How Your Brain Works

Frankly, I don’t know how your brain works, nor do you.  I don’t know how my brain works either (assuming it does).  And the bad news–or the good news, depending on how you look at it–is that no one else does either.  Bad news if you’re trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s; good news if you get a little queasy about telepathy and “mind-control” stuff.  Not that mind-c0ntrol (behavioral conditioning) can’t be accomplished without actually knowing how it works inside the brain. 

I think a little mystery is a good thing. While there is a certain loneliness inherent in the human condition, expressed in the simple saying, “You can never really know another person”, if you could, would you?  I personally am not ready to be Borg…but I digress.

Today we will discuss two important concepts relative to brain function:  phobias, and chocolate cake. 

First let us define phobia:  it’s something YOU are scared of.  If I’m scared of something, it’s an endearing quirk.  If you’re scared of something, you’re irrational.  Let’s take two examples. 

First ailurophobia, or fear of cats.  Fakename has never understood this, but she has a theory as to why it might develop.  Cats apparently don’t have the facial muscles to be particularly expressive.  They can move their ears, and open and close their mouths (very useful for eating), and they can twitch their noses, but the eyes are the problem.  They don’t blink often, and so appear to be staring, which we humans interpret as aggression.  Not to mention all the times they’ve sucked the breath out of our sleeping babies. 

Second, gephyrophobia, fear of bridges.  This is not as uncommon as you might think.  Let’s pause for a moment to say that an anxiety doesn’t reach the level of phobia unless it affects your behavior.  Such as–I will never again travel from Tallahassee to Jacksonville without going however many miles out of the way I have to go to reach it from the south.  Never again will I do that I-10, I-95 Junction thing with the elevated roadways.  But mostly, it’s bridges over water that are scary. 

This is a relatively new development for me, because I have driven over some monster bridges.  The Lake Ponchartrain Causeway.  Not to mention the Huey P. Long bridge.  The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.  The Confederation Bridge between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island in Canada–actually, I was a passenger for that one, but still.  However, nothing compares bridge-wise to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay.  I date my personal bridge phobia to having to cross it.  I had never experienced anything like it. 

It’s described as “one of the world’s longest bridges with a cable-stayed main span”.   The cables are painted yellow, and here’s the deal:  when you hit the section of road where the cables are, it sets up a sort of optical illusion which is disorienting.  Behold: 

Curiously, Fakesister shares this fear of bridges.  Last year she took a trip to northern California and we had some discussion about how and if she would make it over the Golden Gate.  Somewhere out there is a scientist who would like to study us. 

Finally, some scientists did an experiment that went like this:  A group of people were asked to memorize either two-digit numbers or seven-digit numbers, then all they had to do was walk down the hall, go into another room, and repeat the numbers.  But they were interrupted by being asked to choose a snack:  a refreshing bowl of healthy fruit, or chocolate cake.  It turns out that the people who had to remember seven digits were twice as likely to choose the chocolate cake.  This proves, or suggests…something or the other.  There was no word on whether either group remembered their numbers.  You can see the story, which aired on NPR,  here.

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14 responses to “How Your Brain Works

  1. masteroftheuniverse

    I’m not scared about any bridges except for the skyway bridge. I dont know why, but I go over that bridge about 25 times a year for the past 10 years and have seen about 15 jumpers as evidenced by all the police cars They don’t even mention all the jumpers in the news to stop them, but my coast guard buddies(I have a station 300 yds from my house), tell me they hear it all the time on the radio. When it is windy, I will avoid the skyway, and go up 75 to the cross town and take the Gandy. That bridge scares the hell out of me…irrational, but it does in a very freaky way…..you’d have to drive it, study the angles, and you’d know what I mean.

  2. That’s what I’m saying Jeff. There is something about that particular bridge. It really does set up some sort of optical illusion, some sort of visual abnormality. It’s not irrational, you can’t help it…it’s the way your brain perceives it. During my one and only time to cross it (first and last) I found that the only way I could stand it was to hug the inside lane, closest to the span, and creep along. And keep my eyes on the cables. I couldn’t look at either the roadway or to the right to the other lanes or the water. And I was not alone. Normally if you are in the far left lane, it’s the fast lane, but there was a whole train of people creeping with me, and nobody honked. It’s understood.

