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IntroOur brains balk at the thought of four-dimensional hypercubes, quantum mechanics or an infinite universe, and understandably so. But our gray matter is generally adept at processing sensory data from the mundane objects and experiences of daily life. However, there are glaring exceptions. Here are 10 things that unexpectedly throw our brains for a loop, revealing some of the bizarre quirks in their structure and function that usually manage to slip under the radar.
DoorsSlide 2 of 21
Do you ever walk into a room with some purpose in mind — to get something, perhaps? — only to completely forget what that purpose was? Turns out, doors themselves are to blame for these strange memory lapses.
Psychologists at the University of Notre Dame have discovered that passing through a doorway triggers what's known as an "event boundary" in the mind, separating one set of thoughts and memories from the next, 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 prepares a blank slate for the new locale. Mental event boundaries usually help us organize our thoughts and memories as we move through the continuous and dynamic world, but when we're trying to remember that thing we came in here to do… or get… or maybe find… they can be frustrating indeed.
Aaaaaand scene!Slide 3 of 21
The moonSlide 4 of 21
Usually such a pleasant nighttime companion, the moon occasionally screws with our heads. When it dips low in the sky, it appears much larger than when it is overhead, even though it's actually the same size. Known as the moon illusion, or Ponzo illusion, this misconception is another example of an everyday brain fart.
The most likely cause of the moon illusion is that we're used to seeing clouds just a few miles above us, while we know that clouds on the horizon can be hundreds of miles distant. If a cloud on the horizon is the same size as clouds normally are overhead despite its great distance, we think, "that cloud is freaking huge." And because the moon near the horizon is the same size as it normally is overhead, we perceive it as being much larger, too.Slide 5 of 21
BeepsSlide 6 of 21
What's worse: the whine of a digital alarm clock, the sound of a truck backing up, or the shrill reminders that your smoke detector is running out of batteries? Fine, they're all terrible. Beeps are practically the soundtrack of the modern world, but they're extremely irritating because each one induces a tiny brain fart.
We didn't evolve hearing beeps, so we struggle to grasp them. Natural sounds are created from a transfer of energy, often from one object striking another, such as a stick hitting a drum. In that case, energy is transferred into the drum and then gradually dissipates, causing the sound to decay over time. Our perceptual system has evolved to use that decay to understand the event — to figure out what made the sound, and where it came from. Beep sounds, on the other hand, are like cars driving at 60 mph then suddenly hitting a wall, as opposed to gradually slowing to a stop. The sound doesn't change over time, and it doesn't fade away, so our brains are baffled about what they are and where they're coming from.Slide 7 of 21
PhotosSlide 8 of 21