Sunday, July 29, 2007

Why Are We So Easily Fooled?

Yep... there's a bit of a common theme running through the last few posts, the ease with which the mind can be fooled. Here's another one for you. Take a good look at this image...

The squares marked A & B are the same shade of grey.

Absurd, ridiculous, I hear you say. I thought so too until I checked by opening the image with gpaint (The Linux equivalent of MS Paint, although it's a misnomer to call it an equivalent when its clearly superior).

Yes, this is simply an optical illusion but think about it. If we can be so easily fooled by something so simple, what does that say about other judgements we make in life? A bit too sobering or negative? Perhaps. But the most astounding thing about this is the mind's stubborn refusal to see things as they actually are. Even though I can logically convince myself that these too shades are identical, I can't see it. Try as I may, I can see the shades are the same when they're put next to each other, but as soon as I look up again, B is clearly lighter than A, even though I know it's not.

So why is the mind so easily fooled? I'd like to hear what you think? For my part, I think it comes down to the fact that perception is a mental action, not a function of the eyes. Think back to your high school biology class and how the lens in the eye inverts everything, making everything upside down. The mind then has to process that image, turn it right way up so it reflects reality. So everything we see has been processed to one degree or another. It's all be tampered with subconsciously.

In short, we see what we are supposed to see...

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Ambidextrous Mind

The mind is a remarkable thing, perhaps more remarkable than we dare imagine. Take, for example, this image. Which way is it turning? Clockwise or anti-clockwise? “Why, don't be silly,” I hear you saying, “Of course it's turning clockwise.” Ah... you must be right-handed.

You see it's actually not turning clockwise or anti-clockwise. It's an illusion. It will turn which ever way you want it to turn. Don't believe me, give it a try. As you're reading, slowly become aware of the shadow at the bottom of the image. Try to ignore the legs and just let your eye settle on the shadow and, presto, you'll see she begins to turn anti-clockwise.

Ah... the ambidextrous mind. Now, are you ready for a real challenge? Can you make her turn either way at will? That's a real test of mental strength. You can do it, the trick is in training your mind to recognise which leg she has extended. If her right leg is raised, she'd be turning clockwise. If her left leg is raised, she'll be turning anti-clockwise. It helps if you focus on the shadow again.

The funny thing is, it is harder to unlearn. Getting her to turn clockwise again is harder than getting her to turn anti-clockwise the first time. The mind loves a rut :)

Isn't it bizarre how you can literally talk your mind into seeing whatever you want to see? There's a lesson in there somewhere...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)

Looking for some light reading? Then this book probably isn't for you. But, regardless, it is well worth adding to your collection.

Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) is a rare look into the sordid world of self-justification. It examines how decisions that are clearly wrong can be made by people and justified or even strengthened when events go belly up.

Take, for example, a cult that believed the world would end on December 21st and that they would be spared by being abducted by aliens at midnight on the 20th. Surely, you would think, when 12:01am rolled around, the faithful would be faithless. In a rational world that would be the outcome, but not in the surreal world of emotional illusions. By 4:40am, when it was absolutely clear to the most ardent of the faithful that the prophecy had failed, the prophet had another vision (what a surprise). And the vision was that the steadfast belief of the faithful (a group of about 30) had spared the Earth (the billions of us outside the fold). The "salvation" of the entire Earth lay with those 30 kind souls. Quite thoughtful, really. After this, instead of loosing momentum, the "faithful" then became more passionate and devoted than ever before.

Ah... I hear you saying, but I'm no freak. That could never happen to me. Yet this same mental mechanism, cognitive dissidence, works on numerous levels. Consider smoking. The consequences of smoking are inescapable and horrendous and yet still millions persist.

Moral of the story. Whether its alien saviours or a fag after a pint, Proverbs 21:2 still holds true, every man is right in his own eyes.

I've painted myself into a few corners over the years and got my feet dirty trying to get out of them... Mistakes were made by me...

Here's a few others worthy of note in this category...

The Lucifer Effect With a title like that, how can you resist?
Dont Believe Everything You Think is another...
A Mind of its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives brings some humour and wit to the arguments if you're stuck in the middle of the UK floods and a little bored, go to and order some of these. The military may not be able to get help to you, but Amazon will :)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Courage, Stupidity or a Remarkable Example of Discipline

It's silly I know, but it does make a point, life is how you see it... So how do you see it? Courage? Stupidity? Or a remarkable example of discipline?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Problem with Religion

The one, universal tenet of all religions, regardless of flavor, is they don't think. Could it be put any more eloquently than this...

