If there's one thing everyone is an expert on, it's what it feels like to be inside your own head. We're all intimately aware of our perceptions, feelings and sensations.
Or are we?
We might think we understand how our minds process experience, but according to the latest neuroscience, how we think we interact with the world and what's really going on in our brains is often wildly different. In short, neuroscience knows things about you that you've probably never dreamed of.
That's the takeaway of a mind-bending answer from Paul King, a computational neuroscientist at the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience, in response to a Quora questioner who wanted to know, "What are some things that neuroscientists know but most people don't?" (Hat tip to Business Insider for first discovering the thread.) His response includes utterly strange facts about what really goes on in our skulls, including these.
1. You only see a tiny fragment of the world at one time.
You might think you see a clear panoramic vision of the room you're currently sitting in, but that's just a helpful illusion generated by your brain.
"We think we see the whole world, but we are looking through a narrow visual portal onto a small region of space. You have to move your eyes when you read because most of the page is blurry. We don't see this, because as soon as we become curious about part of the world, our eyes move there to fill in the detail before we see it was missing. While our eyes are in motion, we should see a blank blur, but our brain edits this out," explains King.
2. Most of your behavior is automatic.
According to neuroscience you're in control of much less of your day than you probably imagine. "Our behavior is mostly automatic, even though we think we are controlling it. The fact that we can operate a vehicle at 60 mph on the highway while lost in thought shows just how much behavior the brain can take care of on its own," writes King. "Addiction is possible because so much of what we do is already automatic, including directing our goals and desires."
3. Your brain is really, really slow.
That is, compared to a computer, at least. "Our thinking feels fast and we are more intelligent than computers, and yet neurons signal only a few times per second and the brain's beta wave cycles at 14-30 times per second. In comparison, computers cycle at 1 billion operations per second, and transistors switch over 10 billion times per second," notes King.
That raises one of the fundamental mysteries of neuroscience: "How can neurons be so slow and yet we are so smart?"