Posted in Science & Nature


Consider this: if you see something that is not there, or not see something correctly, is that due to a problem in your eyes or your brain? An interesting anatomical fact is that the eyes are part of the brain. They originally evolved from the brain and drifted further and further forwards, connected to the brain by the optic nerves. If you lift a brain out from the skull, the eyes would be pulled backwards too. But technically speaking, eyes are distinct organs by themselves that have merely originated from a portion of the brain. It does not think or make decisions by itself. Just like a camera, an eye records things as it sees it and transmits it to the brain via the optic nerve via electrical signals. The brain then processes the signals in the occipital lobe, located at the back of the head (this is why you “see stars” when you bang the back of your head).

This means that vision can be altered anywhere along the pathway. If you have cataracts, where the lens of the eye becomes clouded, you lose portions of your visual field. If you have a large pituitary gland tumour, it presses on the optic nerve and causes double vision (diplopia) or vision loss. If you have a stroke in the occipital lobe, you can lose your vision. The brain’s role in producing vision can easily be demonstrated in the form of optical illusions. The eye merely records and transmits what it sees, but the brain becomes confused by what information it receives and tries to make sense of it. In the process, we experience bizarre illusions such as static images moving by themselves.

Because of this intricate pathway, some pathologies present with fascinating symptoms. A condition called Anton’s blindness (or Anton-Babinski syndrome) causes a patient to “see” despite being blind. Patients with Anton’s blindness are adamant that they can see perfectly clearly, and will even describe what they are seeing. However, what they “see” is completely different to what the object actually looks like. For example, if the patient looked at a blonde woman wearing a yellow blouse and a red skirt, they may describe her as a brunette woman wearing a blue shirt and black jeans.

The reason for their blindness is that their occipital lobe was damaged (usually by a stroke), leading to an inability to process the information from the eyes. Although the eyes are pristine and record what they see in perfect detail, the brain is incapable of interpreting the signals. The brain then goes on to confabulate, where the brain fills the gap by conjuring up false information. This makes Anton’s blindness quite hard to pick up on as the patient will not complain of it. It is only found when someone pays close attention to the patient and notices subtle cues like the patient bumping into furniture or talking in the direction where they think a person is at (even after they move). Ergo, the patient adamantly believes that they can see as their brain thinks it is seeing things (even though it is not receiving the information from the eyes properly).

Seeing is not believing. You see what you believe.

Posted in Life & Happiness

Yellow Ball

If I was to put a yellow ball in front of you and ask what colour the ball is, you would confidently say “yellow”. As you say, the ball appears yellow, but the answer is technically wrong. Strictly speaking, the ball itself is not yellow – it is merely reflecting the colour yellow. The ball only appears yellow because we see the yellow part of the natural light spectrum bouncing off the ball. We cannot say that the essence of the ball is “yellow”. For example, if you were to look at the ball through a red lens, the yellow light would be filtered and you would see a black ball. A person with a certain kind of colour blindness would say the ball has a bluish hue. A butterfly, which sees the ultraviolet spectrum as well, would see a colour we cannot even name.

Human beings judge objects using the vision. We describe an object as we see it and store that information in our brain to define the object. For this purpose, the fact that a colour blind person or a butterfly sees the ball a different colour is irrelevant to us. All we need to know is that object appears yellow to us. But this is only the case for objects. Let us imagine the ball is a person. If everyone in the world sees you as a yellow ball, would that make you a yellow ball? Of course not. However, people worry too much about how others see them. Although other people’s perception does not change our true nature in the slightest, we even go as far as erasing or abandoning our nature to look good in front of another person. Thus, whether our essence is white, black, red, blue or technicolour, when others see us as yellow, we have a tendency to try desperately to become yellow. 

If the world says you are a yellow ball, act crazy and be a red ball. There is not a single reason you should have to hide your true nature. Have confidence in your essence. There is nothing wrong with that.


Posted in Philosophy

An Opinion On The Senses

There are five physical senses and five mental senses.

