How could a major typo in a reprint of The Bible go unnoticed? What does a simple card trick teach us about how we perceive our surroundings? How can our assumptions about what we see work against us? A new television show explores those questions and more, and that’s just one episode.
Your Bleeped Up Brain, a four-part mini-series series that features “mind-bending experiments that will explain how everything in history can be traced back to your brain,” airs on The History Channel 2, also known as H2. (Yes, this is a channel and, I recently learned, one that comes with my cable package.)
The first episode, “Deception,” showed how we can’t always trust our own eyes. Viewers can play along at home with the various experiments, such as a card trick that isn’t really about the card trick (spoiler alert: the person involved in the trick is swapped out for another actor, something I failed to notice initially). Every experiment in the program is paired with an event from history. The card trick was used to show how Hitler was able to fake his own death using a stunt double. Another segment gives a quick lesson on the famous escape from Alcatraz. This is to be expected; it is the History Channel, after all.
How our brains are deceived is always explained, though not always in great detail. Dealing with inattentional blindness, which can cause you to overlook something in your field of vision, the narrator says, “The human brain can’t keep up with the billions of pieces of data that our senses are constantly delivering. Sometimes our brain ignores the details.”
Inattentional blindness is a main theme in several episodes of the show Brain Games on the National Geographic Channel. For whatever reason, I had a much easier time with the “tricks” on this program than I did with the ones on Bleeped Up. While I was rarely fooled, I still enjoyed the show, largely because legendary sleight-of-hand artist Apollo Robbins is a regular on the series. Robbins’s tricks—such as “hiding” a playing card on his forehead—are entertaining, and Brain Games does a good job having experts explain how the illusion plays with the brain.
One episode illustrates that we can be poor at judging how much time has elapsed in certain situations. I learned that if the differential between a visual stimulus and its accompanying auditory stimulus is less than a tenth of a second—think of seeing/hearing a car door slam—the event is manipulated by our brains to appear simultaneous to our eyes and ears.
Many of the experiments on the program would work better in person. As is the case with any visual trick, even high-definition video can’t replace the real thing. Still, there is enough to supplement the tricks to make the programs worthwhile. If nothing else, both shows reminded me how eyewitnesses can’t always be trusted.
Your Bleeped Up Brain airs on History 2 on Saturday nights at 10 ET. The second episode of the four-part series, “Memory,” is this Saturday. The premiere can be viewed in full online. The second season of Brain Games recently ended, but check your local listings for re-runs. On Time Warner Cable in New York City, for example, several episodes will re-air on Friday night.
– Andrew Kahn