A Show of Hands

How many hands have you got?

Individual results may vary, but for most people, the answer is 2. You probably didn’t have to check the ends of your arms to come up with that answer – your brain already knew it. And your brain is always right, right?

Yesterday, Beth-Ann sent a link to an interesting New York Times blog about an experiment conducted in Sweden that has provided a fresh variation on the “traditional rubber hand illusion.” I admit I did not know rubber hand illusions had a tradition.
I guess the world is full of ancient and exotic rituals.

In the “traditional” rubber hand illusion, a subject places one hand on the table while their opposite hand is hidden. A rubber hand is then put on the table in front of the subject in the spot where the hidden hand would have been, had they not withheld it. An experimenter then strokes both the hidden real hand and the exposed fake hand with a brush, and before long the subject begins to associate this sensation with the false hand they can see, rather than the real hand, which they cannot.

That’s sufficiently weird, but some people can’t stop messing with tradition.

In this new wrinkle, the real hand and the rubber hand sit side by side on the table in front of the subject. A sheet is draped over the arm so it’s not clear which appendage is actually connected to the body. As in the “traditional” illusion, both hands are stroked with a brush, and an unexpected thing happens. The subject takes ownership of both hands, feels sensations in both hands, and flinches when both hands are threatened with a knife.

It took me a while to understand the importance of this: Apparently our brains are big gullible goofballs.

If you’ve lived your entire life with only one right hand and then all it takes to confound you on that topic is a rubber duplicate, a paint brush and a sheet, that doesn’t speak very well for your innate sense of the world. How could your brain do this, the traitor? Accepting another, squishier right arm as your own, even though your perfectly good and historically loyal right arm is sitting right there in front of you? Scoundrel!

Suddenly it’s easier to understand the fruitless chase for WMD in Iraq and the epidemic of older men running off with younger, bouncier women. Brains don’t need a lot of convincing to buy into an obviously ludicrous idea. The elastic brain re-configures its wiring to create a reality that matches what it sees. Or what it thinks it sees. The internal dialog must go something like this:

“That pert young co-ed finds a paunchy, bald, wrinkled up prune of a U.S. Senator like me far more attractive than handsome, fit, energetic men her own age? Love is funny that way, I guess!”

“Hmm. It appears I have inexplicably grown a second right hand. Finally, a use for that orphaned winter glove! No wonder she loves me! She’s really into three handed men!”

Amazing. Science has proven what I already know. Brains are easily duped.

Or did I simply WANT to believe that?

52 thoughts on “A Show of Hands”

  1. oh man, Dale – that’s more than my brain (or is it a rubber brain, maybe????) can assimilate this early in the morning. we’re off to milk, heap up the hay and water and drive a long long time to my Mom’s sister’s (my favorite aunt) 90th BD party. she is definitely a good example of mind over matter – got her hip replaced last summer so that she can continue her daily (really fast) walks and climbing stairs and marathon cooking, etc. etc. happy birthday, Aunt Evelyn!!
    and a gracious good morning and day to You All.


  2. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    I think this is also related to the research on empathic response — when you are looking at someone else who is expressing emotion, some people can respond very strongly with empathy and others will not. So is it my emotion or your emotion? This has many implications for therapists and secondary trauma (working with traumatized people, then feeling traumatized as a therapist from hearing those stories).

    But it is Saturday. I am off to an overnight art retreat and I don’t want to think about my work or the professional research out there. Or rubber hands. Therefore, R2D2 from yesterday will be in charge of my part of the blog today. And then I won’t know if I experienced writing this or if it was R2.


  3. I think this is the brain’s way of keeping us sane. If we couldn’t fool ourselves some of the time, how very grim our lives would be and what chances would we ever take?

    If my brain’s reality chip were firmly engaged all the time, I never would have gone to Germany or bought my house. As it is, my self-deception mechanism has to work overtime to overcome my very practical Prussian upbringing, or I would have no fun at all.

    Like R2, I can see where that third hand might come in handy sometimes, but would really mess up piano playing.


  4. Having just finished “Blink” a few days ago, about how your brain sees and processes all kinds without you really knowing it, it’s a little scary to think how mushy the seeing and processing might get!

