The “Pepsi challenge” was a marketing campaign by Pepsi, where a person blindly takes sips from two different cups – one of Coke, one of Pepsi – and states which tastes better. The Pepsi challenge showed that people tended to prefer Pepsi to Coke in a blind sip test. This caused significant controversy and even led Coca-Cola to trial a change in their classic recipe, which failed disastrously.
Of course, there are many reasons why the results of this challenge may be invalid, as Malcolm Gladwell explored in his book Blink. The challenge is designed to isolate just a snapshot experience of each drink. Ergo, people tend to prefer a single sip of the sweeter, more citreous drink that is Pepsi, when they may not have enjoyed it as much if they had to drink an entire bottle.
Furthermore, multiple studies and experiments in the marketing field show a psychological phenomenon called sensation transference. This is when our perception of a sense is affected by other information such as the brand name, packaging or even the colour of the food or drink. For example, margarine was originally white but yellow colour was added to make it look more “butter-like”, greatly increasing sales.
This shows how little things that we may find insignificant can affect our decisions and first impressions. Our subconscious mind is a powerful processor that makes rapid assessments from a sea of information, while not bothering the conscious mind. We might buy a certain wine because the bottle looks more premium than another bottle. We may fall in love with someone because of a small detail like the way their nose looks. But at the same time, it can be just as easily misled as it uses only the information given to it at the time.
So the question is not how powerful your gut instinct is, but if you know yourself well enough to trust it.
They say that when you face your mortality, your entire life flashes before your eyes like a sped-up autobiographical film. This tends to happen in situation where a person feels they are in danger of imminent death, such as moments before a car crash. Reports say that the event typically lasts anywhere between less than a second to few seconds, and what they perceive as major life events flash before their eyes, usually in chronological order. However, reports are very subjective and variable.
This phenomenon sounds very clichéd, but it has been widely reported throughout time and space. Over 8 million people in the United States of America stated that they experienced this “life review” in a near-death experience, with countless records in historical texts, reaching far back as at least 1795 in a letter by Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort. It is fascinating to see that there is even a set name or phrase for this phenomenon deeply ingrained in various languages, such as English, German, French, Dutch, Russian, Persian, Arabian and Korean, suggesting that the phenomenon is widespread and common.
There is no strong evidence for why this phenomenon occurs, but there is one theory that is persuading. The brain is always subconsciously referring to past experiences and knowledge to apply to the present to help solve a problem. It has been suggested that when you are at the brink of death, the brain frantically searches through everything in an attempt to save you from demise. This is a rather messy process as the brain does not routinely encounter such near-death experiences and does not have much information to refer to immediately. In this process, it brings up every memory that you thought you had forgotten, which you see as a montage flashing before your eyes. For example, a man who was attacked by a great white shark reported that out of nowhere, he recalled his son watching a documentary on sharks and remembered that putting your hands down a shark’s gills will incapacitate it. Thanks to this, he survived.
The brain does indeed have an amazing ability to alter your speed of thought and delay time perception when you are in danger, or the so-called “fight-or-flight” mode. There is much anecdotal evidence of firefighters instinctively knowing that a building will collapse very soon, or emergency physicians making complex clinical decisions in the blink of an eye by drawing from a well of past experiences.
If you were walking along the street and found a bird lying on the ground, how would you react? You would probably poke the bird to see if it is alive. We have a peculiar habit since we are children of poking living things that we see for the first time. Through poking, we discover whether it is alive or dead, soft or hard, slimy or furry, docile or aggressive.
Prompting a reaction and observing the reaction is a surprisingly useful way of learning. In chemistry, we react an unknown substance with other chemicals to discover its identity. In medicine, we stimulate parts of the brain with electricity to discover what each part does. In physics, we build giant accelerator to crash particles together to find out their constituents and properties. If you fell into a cave so dark you cannot see even one foot ahead of you, the best way to find out if there is a wall or a hole or water ahead of you is throwing a rock in that direction.
This principle can be applied to psychology. To learn how people around you behave, provoke them. Human beings are extremely sensitive to stimuli and even when they consciously try to hide it, they will subconsciously react. If you keep (subtly) poking the person, you will soon be able to predict how they will react to something, what actions they will take, and you may even discover what is on their mind.
We cannot see the wind, but we can infer that it exists because the leaves blow. The best way to prove something that you cannot see inducing and looking for reactions.
Everyone experiences the phenomenon of a tune being “stuck” in one’s head. This is when an addictive song or piece of music seems to play over and over in someone’s mind even when they are desperately trying to forget it. The Germans call this phenomenon ohrwurm, which translates into “earworm”.
