Home > Articles

This chapter is from the book


The brain, weighing on average just around three pounds, has a complexity of structure and function that we are only just beginning to understand. Estimates vary, but we have around 100 billion neurons, which communicate via perhaps several hundred trillion synapses. The whole brain is awash in a swirl of neurochemicals, and lightning storms of electrical activity flicker across it, as millions of sensory signals from the eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin are thrown into the mix.

It is a wonder we can even think. And yet we do. A linear processing machine bombarded with this flood of stimulation would probably shut right down. The brain is quite different. It somehow makes sense out of the welter of flashing signals. The human mind engages in daily magic tricks that make David Copperfield look like a parlor act. Studies in neuroscience indicate that the sense we make of external things is based in small part on what we see outside and in large part on the patterns located in our minds.


As Lewis Carroll demonstrated in the "brillig" and "slithy toves" of his poem Jabberwocky, it takes only a little bit of context for our marvelous sense-making abilities to draw meaning from absolute gibberish. With a little effort, the following statement, circulating online, should make this point clear. While neither the study nor the university are formally identified, the words, however garbled, speak for themselves:

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, olny taht the frist and lsat ltteres are at the rghit pcleas. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by ilstef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Ask yourself: Does the rest of your life have this many holes that you are not seeing?

The mind appears to do this, in part, by choosing to ignore some of the external world. American neurophysiologist Walter Freeman discovered that the neural activity due to sensory stimuli disappears in the cortex. Our eyes and ears are constantly gathering information, but our mind is not really processing all of it (see sidebar, "Mkanig Snese from Nsosnese"). This stimulation flows into the brain, where what seems to be an internally related pattern appears, which the brain uses to represent the external situation.

The brain takes in the information about the world through the senses and then discards most of it, using it principally to evoke a parallel world of its own. Each brain creates its own world, which is internally consistent and complete. Perception is not a linear process of information reception, processing, storage and recall. Instead it is a very complex, interactive, subjective and evocative process.

It is as if a visitor came to the front door and rang the bell, and the person inside, by a quick glance through the fisheye peephole, formed a complete profile of the person outside, without opening the door. We know from experience that we have the ability to form snap judgments about people immediately—and that these judgments are sometimes wrong. Yet this process is extraordinarily efficient and effective, which is why there are peepholes in doors in the first place. Unlike a baby first learning about the world, we don't have to try to make sense of every new piece of information. Given a few lines, we can fill in the entire image. This ability to respond intuitively to what we see is crucial to quick thinking and action. (In Chapter 10 we discuss the power and limitations of intuition.)

Building Our Brains

The brain has developed and changed throughout human evolution, and its layered structure clearly shows this, starting deep within with the oldest "reptilian" part and moving out through the "limbic" system to the "neocortex," the seat of rational behavior.

Our own brains change and evolve over time, with neurons constantly dying and being recreated, synapses being destroyed and created anew. The brain selects and reinforces or weakens certain synapses to forge the complex neural structures that determine our thinking. Then we reshape these neural "models" through experience, education and training.

The newborn child has a fundamental but only rudimentary capacity to make sense of the signals, probably derived from genetic instructions. Subsequent experience works upon this genetic foundation. The child's first, urgent task is to quickly develop the capacity to make sense of all these confusing signals. Within the first two years, most children appear to develop this capability. The process involved is to understand where the stimulus comes from and then categorize the signal as some specific case of a more general pattern. A mix of shadows and colors is recognized as a ball. The face hovering above the baby is recognized as the mother—but then all similar faces are also seen as mother until the model is refined. The child is able to form a holistic sense without getting bogged down in the details. This categorization is key. These experiences are also retained in the form of memory—complex patterns spread across the brain that are not representational but are evoked by other patterns and external stimuli.

As the internal worlds in the child's mind become richer, the external world recedes. Freeman's experiments show that the balance tips from the outside to the inside. The brain's own models replace the input signals from external sources. When the brain confronts a new experience, it calls up a complex neural activity or "mental model" that seems to be its nearest equivalent. We see the absence of these models in the child's wonder at the simplest of experiences. We feel their presence when we express regret about the familiar routines and ruts that sometimes determine our lives in adulthood. The development of mental models is, in a certain sense, a demarcation line between childhood and maturity. We increasingly live in a familiar world that can be considered as a benign illusion—benign, because it helps us move through the world efficiently, but an illusion nonetheless.

We eventually lose all awareness that these "models" are in fact internal illusions. We accept them as external reality and act on them as if they were. If they are good models, in most circumstances they more than adequately permit the mind to handle external reality. But here a danger creeps in. When the world changes in important ways, we can find ourselves with a model that is completely irrelevant to the current situation. We find ourselves wearing our street clothes when we are thrown off the deck of a ship. What we need at that point is a wet suit and lifejacket.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020