    Like MiG, I could certainly use extra hands today… this is the big “move the furniture out of three rooms so they can put in the new windows next week” day. And while you would think four hands would be good, so far the teenage hands aren’t shaping up to be very helpful!


    1. Had to look this up – Blink: the Power of Thinking without Thinking. I certainly like the idea… “that spontaneous decisions are often as good as—or even better than—carefully planned and considered ones. ” (Wikipedia) Fits my world view.


  5. Good morning, all! It is my credo that I can always be conned and duped by clients (particularly teenagers and those with substance use problems) and there is no point in denying it. I am up earlier than usual for a trip to Bismarck for violin lessons. We usually go on Monday, but the husband of violin teacher was seriously injured in a MVA the end of January, and teacher has been understandably engaged at the hospital and there haven’t been lessons for a month. It is just too tragic for her husband, as he is a fine cellist (he is the principal cellist of the Bismarck Symphony) and probably won’t be able to play anymore due to injuries to his left arm. We will go for lessons whenever she has energy and we have the time. I also am on a quest on behalf of the high school choir director for 18 second hand briefcases to be used by the men’s section of the high school choir as they perform “The Briefcase Blues” at an upcoming Pops concert. Then it is back home for dress rehearsal of the high school play “Much Ado About Will” in which daughter is Helena in a scene from A Midsummer Nights Dream. She gets dragged all over the stage while hanging onto Demetrius’ leg while she pleads with him to stay and tells him that she will be his spaniel. Then I think husband and I will attend a college production of Pride and Prejudice.


  6. It seems like the brain is just filling in the gaps. Remember flip books we made in art class which the teacher said were the same way cartoons were (then) made? Each picture slightly different than the last, but when you flipped them it looked like continuous motion; your brain had done the connecting.


  7. As a corollary here, we could start a sentence like this one from mig:
    If my brain’s reality chip were firmly engaged all the time…
    I would probably stop volunteering for more than I can keep on my plate…


  8. My brain drives me nuts! And so do most other peoples’. I’m so looking forward to heaven where God promises to give us new ones.

    For those of you who missed me this week – not to worry. I’ve been hard at work teaching first graders how to whisper. My conclusion – it can’t be done. Also, Carlos is away again at an international yeast convention and we’ve spent many hours skexting. That’s skyping and sexting at the same time, to you amateurs.

    Happy Birthday Tim and Aunt Evie!


    1. Only more masochist teachers than K teachers are junior high band teachers. They take on 100 kids laden with hormones and give everyone of them a noise maker.


  9. I am willing to acknowledge cerebrall goofball syndrome (CGBS). Yesterday when my alarm went off I intentionally ignored it because why would I need to respond to an alarm on Saturday. I willed myself to go back to sleep and didn’t get up until 2 minutes before I was due at work. Somehow I concluded it was Friday. In that situation believing that my 3rd rubber hand could whistle would be an easy sell.


  10. I came to the conclusion that I’d been duped many years ago. This isn’t news to me now, but I lack the scientific evidence to prove that I already knew it. This is just another affirmation for me of what I already knew that I knew even though no one else knew that I already knew. I knew because I always allow my head and my heart to be duped because I always firmly believe that all people are honest and sincere and have the best intentions toward others. This has proved itself to be false over and over again and still I believe and still I am duped. Rubber hands may have something to do with it but now I’m wishing that I had a rubber heart. One that wouldn’t ache when I am duped.

    OT: Thanks to all of you for your kind wishes for my brother (his name is Kurt, BiR, and thank you). They were not able to complete an oblation because they weren’t able to find the correct node. They treated his supraventricular tachycardia with medication and lectured him long and hard about diet, exercise, hypertension and diabetes. He’s doing well today and insists that it was an anomaly and will not happen again. I hope he is right and has not been duped by his brain. He’ll be home tomorrow!


    1. Some guy broke her heart and how her heart it did ache
      So she went to the tent of the lady of the snakes
      Who gave her a potion and she drank it in
      After that her heart never ached again.

      (Glad to hear Kurt’s OK.)


