First Story Wins

How the way the human brain forms beliefs leaves us wide open to being duped and manipulated

Allan Milne Lees
10 min readMar 20, 2023
Image credit: Washington Post

All brains are pattern recognition machines. Whether it’s the brain of an insect or the brain of a human, aside from maintaining autonomic functions (which are essentially also patterns of pulse, breath, etc.) the brain is responsible for making sense of the external environment and initiating responses that on average were adaptive for the ancestors of the organism.

What this means is that most behavior is largely automatic. We humans have complex brains and some occasional partial self-awareness, so our brains also have to provide us with “reasons” for our actions so that we can imagine ourselves to be in control rather than — as is generally the case — being asleep at the wheel. Also, our brains eliminate most of the signals that come in through our sense organs in order to focus on the sub-set that has the greatest probability of being immediately relevant. This is why, under conditions of stress, we experience tunnel vision: an obsessive fixation on the locus of perceived threat to the exclusion of everything else. It’s why we fail to notice things we see every day. Indeed, even the act of stroking the arm of a chair repetitively will result in the brain dulling the signals from our fingertips so as to free up attention for signals…

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Allan Milne Lees

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.