The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Community News Network

March 24, 2014

Why our brains just cannot let this mystery go

(Continued)

The study of illusions gives us a glimpse at the trickery our brain uses to create, below our conscious awareness, our continuous sense of the world. Our brain is a kind of detective for our conscious mind.

But it's the specific nature of the disappearance of Flight 370 that pings some of our most basic cognitive drives. In their book "The Scientist in the Crib," Alison Gopnik, Andrew Meltzoff, and Patricia Kuhl write, "Babies become interested in, almost obsessed with, hiding-and-finding games when they are about a year old. There is the timeless appeal of peekaboo. … Babies also spontaneously undertake solo investigations of the mysterious Case of the Disappearing Object."

So, from our earliest days, we focus our attention on objects that are hidden, and then revealed. This consuming play, they write, "contributes to babies' ability to solve the big, deep problems of disappearance, causality, and categorization." No wonder we're watching CNN's nonstop coverage of a disappearing object.

We may be especially sensitive to seeing what's hidden because for our ancestors discovering food and evading threat were crucial to survival. Ramachandran writes that our visual system "evolved to detect predators behind foliage." Discovering hidden things is so central to our evolutionary survival that when we do so, "we get an internal 'Aha!' sensation." This "zap of pleasure" comes about, he explains, because our visual centers are wired to our limbic reward system. Without the reward, he says, we'd give up too easily on difficult problems. This makes it easier to understand why all over the world people have an irresistible urge to scour satellite images of vast oceans, seeking the kick of being the one to point and say, "There it is!"

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  • Why a see-through mouse is a big deal for scientists

    A group of Caltech researchers announced in Cell Thursday their success in making an entire organism transparent. Unfortunately, this isn't any kind of "Invisible Man" scenario: The organism in question is a mouse, and the mouse in question is quite dead.

    July 31, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 2.12.55 PM.png VIDEO: Five-year-old doesn't want her brother to grow up

    Sadie, an adorable 5-year-old from Phoenix, wants her brother to stay young forever, so much so that her emotional reaction to the thought of him getting older has drawn more than 10 million views on YouTube.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • lockport-police.jpg Police department turns to Facebook for guidance on use of 'negro'

    What seems to be a data entry mistake by a small town police department in western New York has turned into a social media firestorm centered around the word "negro" and whether it's acceptable to use in modern society.

    July 31, 2014 3 Photos

  • The virtues of lying

    Two computational scientists set out recently to simulate the effects of lying in a virtual human population. Their results, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, show that lying is essential for the growth of a cohesive social network.

    July 31, 2014

  • Sunburn isn't the only sign of summer that can leave you itchy and blistered

    You've got a rash. You quickly rule out the usual suspects: You haven't been gardening or hiking or even picnicking, so it's probably not a plant irritant such as poison ivy or wild parsnip; likewise, it's probably not chiggers or ticks carrying Lyme disease; and you haven't been swimming in a pond, which can harbor the parasite that causes swimmer's itch.

    July 30, 2014

  • Survey results in legislation to battle sexual assault on campus

    Missouri U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill joined a bipartisan group of senators Wednesday to announce legislation that aims to reduce the number of sexual assaults on college campuses.

    July 30, 2014

  • An alarming threat to airlines that no one's talking about

    It's been an abysmal year for the flying public. Planes have crashed in bad weather, disappeared over the Indian Ocean and tragically crossed paths with anti-aircraft missiles over Ukraine.

    July 30, 2014

  • Sharknado.jpg Sharknado 2 set to attack viewers tonight

    In the face of another "Sharknado" TV movie (the even-more-inane "Sharknado 2: The Second One," premiering Wednesday night on Syfy), there isn't much for a critic to say except to echo what the characters themselves so frequently scream when confronted by a great white shark spinning toward them in a funnel cloud:
    "LOOK OUT!!"

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140729-AMX-GIVHAN292.jpg Spanx stretches into new territory with jeans, but promised magic is elusive

    The Spanx empire of stomach-flattening, thigh-slimming, jiggle-reducing foundation garments has expanded to include what the brand promises is the mother of all body-shaping miracles: Spanx jeans.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Medical marijuana opponents' most powerful argument is at odds with a mountain of research

    Opponents of marijuana legalization are rapidly losing the battle for hearts and minds. Simply put, the public understands that however you measure the consequences of marijuana use, the drug is significantly less harmful to users and society than tobacco or alcohol.

    July 29, 2014

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