The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Opinion & Letters to the Editor

March 27, 2014

Why our brains just cannot let this mystery go

In the age of constant surveillance, it's not supposed to be possible for an airliner with 239 people on board to simply vanish. The mystery of what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has gripped the world. CNN has seen its ratings soar by broadcasting nonstop coverage of the missing airplane. Millions of people are scouring satellite images of the oceans looking for pieces of debris. There is endless water cooler conversation about the clues and speculation about the cause of the disappearance. Reuters columnist Jack Shafer speaks for many when he writes, "[T]story has wedged its way into my consciousness and will persist until somebody locates the Boeing 777 and solves the mystery."

Why should the story of Flight 370 grip us so? This mystery seems almost designed to arouse some fundamental parts of our brain. One of our most essential tasks is to solve the enigma of the outside world, and this starts with our basic sensory perceptions. Our conscious minds experience reality as a seamlessly spooling movie in HD and surround sound. But our brain is fooling us. It turns out the very act of perception "is more like puzzle solving than most people realize," writes neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran in "The Tell-Tale Brain." "When you look at a simple visual scene, your brain is constantly resolving ambiguities, testing hypotheses, searching for patterns, comparing current information with memories and expectations."

Since our brain is in the business of solving the puzzle of reality, no wonder we are so gripped when reality presents us with such a maddening puzzle. Even if the debris in the Indian Ocean is proven to be from the missing plane, we still haven't solved the mystery of what happened. The few clues leave us endlessly speculating about what happened to the plane; in the same way, our brains must use the necessarily limited data our senses perceive and apply deductive skills to constantly come up with a functionally plausible version of reality.

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Opinion & Letters to the Editor
  • Doug Creamer Friends and contentment

    Last week I made my annual trip up the mountain to Sparta. My friends have a secluded home near a babbling brook. Their home and property are a haven for peace. It’s a two-plus hour ride to their home that doesn’t feel that long because I look so forward to my time with this great couple. When I arrive, the conversation seems to pick up right where we left it the last time we saw each other.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Thanks for the honest deed

    I would like to thank the person that found my wallet in the parking lot of Harris Teeter on July 23 and turned it in to the Albemarle Police.

    July 29, 2014

  • cleaning supplies Don't judge mothers with messy homes

    I was building shelves in my garage when a neighbor girl, one of my 4-year-old daughter's friends, approached me and said, "I just saw in your house. It's pretty dirty. Norah's mommy needs to clean more."

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • We need your help

    Hurray for the Albemarle City Council. Council plans to battle N.C. Department of Transportation’s ranking of all 13 projects in Stanly County to the bottom of their priority list. Council is setting up petitions in various city buildings for citizens to sign.

    July 28, 2014

  • Council asks veterans to seek office

    The terms of office for the leaders of the Stanly County Veterans Council ended June 30. A call is being sent to veterans council members requesting candidates for the four elective offices of the council. A meeting has been set for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 12 at the DAV building. All council members are urged to attend.

    July 28, 2014

  • Mike Walden The gains and gaps in our economy

    Twice a year, I pull out my cloudy crystal ball and attempt to make some predictions about the direction and pace of the North Carolina economy. I just finished my latest effort and, as usual, the results are a combination of pluses and minuses.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jason O. Boyd Yellow journalism takes on new form, people are dumber for it

    Time to get on the soapbox for a few minutes.
    Let me clear my throat. Eh ... hem!
    People are dumb.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Brent Laurenz Special election adds to the mix

    RALEIGH – A busy slate of judicial elections this November got even busier recently when Judge John Martin of the N.C. Court of Appeals announced his retirement.
    A special statewide election to fill Martin’s seat will be added to the general election ballot, joining the four N.C. Supreme Court seats and three N.C. Court of Appeals races already slated for this fall.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Patrick Gannon Fake news or sign of some more trouble?

    RALEIGH – Of the three situations I can recall where agencies receiving large sums of taxpayer dollars wouldn’t divulge employees’ salaries, two of them ended badly. The third – involving a group of charter schools in Southeastern North Carolina – is playing out right now.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Almost half of America's obese youth don't know they're obese

    WASHINGTON - The good news is that after decades of furious growth, obesity rates finally seem to be leveling off in the U.S.. The bad news is that America's youth still appear to be dangerously unaware of the problem.

    July 23, 2014

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