The Mind Abhors a Vacuum

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

THE HUMAN mind will not allow a condition of "no explanation" — especially of significant events. When something happens, you explain it to yourself. Everybody does. You can't help it. Events cannot remain unexplained in your mind.

The explanation is about what caused the events. Here are three experiments that illustrate this principle in action:

The first example has to do with split-brain patients — people who have had their corpus callosum severed (the bundle of nerve fibers that connect the right and left hemispheres of their brains). The corpus callosum allows the two halves of the brain to communicate with each other.

A particular kind of severe epilepsy is stopped by this extreme surgery. For the most part, the split-brain patients don't notice anything different. But once in awhile it becomes apparent. For example, the left hand will reach for something and the right hand will try to stop it from reaching. The right hand is controlled by the left hemisphere and the left hand is controlled by the right hemisphere. So the two hemispheres sometimes conflict with each other.

The right hemisphere does not speak. The language center is the in left hemisphere.

Okay, now that you have that background information, I can tell you about the experiment. The split-brain patients were shown two different photographs, one to each eye (there was a divider between the eyes so the two sides of the brain saw different pictures). Then they were shown a table covered with of photographs of different things. Their task was to point to a picture that went with the photograph they just saw.

The left eye was shown a picture of a snow scene. The right eye saw a picture of a chicken. When they saw the table of photos, a strange thing happened: The right hand pointed to a chicken claw, and at the same time, the left hand pointed to a snow shovel. The hands pointed to correctly associated objects, but the two sides of the brain saw different pictures.

Now here's the interesting part: When the researcher asked the split-brain patients why they pointed at those objects, here is a typical answer: "The chicken claw goes with the chicken, and the shovel is for cleaning out the chicken shed."

In numerous similar experiments, it was shown again and again that the verbal left hemisphere of the brain is really good at explaining events given whatever information it has (even when it is missing some information), and it does so without hesitation.

Here's another, entirely different kind of experiment that shows the same thing. In this setting, a hypnotist sits with a student and hypnotizes him. While hypnotized, the student is given the suggestion that whenever the researcher touches his tie, the student will get up and close the door. Then the hypnotist says to the student, "you will not remember that I gave you this suggestion."

The student is awakened from the trance, and the two sit there and talk casually. At some point, the hypntoist touches his tie, and the student gets up and closes the door. When the hypnotist asks the student, "Why did you close the door?" the student always had a plausible answer. "I heard people talking down the hall," or "I was getting a little cold."

The experiment was repeated with many students, and always got the same results. The mind will fill in a vacuum of information, using what it knows, and it does this automatically.

One more experiment. This one took place in a dentist's office. Male pheromones were sprayed on one of the seats in the waiting room. As dental patients arrived, they sat down in one of the seats. More often than not, women sat on the sprayed seat, and men avoided the seat.

When asked why they sat where they sat, they all had an explanation, and none of the explanations had anything to do with smell (you can't actually smell pheromones anyway — they activate a nerve in your nose, but don't have an odor). People said things like, "I wanted to sit by the magazines," or "This seat is closer to the door," or whatever.

They explained what happened, given what they knew, even if some crucial information was not available to them.

What does all this have to do with defeating the third jihad? Check it out: What is the Root Cause of Islamic Terrorism?


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