Trickster Brain

brainIf you want to figure out if something is true or not, you’re probably better off not going to a psychiatrist. Therapists really have no greater ability to decipher what the truth is than anyone else.

On the other hand, if you go to see a decent, “good enough” therapist, with enough experience working with people, he or she might be able to tell you whether or not it is likely that your brain is playing a trick on you.

Here’s what I mean, truth is something that is probably best investigated by a private investigator or someone who’s good at looking at the external world. On the other hand, there are certain clues that suggest that peoples’ brains are misleading them in ways that could be very harmful.

Here are some observations about our “trickster brains” and some examples:

1. If you’re absolutely sure that something is true, then you might want to reconsider. One of the best signs that your brain is playing tricks on you is certainty, especially certainty about complicated matters… after all, in life very few things are completely clear.

2. If everywhere you look, you see evidence that supports your view, you might want to consider the possibility that your brain is noticing things selectively. One of the key features of a trickster brain is its ability to search for all the evidence that confirms its theory. You may need to force yourself to look for contrary evidence.

3. If you find that you are more than usually caught up in your thoughts, and if you happen to notice that you’re disconnected from everyday experience, consider the possibility that you are missing important information that might help you have better judgment. A key feature of the trickster brain is that it focuses selectively on the internal world and people who are in the grip of it often really don’t seem to be paying much attention to a conversation.

4. If you find yourself incredibly upset and angry when someone suggests that any part of your theory is open to doubt, reconsider the evidence. The trickster brain sees contradiction as a threat, rather than as an important source of information. A good example of the opposite state of mind is a statement that a former supervisor of mine repeated often to those he worked with – “Please let me know if you see me making a mistake, I can’t know everything and I need to know that those I work with will tell me if they think I am wrong.”

Our brains are very good at giving us warnings of potential danger, but not very good at figuring out the difference between real and imagined threats.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, our brains tend to think about things thematically. So a minor argument that happens today thematically links to a terrible and violent fight that you had with your parents as a child. The brain makes the two seem very similar even though they’re actually quite different. Also, the brain is not particularly good at putting things into context, especially if you’re frightened. It tends to focus very narrowly, which makes it more and more difficult to tell whether something is likely or really very unlikely.