Religion is based on unquestioning acceptance, and for that reason, it never progresses beyond where it is... Sad, but true.

The great reformers, from Moses through to Christ, Paul and Luther, all shared one thing in common, the courage to question the status quo. You would think we would have learned from that...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Contribute to Cutting Edge Astronomy

Want to be part of genuine astronomical research? Now's your chance. Computer operated machines have photographed more than a million galaxies (or galaxy candidates). But the human mind is still far superior to computers at pattern recognition. And even if you teach a computer to recognise a spiral or eliptical galaxy, the computer would still fail to recognise anything really unusual or new. The scientists themselves are going nuts trying to classify this many photographs, so they've asked for help.

You can be the first human to set eyes upon a distant galaxy - be the first to classify it!
Here's one I classified as a clockwise (from an observer in the Milky Way) spiral galaxy. I feel 80% sure. If you can do better, then you need to sign up quick! Right now I'm the best they've got!

On the web site, you set up a user-name. Then do a five minute tutorial in galaxy categorisation at the required level. Then do a quick test. If you get 8 out of 10, you can contribute. Perfect for a lunch break. Have a go!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Winning the Lottery

On the train into work this morning I caught sight of a fellow passenger sharing indignation with the Sun newspaper. Mugger won £4m on lottery! It turns out the winner had previously mugged an 88 year-old lady for £6 to fuel his gambling habit. Apparently, fury among readers of the Sun is stoked by such an undeserving winner.

Well gamblers and readers of the Sun... that's how gambling works. You see, winners are not chosen on merit. A person gambles in the hope of getting something without earning it. It seems just a little two-faced to get upset that someone else gained what he never deserved.

A gambler's winnings are wholly at another's loss. But don't let the exploitation gnaw at blunted conscience - the odds are overwhelmingly in favour of once again becoming one of the chumps funding another unworthy winner.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

What does it take to succeed?

What does it take to succeed?

If the trend of the last 20-30 years is to be believed, all you need is pretty little posters with nice positive, iconic sayings on them. We're becoming a generation of cheerleaders, always there with the pomp pomps ready to inspire. The sad thing is the many people have been fooled into thinking that the pomp pomps actually make a difference. They don't, they're window dressing. It's the players on the field that make a difference.

Gone are the days where hard work was its own reward. No one wants honesty posters, they want fairy tale posters. No one wants to be reminded of Edison's quote about genius being 90% perspiration, 10% inspiration. Why perspire? Why slog away at things when I can quote a few jingles and feel good about myself. And then sit back and wonder why things don't fall into my lap when I was oh-so-positive?

Perhaps I'm bursting my own bubble here, and not yours, but here's reality for you...

OK, I admit, they're humorous. But stop and think about it. What is it that makes them so funny? Apart from the few that are straight irony, the reason these are funny is because they're all too true. They're honest, not pretentious.

The next time you're tempted to look at one of those office-bound pieces of new-age motivational trash for inspiration, remind yourself they're fanciful, not grounded in reality. Don't be hoodwinked by the cheerleaders. Success takes work. That's it. That's all there is. There are no other hidden gems of wisdom that will enlighten your world and make everything as easy as 1, 2, 3.

Welcome to the real world.

Have a nice day :)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Failed Terrorist Attacks

At times the effectiveness of the security services has been called into question. Happily it's the terrorists incompetence causing their own embarrassment this week in Britain.

Following three car bomb attacks, they've accomplished one parking ticket, one car towed away, one jeep burned out with severe burns to a terrorist, and two arrests on the scene. The police having captured some of the crew, were able to quickly follow with two further arrests.

Thankfully, no one has been injured besides the scum who perpetrated these attacks. I can only hope that this is a sign of the maturing terrorist network becoming as ineffective as most large organisations operating in Britain.

The sad reality is we cannot be so smug. According to the Telegraph, "The security organisation is monitoring 30 suspected plots involving more than 1,700 possible terrorists." That a hell of a lot of arseholes coming out of Friday prayers at the local mosque with murder on their minds.

I have not yet found any reference to Islam in the BBC's coverage of these three attacks. What the BBC is trying to pretend, I just can't imagine.