  3. masteroftheuniverse

    Phyllis, you’re right….the left lane is the slow lane. Optical illusion is a very good description of that place. Jeff

  4. The Golden Gate was one of the reasons I was adamant that my companion drive us from the San Francisco Airport to our first stop. It’s a very cool bridge and I could see Alcatraz from the span.

    We couldn’t get into the park on the N end (it was 4th of July weekend, after all).

    I drove from then on, a fortuitous accident, because our next obstacle was the Coast Range. As Fakename can attest, we learned to drive in a mountainous environment which skills came in handy on the twisty little 2-lane (sometimes) road across to the coast.

    Coming home, I was still driving when we got back to the Golden Gate. Fog was blowing in through the gap, obscuring the view, making the towers and cables disappear just above the car and creating a snug cocoon as we crossed.

  5. You bring up another facet of the phob…er, endearing quirk. That it’s somehow more bearable if someone else is driving. But as for that fog thing…when riding as a passenger over the Confederation Bridge, which elevates in stages, we at last reached the upper level where we were in a cloud. I was hard-pressed to tell which was scarier, being able to see the water or NOT being able to see it.

  6. Editor’s note: Fakename observes that the bridge references in this blog have hogged all the attention. Is no one interested in cats and chocolate cake?

  7. Cats make me sneeze and set my skin on fire.

    Chocolate cake – hmm, the local Starbucks all have chocolate cupcakes now. And red velvet – more chocolate-y than I’m accustomed to. Plain vanilla as well, but those are off-topic.

  8. Realistic avoidance of cats due to allergy is not allowed lol. You must instead be like my previously mentioned employee (the pit bull owner) who will not approach her landlord’s house because he has a cat. Which might suddenly mistake either her or the dog for a mouse and pounce. Or give her the evil eye.
    Rofl @ vanilla being off-topic.

  9. I have a relative who keeps a life jacket and escape hammer in her backpack whenever she drives over a bridge. I kid you not. Actually, it’s not MY relative, it’s my wife’s relative. 😉

    Also, I seem to suffer from a condition known as gephynigerailurophobia. This is my fear of having a black cat walk past me while on a bridge. I’m lobbying for it to be added to the DSM, so I can qualify for protection under the Americans With Disabilities Act. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mental_disorders_as_defined_by_the_DSM_and_ICD

  10. Rocky: It’s good that you don’t share genetic material with Trophy Wife’s relatives. On the other hand, in the same vein, Fakesisters’s husband recommends carrying a handgun in the car at all times, which can be used to shoot out the windows in case of submersion. The thing is, as I recall, that you have to wait for total submersion before the handgun will fire. If I have that wrong, I expect Fakesister the engineer to correct me. Not that it matters. Fakename would have long before expired of panic.
    Here in Florida we have numerous PSAs advising us that if you inadvertently find yourself submerged, the first thing you should do is release your seatbelt. You think I’m kidding.

  11. Oh, I LOVE driving the Sunshine Skyway..what a magnificent view!

    You can see my undergrad college (Florida Presbyterian) from it, which is on the northwest side if you’re going north. Right on Boca Ciega.
    The small buildings near the water are dorms.

    What is fear of cockroaches? Besides being quite logical…..

  12. Oh, the weapon will fire …

    Mythbusters demonstrated how, if you will wait calmly until the car is totally submerged, the doors will open once the pressure equalizes. Somehow I doubt that most of us have the nerves of steel to wait without exhausting the air supply 🙂

  13. Steve: katsaridaphobia 🙂 In New Orleans, there are 5 species of giant cockroaches and some of them can fly. But they are really only active at night. If you ever visit, I recommend you lock yourself in your hotel room when darkness falls 🙂

    • I don’t need to go to Naw’lins for giant roaches. The Philippines had the T Rex of giant roaches. And they flew! That is where I developed my fear…close encounters of the 3rd kind with giant flying roaches.

      Even now, Susie has to be the one to go after any roach in the house, while I run the other way!

      I envision that one likely possibility for my demise will be to be startled by a roach, causing me to jump backwards, possibly falling and hitting my head on a hard surface.

      And so katsaridaphobia will claim until victim. The feds need to wasting our money fighting terrorism and spend it on R&D for “the fiunal solution” to the roach problem.

      I want to be the Hitler to all roaches: extermination from the face of the Earth. This will be a great accomplishment since roaches have a long history on this planet. They must be eradicated!

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