Just the other day I came across something I found quite interesting on BBC. The article was on brain adaptation, I know it doesn’t sound overly exciting but it was actually quite neat. It was titled, Adaptation: Why our brain loves to tune out, by Tom Stafford.
The article asks the reader to think about your clothes, how they are pressing against your skin. How until you think about something that is constant, you somehow forget that it’s there or that it is happening, such as the hum of a fan in the room.
The author of the article, Stafford, then asks the reader to close one eye and hold the other eyeball perfectly still by simply using your thumb and index finger to press gently on the bone of the eye socket, through your upper and lower eyelids. Easier said than done, as you will want to blink or move your eye. At least that’s what I wanted to do.
So as I sat in my office, I took a look around and saw that people were busy with their own things and hopefully wouldn’t notice me doing this. I’m sure I looked quite comical; one eye covered by my hand while holding the other eye open. I really wanted to see what it was Stafford was talking about, though, so vanity at that moment didn’t matter at all.
I closed my left eye, covering it with my left hand to make sure I didn’t have to concentrate hard on keeping it closed, as most of my concentration had to go towards keeping my right eye perfectly still. As I sat with my eye fixed on a single spot, completely still with nothing moving in front of me, the strangest thing happened. You’re welcome to give it a try before continuing if you like, as it’s really quite odd.
Everything in sight started to fade to black. “As long as you are holding your eyeball perfectly still, you will very quickly discover you can see nothing at all.” Stafford explains. This is very true, everything will start to fade away, but at that point I started moving a little bit, I just found it to be such a strange sensation. It felt as though I was slowly going blind.
The reason for this is that our brains end up tuning out things that are constants, so that we can focus on anything new that is happening around us. This is why any movement will bring your eye back into focus. But you’re now asking the question, “Why when I just sit there staring at a spot everything doesn’t start fading away?” Well it’s quite simple. Your eyes are continually twitching, always focusing on what’s happening around you. This is why the world doesn’t start fading away even though you are not consciously moving.
This just shows how complex the human brain is. It has adapted to tune out menial constants in our everyday lives, and can make foreign objects feel normal. I’ve worn a ring on my thumb constantly for five years and now it feels strange to take it off. For our eyes to sit there twitching in order to always be taking in new information, so our brain doesn’t “tune out” to the world around us, is quite a feat.
Now I never studied neuroscience, but friends of mine did. The one in fact has been accepted to do her Masters in the field, she would describe in layman’s terms about the intricacies of our brain to me and I would be extremely amazed by how powerful the human brain is. This article I, therefore, found quite interesting. Our brains being able to focus on the new things around us over the everyday constants is the reason for us being able to get used to smells or sounds. It was something I never really thought about before, how the brain does this for us, so I thought I would share it with you all.