Having an earworm is not necessarily a pleasant thing, as the person with it may become irritated or agitated by the piece of music. It has been noted that the condition is much more common in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), suggesting that earworms may be caused by the brain subconsciously obsessing over the piece of music.
Because it is so common and addictive, earworms are extensively used in marketing in the form of hooks – music designed to stick in people’s heads. By associating the hook with the marketed brand or product, people cannot stop thinking about it and this subconsciously affects their buying habits.
The concept of earworms is also popular in literature, where authors become creative and explore the “potential” of an earworm. For example, Arthur C. Clarke wrote a short story titled The Ultimate Melody where a scientist invents a melody that compels the brain to become enraptured by it through synchronising with brainwave patterns. Interestingly, the scientist creates the melody simply to escape the barrage of pop music filled with hooks and catchy tunes. Ultimately, he is found catatonic as the melody completely takes over his mind.
There is a very rare, disturbing and interesting medical condition called alien hand syndrome (AHS). An individual with this neurological disorder has full sensation in the rogue hand, but is unable to control its movements and does not feel that it is a part of their body. The hand becomes personified, as if it has a will of its own, and its owner will usually deny ownership of the limb.
Though AHS was first identified in 1908, it was not clearly defined until 1972. Depending on the cause of the injury, the movements may be random or purposeful, and may affect the dominant or non-dominant hand. The symptoms are brought on by an injury to the brain, such as head trauma, stroke, tumour, or infection. It can also be a side effect of a certain kind of brain surgery where the patient has the two hemispheres of the brain separated to relieve severe epilepsy.
If the AHS is caused by separation of the corpus callosum (the area of the brain that connects the two halves of the brain) by surgery or injury, the movements are usually complex purposeful behaviour, such as compulsive manipulation of tools, undoing buttons, or tearing clothes. For example, a right-handed person is left-hemisphere-dominant, thus their left hand (controlled by the right hemisphere) will become “alien”. Sometimes the sufferer is completely unaware of what the hand is doing until it is brought to his or her attention, or until they happen to see it themselves.
Strangely, many of the alien hand’s actions are the complete opposite of what the person is doing with the other hand. For example, if they start packing a suitcase, the alien hand will unpack it. It is believed that one half of the brain (usually the right brain) is unaware of why the other hand is doing something (due to the lack of connection between the two hemispheres) and so proceeds to “correct” it. There are also reports of the alien hand attacking the patient by hitting them or even trying to strangle them in their sleep.
There is currently no treatment for alien hand syndrome, but the symptoms can often be relieved by giving the rogue hand an object to manipulate, to keep it occupied. One patient whose alien hand had a compulsion of holding on to door handles or other objects to stop the man from walking was given a cane. The alien hand would grab on to the cane and not interfere with the patient’s walking.
There is currently no treatment for alien hand syndrome, but the symptoms can often be relieved by giving the rogue hand an object to manipulate to keep it occupied. One patient whose alien hand had a compulsion of holding on to door handles or other objects to stop the man from walking was given a cane. The alien hand would grab on to the cane and not interfere with the patient’s walking.
Although it is a distressing condition, some patients learn to live with the disease. For instance, when one patient’s alien hand kept throwing away the cigarette her dominant hand put in her mouth, she shrugged and said: “I guess ‘he’ doesn’t want me to smoke that”. Perhaps the alien hand is simply a way for the subconscious mind to physically act on the conscious mind.
90% of human communication is non-verbal. This shows how facial expressions and body language have a powerful effect on our subconscious. Even the position of the hand can send a clear signal.
An open hand suggests peace, love and openness. Because of this, if the other person has his or her palm showing, you will feel more comfortable talking with them and view them in a more positive light. Jesus is often pictured in a pose with his arms stretched and palms showing, sending the message: “I would like to embrace you”. The same signal is used to initiate a hug.
On the other hand, a closed hand sends a cold message of strictness and professionalism. Therefore, people who are debating or negotiating often have their hands flat on a table or their lap to symbolise their resolution and defiance.
From this analysis, we can tell that an open hand is a good way to gain the affection of another person. Furthermore, this body language can manipulate the other person’s subconscious.
