In studying neuroscience, it is impossible to not appreciate how amazing and wonderful the human brain really is. How beautifully complex. As I love photography, when I photograph, the amazing complexity of the brain is always clearly in focus: Regardless of the quality of the camera, no machine can fully or faithfully duplicate what my eyes see. Yet, even in this amazing process, what we “see” can be misleading because our brains are driven toward efficiency and this is true whether we are talking about actual vision or what grabs our attention, thus allowing us to notice something. For example, we quickly categorize almost everything so that the actual processing of information can cease, freeing our brains up to attend to potential dangerous or, what the brain really digs, novel stimuli. Did you ever wonder why you can’t drag your eyes away from a person who has some sort of deformity? It is because we have every part of the human form so specifically categorized as to what is normal, that even small deviations cause our brain to pause and study the novel stimuli and try to make sense of the deviation we are observing.
But with every asset, there is also a potential liability. If we only desire to live our lives in the familiar and accept our categories wholeheartedly and without further examination, then we can fall into the pattern of “black and white living.” Meaning, of course, the world fits our predetermined ideas or we reject them. Or people behave the way we want or we reject them. Or we get our own way or we walk away. While standing your ground, so to speak, is certainly important and necessary at times, we have to be careful that we are not inadvertently whittling our world down to a smaller and smaller space by living only by our expectations and comfortable categories (i.e., our comfort zone). After all, experience is what hard-wires our brains to expect certain patterns from life events, to expect how others will treat us, our to decide how much optimism to allow into our thinking…but what if our experience leads us astray? What if our categories were skewed by too much negativity around us or by tragedy or abuse or sorrow…What if the gray is really okay?
If we live too much in the certainty of our expectations, in the black and white world of “it is either this or that…and nothing in between,” we may indeed feel more safe. But the sad truth is that we will miss so much of those gray inbetweens that carry amazingly rich and complex experiences – which are, by the way, the very seat of learning. It is only by violating our categories and stepping out of the comfort zone that we can re-wire our brain on a much higher level…and bring about change. Change that is good. Change that is lasting. Change that is enlightening.
So, go ahead. I dare you. Step into that amazing gray and find out for yourself what you just might be missing.