I was up at my cabin this weekend enjoying some beautiful fall weather. I took a walk along a rocky path that I don’t travel often. Along the way, I decided to try some awareness exercises. The path ahead was bumpy but without any significant hazards. I closed my eyes and stepped very carefully, keeping my weight on one foot until the other foot was safely positioned before shifting my weight forward.
I hadn’t gone very far before I stepped forward into mossy undergrowth. Realizing that I had veered to the edge of the path, I opened my eyes and found myself facing directly towards the side of the path. Wow, I thought, I didn’t even sense that I was not moving in a straight line. Believing that I had turned towards the right side of the path, I turned back to the left and continued on, keeping my eyes open.
After a while, wondering why I had not come to the road I was expecting, I started looking around. Something didn’t seem right. The path was going gradually uphill instead of down. The sun was on my right instead of left. I stopped, completely disoriented. The faint traffic noise from the distant highway was on the “wrong” side, too.
My brain, which had immediately made an assumption when I opened my eyes that I was facing the right side of the path, insisted that I was going in the right direction. All my senses, however, said I wasn’t. Indeed, my senses were correct. With my eyes closed, I had veered to the left side of the path instead of the right. If I had paused to get my bearings when I opened my eyes, I would have seen that and continued down the path to my right, instead of turning to my left and going back up the path where I had come from.
What was so interesting to me was how sure my brain was that it was correct, even when all my senses were telling me that it was wrong. Even when I turned and headed in the right direction, my brain continued to be confused. Everything seemed “backwards” until I found familiar landmarks and convinced my brain that indeed we were going the right way.
I wonder how many other assumptions my brain has latched onto without a careful consideration of the available information. Seeing how much effort it took to change my brain’s orientation made me think that my brain, once having reached a conclusion, is loathe to consider other possibilities, even when conflicting evidence is presented.
I learned two things. First, my brain likes to have an answer and will jump to one quickly rather than pause in uncertainty. Second, once my brain has an answer, it will lock it in and defend it against anything that contradicts it.
My brain has given me a lot to think about. My awareness exercise was a huge success, just not in the way I intended!
related post: The Curiosity of Not Knowing