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The Brain's Hidden Rationale Behind Our Irrational Behavior

by Eliezer J Stermberg, Pantheon Books 2015

In his book NeuroLogic, Sternberg, a resident neurologist at Yale, describes the mechanics of orienting ourselves when we wake up from dreaming. About dreams he writes:

Most of what we dream is a quilt of our memories, thoughts and emotions. Often our dreams are abstract reflections of things that occur to us in our daily lives, things we contemplate, worry about, and long for.

As weird as dreams can be, we never seem to notice their outlandishness while we're in them. Only when we wake up do we realize how bizarre the imagined scenario was.

While sleeping a part of our brain is working, but the prefrontal cortex "is utterly quiet." It is with the prefrontal cortex that we actively plan, strategize and reflect. With these shut down during sleep we don't tell ourselves that we dreaming and "it's why dreams can get away with being so bizarre."

We have "two fundamentally different systems at work in the brain." One is the prefrontal cortex, "the active, conscious system that we use when we're awake." The other is "the passive, inner world of dreaming that takes over when the conscious system shuts down."

I venture to conclude that it is the prefrontal cortex that keeps us sane, at least if it's not damaged someway, genetically perhaps.

This is in Chapter One of Sternberg's book, which has seven chapters and 240 pages. The first chapter also describes perception. "Human vision," he writes, "is not a simple window onto the world. It is an interpretation... Human vision is the brain's highly processed representation of what's out there."

In other words what we see is not the Truth whole and simple from a source outside our head. Sternberg writes:

The brain anticipates what things will look like based on what we've seen in the past. It even uses environmental cuts to fill in supposed gaps in a scene.

As an example of the mind working on what is perceived he asks the reader to read the following:

Dseitpe the fcat taht the letetres in tehese wrdos are jmbuled, you are sitll albe to raed tehm, Bceasue the frsit and lsat ltertes are in the rghit palce. your bairn can use tohse ceus to fgiure out waht I'm syanig.

Our senses receive information. Let's call it sense-data. And our brain works the data into meaning for us by putting it in a context that already exists in our mind. Two people will create a different meaning in the same face, and they might evaluate the words of an author or book differently.

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