Musings on Photography

Brain Quirks

Posted in equipment, whimsy by Paul Butzi on March 17, 2010


The area between buildings at my home is a large gravel courtyard. It’s big enough to turn a large panel van around in, which ought to give you some idea of the size.

This morning, Kodak and I were walking to the studio, across the gravel. The gravel was in my field of vision, but I wasn’t really attending to it.

And suddenly, for no reason I could imagine, my eyes were drawn to a small bit of grey in this vast expanse of grey gravel. It was about the same color and value as the gravel, but it had a ‘U’ shape. And, before my eyes had fully focused on it, my brain leapt to the conclusion that it was a small sliding outlet cover that I’d noticed was missing from an outlet strip in the studio way back in 2003. Even more amazing, when I examined the bit of grey plastic, that’s exactly what it was.

Somehow, my brain, processing the entire visual field which consisted of a building, plants, trees, dog, and everything, latched onto this one unusual shape in the vast expanse of gravel shaped gravel, forwarded this unusual shape to some other bit of processing, and announced “Hey, we’ve just found that little totally unimportant bit of plastic that you lost in August, 2003!”

I like my brain. It has some negative quirks, such as obsessing about things like clocks, and locks, and so on. And it has some amazing abilities, like visually picking one middle grey bit of plastic out of a sea of gravel and identifying it instantly as a bit of a device, said bit missing now this past 6+ years. It routinely coughs up various facts, memories, bits of prose or poetry, snatches of songs – often quite insistently and seemingly uncorrelated with current events.

You would think that having lived in my brain for 50+ years now, I’d have some inkling of how it actually works. You may now go off on the infinite regress of wondering if a brain can have enough power to understand itself. Good luck, and have fun.

4 Responses

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  1. Juha Haataja said, on March 17, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    A great story! And indeed, it seems that we can only occasionally grasp the complexity of the multitudes of processing which goes on all the time in the brain, using our limited mostly sequential point of view.

  2. Colin Griffiths said, on March 18, 2010 at 12:14 am

    My 50+ year old brain does that too. It also seems to forget a lot of things too!

  3. Andy Webster said, on March 18, 2010 at 11:37 am

    “If the brain were simple enough to understand, we’d be too simple to understand it”

    That from Peter (Listening to Prozac) Kramer’s research assistant – I think; it probably crops up all over the place.

  4. Juha Haataja said, on March 18, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    Andy, a grea quote! Yet, they are still trying two understand the brain. Below are two recent science headlines which caught the eye. But I’m not sure whether the provide any insight on the topic raised here – perhaps they just confuse even more.

    Brain Naturally Follows Scientific Method? Less Effort to Register ‘Predictable’ Images: “It turns out that there is a striking similarity between how the human brain determines what is going on in the outside world and the job of scientists. Good science involves formulating a hypothesis and testing whether this hypothesis is compatible with the scientist’s observations.”

    Mathematical Law Proposes a Grand Unified Theory of the Brain, quoting Professor Friston: ‘Homeostasis keeps use alive. We keep alive by minimising surprise in our environment.’

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