Our brilliant, dissonant brains

Richard Vincent
8 min readJun 4, 2022
The Thatcher Effect

Our brains did not originally develop to understand quantum mechanics, mathematics, poetry, extremely niche algorithmically determined TikToks, nor any other of the multitude of things that fill the modern world. However, true to the nature of life, the human mind has adapted and repurposed itself from a surviving machine to a living machine, with the capability to do all of the above and more

It would be naïve, however, to think that the brain is brilliantly infallible and perfectly adapted to the complex thoughts of contemporary society. You only need to give someone a tongue twister, show them a picture of a blue and white dress in ambiguous lighting or place something in their blind spot to expose our brains as the flawed, gelatinous ball of error-prone protein that they are. Don’t get me wrong, brains are smart. They’re one of the best computers in the world — possibly the universe — but when you show it a digitally altered upside-down image of Margaret Thatcher it’ll convince itself that she looks perfectly normal when that is definitely not the case.

You see, our brains have evolved to help us make sense of the world, spot patterns and differentiate between good and bad. Sometimes, to do that efficiently, the brain takes shortcuts. This is why, for example, we see faces in places where there are none. The brain is so incredibly fine-tuned to picking up the emotions of a friend (or foe) that we end up thinking a tree looks sad, or a car is shocked, just because it has three shapes that roughly resemble the characteristics of eyes and a mouth. This phenomenon — face pareidolia — is just one of many examples of how human brains are extremely effective at navigating the world, but sometimes to the detriment of our rationality.

By Ted.ns — Own work, CC BY 4.0

Another classic example of our brain taking shortcuts is in resolving cognitive dissonance. Humans have a desire to maintain a state of harmony in our minds. One in which all our ideas fit together into a perfectly consistent narrative about the world. However, the world is messy and complicated. We often don’t have perfect information nor understand how things work, so we must rely on a system of beliefs and apparent truths…

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Richard Vincent

Physics graduate. I write about physics and sometimes philosophy, ethics, psychology and insights found at the intersection of these.