The human brain is always a hot topic of debate, simply because it makes us who and what we are. Our brains act as the human equivalent of supercomputers, capable of keeping us alive, controlling our personality, allowing us to physically move, and allowing for that most “human” of activities: contemplation. Film buffs will know that the power of the human brain was brought to life in The Matrix, with characters inhabiting that fictional world plugged into a “Matrix” without actually knowing that their physical bodies weren’t in the “real” world.
Our Brains Have Some Serious Power…
Away from The Matrix, though, we may know now that our brains are powerful, but a widely perpetrated myth did, for a long time, leave them slightly undervalued. Fortunately, our brains are now getting the respect they deserve, as it has been disproven that we only use 10% of our brains. This bad science was used to influence films like Lucy, which portrayed how incredibly powerful humans could become if they could access 100% of their brain.
Debate regarding precisely how much of our brain we use at any given time persists, but what cannot be doubted is that the brain is so powerful that it can actually lie to us.
Cognitive Biases and Logical Fallacies: The Liars
Cognitive biases and logical fallacies are two methods by which our brains can trick us into believing things that are simply not true. You may never have heard of either phrase before, but the chances are you’ll be familiar with how it feels when either occurs.
Logical fallacies refer to times during which we have made a deduction from an argument and have assumed it to be true when in fact it is false. Take the news at the moment as an example. Bad news stories make headlines and sell papers, and so they remain in the spotlight sometimes for longer than is appropriate. Due to the spotlight being placed on these negative stories, our brains start to convince us that bad news is everywhere, and that danger lurks around every corner, when actually there is little evidence to suggest this is true.
We can see another good example of logical fallacies play out in poker, especially when it comes to the tricky activity of raising the betting stakes and considering how to play if you have a good hand like a flush. The logical fallacy here could start with person A putting lots of money into the pot. However, just because this is happening does not mean that person A has a good hand, but you, as player B, might be led to believe that they are in a position of strength.
In contrast to this, cognitive bias refers more to your own preconceptions, rather than false reasoning. An excellent breakdown of cognitive bias can be found here, but perhaps the most interesting aspect discussed is that your brain can sometimes just be plain lazy. The human brain makes connections between what you are doing and previous things it has processed, which can leave you drawing bad conclusions that cause unnecessary stress and those dreaded “what if” questions. “Heuristics”, in cognitive psychology refer to experience-based techniques applied to various cognitive processes like problem solving, learning, and logical thinking. In situations where an exhaustive search is impractical, rule of thumb or heuristic methods are used to speed up the process of finding a satisfactory solution. Unfortunately, these mental shortcuts aren’t always right.
It’s Not All Bad!
It’s worth remembering that, despite the scientifically proven potential your brain has to lie to you in certain situations, it is capable of some truly remarkable things. The biggest problem with false thoughts, though, is that you often can’t think your way out of a thought, with continued thinking leaving you tied up in even more knots than you started with!