From my experiments, I found that when given the choice between a closed fist facing up and another fist facing down, the subject would choose the fist with the palms facing up about 90% of the time. Although it is a crude test, it definitely beat the 50:50 statistics that is expected. This experiment was probably affected by other factors. Especially because people will usually choose the unusual choice due to curiosity (as when told to pick a hand, the person will usually have both fists facing down) and due to the psychology of “the unusual fist will probably contain something more interesting”. Also, most people who chose the downward-facing fist later said that they “deliberately chose the other fist because they felt they were supposed to choose the upwards-facing fist”. Thus, they too were first attracted to the unusual fist.
This test must be done suddenly to bypass the logical conscious mind and have an effect on the subconscious mind. If you take too long to explain the test, the results become skewed. Bypassing the conscious mind to suggest an acceptable choice to the subconscious mind – this test shows the basic principles of hypnosis.
There are many interesting medical facts regarding sleep, but there are strange pathologies that stand out even more from them. Sometimes, cases resembling sleepwalking are reported, where the patient unconsciously has sexual intercourse with someone else. After waking up, the patient has no recollection of the event, and thus may face a very awkward situation the following morning.
Sexsomnia, or sleep sex, is a rare sleep disorder; to be more specific, it is a type of NREM parasomnia (performing complex actions while asleep). This disorder is quite different from REM sleep disorder, as no dreaming occurs during NREM sleep. Therefore, the sexual behaviour is not due to the influence of an erotic dream, but rather the primitive brain functions acting on basic instincts, as higher brain functions are shut down during NREM sleep. According to reports, sexsomniacs act almost lucidly during episodes. As it was discovered quite recently, less than 15 years ago, it is under heavy research. However, due to patients feeling too ashamed of the disease or not remembering the events, the number of reported cases is low.
This disease is not directly harmful to the patient, but it can be very problematic socially. It ruins relationships and may even lead to rape. But as the law defines rape as “a conscious act”, sexsomnia is often used as a defence in trials. It is important to note that it occurs in both men and women. Within relationships, the general complaint is not that of rape, but rather exhaustion. Interestingly, as the primitive brain is not being controlled during the episodes, sleep sex is known to be more vigorous than normal sex. Due to this, patients and their partners often exhibit carpet burns.
It is human nature to want to know more about another person. However, ironically most people know less about themselves than they know others. The following is a simple psychological test that tells you about your true self.
Complete as many sentences as freely as you can, writing down whatever comes to your head. You have 5 minutes: (e.g. I am a male, I attend university)
This test is very useful as it is simple yet accurately portrays the subconscious mind and inner self. It is especially used in adult psychiatry consultations as answers become more subjective and creative as the subject’s age increases. According to a study, from about number 10 the answers show the person’s wants and potential, and from 15 onwards subconscious desires and concerns. Ergo, answers become more accurate in their depiction of the true self as you fill in the lines.
The responses are sorted into six main categories:
Social status (I am an employee of…)
Faith (I am sure that justice will always win in the end)
Desire (I want to be rich)
Likes (I like watermelons)
Judgement (I am stubborn)
Blank (nothing written)
Interestingly, nothing shows more than you expect. For example, those who do not finish all twenty lines tend to be authoritative. This is because they show a tendency of seeing the world as black or white, or good or evil and cannot stand fuzzy, “grey” statements. Therefore, their view of their self tend to be simplistic, making their answers less detailed.
Now, let us explore the world of the inner self and the subconscious mind. For a more objective analysis of yourself, ask someone else to scrutinise your answers.
Dreams are wonderful things. Within a dream, nothing is impossible and the mind unleashes its full potential creativity. Is there a way to harness such power? The short answer is: yes.
Lucid dreams are defined as the state of being aware that you are in a dream. This means that unlike normal dreams, you know that you are dreaming. Although this may sound easy, it is quite hard to enter and stay in a lucid dream. Many people experience a lucid dream a few times in their life, but tend to pass it off as a normal dream or some paranormal event (many “out-of-body” experiences can be explained as lucid dreams).
The major difference between a normal dream and a lucid dream is the ability to control your dream. This concept is explored in detail in the movie Inception, where characters utilise the creative power of dreamspace, tricking the victim that they are in reality to manipulate information out of them. Inception is actually a great example of what a lucid dream is like: the architect can manipulate the dreamspace to her wishes, even going as far as ignoring the laws of physics and conjuring objects out of nothing. This ability is not exclusive to movies – you too can exert this power within your own dreams, every night.
The most important point to remember is that lucid dreams are based on memory. Reason being, if you cannot remember the dream, then it might as well not have happened. Also, you need the ability to distinguish a dream from reality, as otherwise it will pass you by without you realising. There are a few tips and tricks that can help the induction of a lucid dream.
