Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Brain Farts

You know what a brain fart is, of course ... it's that what the hell!?* moment that happens when you forget what you were about to do, where you were going, or what you were going to do when you got there. It's that moment when the universe seems just a little bit out of kilter.

I have those all the time.

Well, it turns out that there are numerous good reasons for you to have a brain fart. This article explains ten of them, of which I found these the most interesting:

Doors. Psychologists have discovered that the simple act of passing through a doorway separates one set of thoughts and memories from the next in your mind (an "event boundary," as they call it in psycho-speak), just as exiting through a doorway signals the end of a scene in a movie. Your brain files away the thoughts you had in the previous room, and gets ready to process what it will encounter in the next one. Think of the lag time of a digital camera that won't allow you to take a new picture until it's done writing the last one to memory. These event boundaries usually help us organize our thoughts and memories as we navigate through an ever-changing world, but they can cause a temporary brain fart when we suddenly shift to the new environment beyond the door.

Beeps. We're surrounded by beeps. Phones beep, computers beep, alarm clocks beep, trucks beep when they shift into reverse, etc, etc. But the beep is not a sound we encounter in nature, and so our evolutionary memory (sorry, those of you who refuse to believe in evolution) sometimes triggers a brain fart when it hears one and tries to figure out what the hell was that? There's a longer, fascinating explanation in the article that goes into why the physical qualities of the beeping sound have that freezing effect our brains.

Photographs. We didn't evolve hearing beeps and we also didn't evolve seeing photographs ... very clear and detailed representations of people and events in the past. Sometimes, our brains temporarily freeze up as we try to separate the reality of the moment from the image captured in a different time. In short, we can sometimes have a hard time separating appearance from reality** ... leading to a brain fart when we see a photograph, particularly of something or someone that triggers a deeply personal memory. 

Brain farts - they're for real. And here I thought they were just another sign of getting old. I feel better now.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow, unless I encounter another brain fart.


* Did you know that there is actually a punctuation mark that combines the question mark and the exclamation point? It's used to express puzzlement, excitement, or disbelief ... and it's called the interrobang - ‽. You can get it with this html code: &#8253. No charge.

** Like many ultraconservative Republicans.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

OMG! There are terms for this like "event boundaries."

Having a brain fart right now. Or, can we refer to it as a "neurological flatus"?

Amanda said...

I find that the biggest cause of brain farts for me is actually eating. Too bad it wasn't featured in the article...

Mike said...

"event boundary"
Sounds very Star Warsian.

Bilbo said...

Angelique - "neurological flatus." I love it! We could also call it cerebral flatulence. I think I need to work these into my daily vocabulary somehow.

Amanda - Does it depend on what you're eating? Sometimes ice cream gives you a brain freeze, which isn't exactly the same thing.

Mike - you're thinking of event horizon, the edge of a black hole. We have one here in DC, represented by the streets that surround the capitol.

Big Sky Heidi said...

And because photograps can be photoshopped, it can have the effect of blurring reality's bounds.

Didn't some scientist implant false memories in some people through suggestion?

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Memory-wise, we live in airtight compartments.

Bilbo said...

Heidi - you are correct on both counts.

Elvis - yep. Just right.

Dana said...

An an "event boundary"? I'm pretty sure that's what I run into when I drink too much tequila!