The human brain is a marvel of nature. It keeps you breathing, regularly delivers good ideas, coordinates your movements, manages a tangle of complicated relationships, and produces the mystery that is consciousness.
But just because the three-pound lump of jelly in our heads accomplishes an awe-inspiring array of achievements, doesn't make it perfect. In fact, it's far from it. Just like evolution has left us with a useless, infection-prone appendix and the hidden stump of a tail, the human brain is saddled with a few unhelpful quirks left over from our ancestors that can make life difficult for humans today.
In fact, the brain is "really quite rubbish in a lot of ways," according to neuroscientist Dean Burnett, author of the new book, Idiot Brain, which details the many quirks and faults that plague our otherwise amazing brains. He recently offered a few interesting examples during the course of an interview with Smithsonian Magazine.
1. It makes you motion sick.
Our savannah-dwelling ancestors had plenty of occasion to work on their spear throwing and running away skills, but obviously they got absolutely zero practice riding around in cars. Which means your brain is completely unequipped to process those zig-zagging mountain road that always make you queasy.
"The main theory as to why we get motion sickness is that it's essentially a conflict in the senses," explains Burnett in the interview. "The body and the muscles are saying we are still. Your eyes are saying the environment is still. The balance sense in the ears are detecting movement. The brain is getting conflicting messages from the fundamental senses, and in evolutionary terms there's only one thing that can cause that, which is a neurotoxin. And as a result the brain thinks it's been poisoned and what do you do when you've been poisoned? Throw up."
2. It's terrible at remembering people's names.
It's not just you who struggles to remember people's names. Apparently, we're all wired in such a way as to make this difficult. So next time you're embarrassed not to remember how to refer to a recent acquaintance, you can always blame your brain.
"The brain has a dedicated region for faces. And the brain is very visual. That is by far the most dominant sense. Anything visual has got a much better chance of being lodged in the brain and staying there. A lot more work is required by the conscious part of the brain to take in and remember a name," notes Burnett.
3. It can be abysmal at judging competence.
The first two brain faults are essentially amusing trivia, but this last one is downright scary. It's known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, and it's no doubt impacted your life significantly (either personally or by afflicting someone you work with). Basically, this problem means that the least competent among us are the most likely to think they're awesome.
"The theory is that the more intelligent person is a lot more aware of what there is to know and what they don't know. The brain can appraise itself, but that's a skill that requires intelligence. If you're very much unintelligent, then you struggle to recognize how intelligent you are compared to others. As a result, you say things with supreme confidence because you can't quite grasp the fact that you might be wrong," Burnett says. Remind you of anyone you know?