Firstly, keep a dream diary – a record of every dream you have in excruciating detail. This not only trains your ability to remember dreams in detail, but also lets you prepare for when a lucid dream comes. So every morning when you wake up, record whatever you can remember from the night’s dream. Many people complain that they never dream, but this is false – they are merely forgetting it. After keeping a dream diary for at least a couple weeks, you will find that the frequency of dreams increase dramatically, with increasing creativity.
Secondly, look for dream signs. You will notice from your dream diary that certain things appear often in your dreams. This may be a certain person, an impossible object (such as the staircase from Inception), meeting a deceased person or something happening (e.g. falling). A classic example is a clock. In a dream, when you look at a clock (preferably digital) and blink, time suddenly leaps around, such as 3pm suddenly becoming 6pm. Looking for these signs in your surrounding can easily alert you to the fact that you are dreaming.
Lastly, do reality checks as often as possible. These are actions that confirm that you are in reality, or conversely if the check fails, that you are dreaming. Reality checks are represented as totems in Inception, and although the risk of “getting lost in a dream” is close to nothing in a lucid dream, it is an extremely useful tool. Reality checks (RC) are based on the fact that the laws of reality do not function in dreams. For example, a common RC is bending your fingers backwards. In real life, your fingers will only go back so far. In a dream, the fingers can touch the back of your hand: a definitive proof that you are not in reality. Other examples include breathing through a pinched nose, pinching yourself (no sensation in a dream) and… anything creative actually. The general rule is: “habituate what is not your habit” – i.e. make a habit of something that is not usually your habit, so you can do it in a dream as a RC.
After a few weeks practising using the above skills, prepare your mind for a lucid dream. Every night before going to sleep, keep thinking “I will dream” or “I will stay awake in my dream”. Continuous reinforcement directly increases your chance of “waking up” in your dream, and allows you to begin your journey into lucid dreams.
As mentioned above, within a dream, you have almost godly powers as you can manipulate the entire dreamspace to your will. However, there is a catch: you have to control the dreamspace. This may sound absurd, but it will be relevant when you have your first lucid dream. Dreams are like wild mustangs – they will spiral out of control as soon as you try to take control. For instance, a novice lucid dreamer (or, in Greek, oneironaut) will find that as soon as they acknowledge that they are in a dream, they will instantly wake up. This is a form of defence mechanism as the boundary of reality and dream is faded, causing your brain to become confused.
There are methods to help your stay in dreamstate. It has been suggested that when you notice signs of waking up (e.g. the surroundings become blurred and slowly disappear), spinning on the spot can prolong the dreamstate. Rubbing your hands together also helps. The duration you stay in the dream becomes longer as you become more proficient in lucid dreaming.
This is only the first step. The more you manipulate your dream, the more your brain will “reject” your dream-self. Again, this is seen in Inception (it is actually quite an accurate depiction of lucid dreaming). You will find that through practice, you not only lengthen your lucid dream, but also increase the power to manipulate things. In the advanced stage, you will not only be able to completely recreate the world around you, but also achieve flying and the ability to summon people.
A final point to learn about lucid dreaming is that there are two ways into a lucid dream: DILD and WILD.
The first, and the most common, type is Dream-Induced Lucid Dream. This is by far the easiest method. In DILD, you “wake up”, or become self-aware, in a dream and then continue to dream the same dream (except now it is lucid). It is easier to achieve this during a nap or when you go back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night.
The second, and more advanced method, is the Wake-Induced Lucid Dream. WILD is when a lucid dreamer can go straight into a lucid dream from a state of alertness. This lets you enter a lucid dream anytime at will, and can be more powerful than a DILD. However, there is a catch. WILD easily induces sleep paralysis (see Sleep Paralysis) due to the forced induction of REM paralysis. This can be a horrifying experience for the unprepared, especially due to the nightmarish hallucinations it brings. But after practice and the correct mindset, you can easily vanquish this state with willpower, and freely enter a lucid dream. Sleep paralysis should not deter you from attempting lucid dreaming, for it is only a temporary side effect.
Lucid dreaming is one of the most useful skills one can learn. Not only does it let you explore your mind freely, you can go deeper to discover your subconscious (often through imagery), solve complex problems you couldn’t in real life and relieve the stress built up from reality. An interesting feature about dreams is that time is completely relative; this means you will enjoy a lengthy dream much longer than your actual sleep, giving you a better rested sleep. If you are lucky, you may even enjoy the delightful experience of a “dream within a dream” (or go even deeper).