    2. Life can certainly be hard. I guess there is no way to avoid being hurt when you are hoping for the best from people and I think that it is good to hope for the best. I supose a little help from the fake reality of the rubber hand doesn’t hurt as tim mentioned below. I guess we can have a little fun in the land of fake reality as long as we don’t go over to the dark side.


  11. I am thinking there have to be huge implications in helping you get what yu could never jope to achieve or realize by letting your rubber hand fool you. Success, good sex
    Enough food…couldn’t this all be done with this theory? I don’t care at all if it is good sex or I only think it is.


  12. Good day to all even if it is mostly over.

    I have been taking care of a family medical problem which is now partly or nearly under control. There is no doubt that people have trouble dealing with fake rubber hands or any kind of faked reality. I just went down to the bar in the motel where I am staying while waiting to get medical results. I only had one beer but there were a lot of regulars there that might have had a little more. Actually one of the regulars said one was her limit. They were a good crowd. I think they were just trying to over come their problems with reality. I enjoyed their company and taking a little break from what I have been taking care of. Actually they seemed to have a fairly good gripe on reality and were talking about their not so good jobs and some of the bad behavior of some people they encounter in their lives which they find humerous.


      1. Bars are sometimes just hang outs for sad drunkards, but they can be better than that and I did like the crowd at the bar I found today.


  13. I’m back and HAPPY that I DIDN’T get duped this week. Took car in for a “free” maintenance exam and oil check. Technician came back with close to $800 of stuff that “really needed to be done right away” including “paper thin brakes — front and back”. The “paper thin” set off all my bells and whistles… I detest it when people try to scare me into making changes/repairs, especially when I am a woman alone at the car dealership. Took it elsewhere this morning for second opinion. Back brakes probably have 2 more years on them and front brakes, while in need are not paper thin and could have gone into the summer w/o doing any damage to rotor. I rewarded this morning’s folks w/ the brake business.

    But I love that something told me to check with another place before getting any work done!


    1. They are no bigger help at 37 and 40. Well, my son is 2000 miles away and my daughter; while only 50 miles away, is so busy and stressed out as is here husband that we will only be little help. It is good we have more than three weeks to be boxing up stuff.


  14. Greetings! I see we have a metaphysical/philosophical sort of theme this week — is it really you and is this really my hand? “Is this a dagger I see before me, handle towards my hand … ” {Macbeth} Certainly fascinating stuff — is it real or is it Memorex? Are we dealing with reality, an illusion or a dream? The dream seems real enough until we wake up. What other reality might we wake up into from our current waking slumber?

    And then there’s the Matrix — “there is no spoon.” The movie Inception presented the possibility of building realities within dreams. It seems like the stuff of Science Fiction, but quantum physics shows us that seemingly solid matter is mostly open space vibrating with the movement of electrons and subatomic particles. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle states that particles and waves seem interchangeable depending on how you look at them (I hope I understood it correctly). Masaru Emoto’s books show amazing pictures of ice crystals after the water is exposed to strong emotional or musical messages. We humans, as “ugly bags of mostly water” (quote from alien from Star Trek), are malleable and open to imprinting from various sources — especially as youngsters.

    It seems the brain is mainly a recorder — it’s the soul and the conscious mind that bring meaning and interpretation to all the input. The real question is “how is our mind dealing with all the data our brains have gathered?”


    1. A wave and a particle were walking side by side
      One said to the other, “Which one of us am I?”

      Thanks for making me think of that!


    2. There was recently a Nova show about this. It showed how magicians have learned that you will see what motion and words imply, such as a coin being thrown from one hand to the other.


  15. Morning all. Hope everybody has a great day. We got most of the furniture moved yesterday, so I’m really really sore, but at least I don’t have a huge job staring at me on Wednesday night! Party today that I’m NOT hosting, so looking forward to it.


  16. Rise and Shine Baboons:

    I am sitting here in art heaven (located in Jordan MN) groovin’ along, having a great, if robotic, experience! It’s going to get warm today. Yipee


    1. thanks for the birthday greeting
      i had a choir teacher in high school who was a big dog in that world who had an excersize that had the choir whispering and enunciating very clearly. it was surprising and wonderful to hear the power of a multitude of voices whispering a song. very effective at how much power your voice puts out.


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