The physical senses are sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell.

The mental senses are emotions, imagination, intuition, understanding and inspiration.

If a person only uses their five physical senses to live, that is like using the five fingers on their left hand only.

(Die fünf Sinne (The Five Senses) by Hans Makart, 1840-1884)

Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Cranial Nerves

Nerves can be divided broadly as spinal nerves and cranial nerves: the latter which is directly from the brain. There are 12 pairs of cranial nerves:

  1. CN IOlfactory nerve (smell)
  2. CN IIOptic nerve (sight)
  3. CN IIIOculomotor nerve (eye movements, control of pupil and lens)
  4. CN IVTrochlear nerve (eye movements)
  5. CN VTrigeminal nerve (sensory information from face and mouth, chewing)
  6. CN VIAbducens nerve (eye movements)
  7. CN VIIFacial nerve (taste, tear and salivary glands secretion, facial expressions)
  8. CN VIIIVestibulocochlear nerve (hearing and sense of balance)
  9. CN IXGlossopharyngeal nerve (taste, swallowing, parotid gland secretion, sensory information from oral cavity, information about blood)
  10. CN XVagus nerve (sensory and motor signals to and from many internal organs, glands and muscles)
  11. CN XIAccessory nerve (movement of SCM and trapezius, which are neck/shoulder muscles)
  12. CN XIIHypoglossal nerve (tongue movements)

As there are so many nerves and the names are all varied, there is a simple (yet very obscene) mnemonic to help medical students remember the names and order of nerves:

Oh, Oh, Oh, To Touch And Feel Virgin Girls’ Vaginas And Hymens
Oh, Oh, Oh, To Touch And Feel A Girl’s Very Soft Hands
(where vestibulocochlear -> auditory)

It is also worth noting the mnemonic for the types of nerves is:

Some Say Marry Money, But My Brother Says Big Boobs Matter More

Perhaps the only way to survive medical school is through humour.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Sensory Illusion

The five senses we use to experience the world are simply wondrous. However, thanks to our not-so-perfect brain, these senses can easily be distorted. Illusions are a very good way to show how the brain processes sensory information and there are many fascinating examples.

Almost everyone has seen an optical illusion before, such as Penrose’s endless stairs or the Muller-Lyer illusion. There are countless more examples such as static pictures that appear to be moving and illusions in colour perception (A and B are the same colour). This is caused by the brain not recording images like a camera, but rather processing visual information and reconstructing an image. There are four main types of optical illusions: ambiguous (e.g. rabbit or duck), distortion (Café wall illusion), paradoxical (Penrose triangle) and fictional (only seen in hallucinations or by schizophrenics).

(Do you see the dolphins? Children cannot see the man and woman because they cannot comprehend it, whilst adults cannot overpower the sexual image)

Like vision, every other sense can be fooled in a similar fashion.
Auditory illusions that distort what we hear are fairly common, a good example being the infinitely ascending Shepard scale (which are just a series of the same ascending octave scale). Also, the McGurk effect shows how the brain uses a multimodal approach where it involves both hearing and vision when listening.

There are also tactile illusions. For example, if you pull your top lip to left and the bottom lip to the right, then prod the middle of the lips with a pencil, it feels like there are two. However, the more famous case is of the Phantom Limb, where an amputee’s brain still believes that the limb is there, causing it to “feel” the limb or even feel pain.

The other two senses aren’t as famous in terms of illusions, but definitely exist.
Smell is easy to fool through chemicals as it is the physiological method of detecting smell. It also exhibits olfactory fatigue where it becomes desensitised to a strong smell.
Taste illusions are more fascinating and easily seen. They are caused by two or more tastes forming a synergy to produce a completely different taste. For instance, mixing barley tea and milk produces a coffee milk taste, while cucumber and honey tastes like melons.
A more fascinating illusion involves Miracle Fruit Berries, which contain a substance called miraculin that distorts the taste of sourness to sweetness.

This shows how we can fool all five senses, and learn more about the mysterious organ that is the brain.