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.

Text Only
Opinion & Letters to the Editor
  • Brent Laurenz Wrangling over pay for teachers

    RALEIGH – When the N.C. General Assembly reconvened in mid-May, there was talk of a short, efficient session.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Medical marijuana opponents' most powerful argument is at odds with a mountain of research

    Opponents of marijuana legalization are rapidly losing the battle for hearts and minds. Simply put, the public understands that however you measure the consequences of marijuana use, the drug is significantly less harmful to users and society than tobacco or alcohol.

    August 1, 2014

  • Patrick Gannon Two sides in debate about film incentives

    RALEIGH – It’s looking like the current film incentives program may be scrapped for a much different grant program for TV and movie production companies.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • D.G. Martin Read others’ views to be better informed, decide for yourself

    “I don’t read The Washington Post. That is not where I get my ideas.”

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Patrick Gannon This isn’t medical marijuana

    As state legislators debated allowing the use of an extract from marijuana plants to treat seizure disorders over the past couple of weeks, it was evident that social conservatives – there are many of them in the General Assembly – felt a tinge of unease about it, even as almost every one of them voted yes.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • 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

House Ads
Seasonal Content