucination all the time. Hallucination might not be the right word, but it’s completely fabricated in your mind and doesn’t reflect reality at all – it reflects what’s around it, but not what’s actually there.

This is why you can be looking for something on a surface and not see it. Most of us have done that with small objects. You look down and the thing you’re expecting to see isn’t there, but then you look away and then back again and it’s suddenly back. Chances are that it was in your blind spot.

You can test it

Look at the following picture, close one of your eyes, focus on the circle, and move the screen nearer and further away. There should be a point when the cross disappears. That’s when it’s in the blind spot – all you see is the white of the page because that’s how your brain has filled it in the information!

A picture of a white rectangle with a black border. Inside the rectangle is a black square to the far left and a black cross to the far right.

Hopefully, that worked for you, but if not, try it with a piece of paper instead.

Extra weirdness

I think the most interesting thing about the blind spot is that sometimes our brains malfunction and instead of our brains filling in the gap with the stuff around it, it fills it in with any old images it chooses.

It’s much more common than you might imagine and it even has a name: Charles Bonnet Syndrome. People have seen all sorts in their blind spots, from cartoons to civil war soldiers!

It tends to happen in older people and happens because of a deterioration in the retina. Often, people are reluctant to report symptoms to their doctors for fear of being labelled deluded. This type of hallucination IS NOT a delusion, though, and if it ever happens to you, it doesn’t mean you’re going mad.

It’s simply a problem with eyesight.

Reason 3 for not always believing your brain: it doesn’t always know which side you’re touching

That’s a bit of a weird title because it’s so counter-intuitive that it seems to make no sense. Get your left hand and touch your right shoulder. Your brain is telling you which side your shoulder’s on and which hand’s touching it. It’s second nature that you know what side of your body you’re touching, isn’t it?

But your brain doesn’t always know when it’s touching the left side and when it’s touching the right side, and it has nothing to do with the person not knowing their right from their left. This particular issue affects anyone who can turn their tongue upside down.

What the heck am I on about?

OK, so first, can you turn your tongue upside down like this:

A picture of three images of just my mouth showing how to turn your tongue upside down. The first image is tongue poking out, second is tongue on it's side, and third is tongue all the way upside down.

Apologies for not having the supermodel of tongues. It’s a bit gross, but hopefully, you get what I mean by turning your tongue upside down, and hopefully, you can do it or you might not be able to experience this brain trick.

Instructions:

  1. Stick your tongue out like the first picture.
  2. Touch the left side of the tongue.
  3. Then turn your tongue upside down (if you can’t turn your tongue over, try to turn it over as much as you can and then trap it in your teeth, but don’t bite too hard)
  4. Now touch the left side of the upside-down tongue (which is really the right side of your tongue).

Weird instructions, I know, but just try it. It feels no like you’re touching the same place on your tongue even though you’re touching the other side!

Your brain can’t tell that you’re tongue is upside down and the weirdest thing is that it can’t tell that it’s touching two different parts of your body!

Scientists think this particular quirk happens because we’ve never developed the need to differentiate between a right-way-up and an upsidedown tongue.

Cool, but what does any of this have to do with gambling?

I’ve introduced you to the fact that there’s much more out there than our pea brains can understand and that our brains aren’t necessarily reflecting reality, but what does any of that have to do with gambling?

I think that understanding the ways our brains can get things wrong can help us to make better decisions. So many of humanity’s problems happen because we think we know the truth. We think thoughts are facts.

But, once you realise that what you see isn’t necessarily what’s actually out there and that it’s easy to trick your brain, you might start to make better decisions, including better gambling decisions, and you might start to question some of the tricks casinos use to keep you spending.

It’s not that they’re necessarily exploiting the things that I’ve shown you above. What I actually want you to take away from this article is that your brain is exploitable and that you can’t always trust what you think you can. What you’re convinced is true is not always true, and that’s an extremely important lesson that everybody needs to learn.