In addition to assorted bad breaks and pleasant surprises, opportunities and insults, life serves up the occasional pink unicorn. The three-dollar bill; the nun with a beard; the sentence, to borrow from the Lewis Carroll poem, that gyres and gimbles in the wabe.
An experience, in short, that violates all logic and expectation. The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote that such anomalies produced a profound “sensation of the absurd,” and he wasn’t the only one who took them seriously.
Freud, in an essay called “The Uncanny,” traced the sensation to a fear of death, of castration or of “something that ought to have remained hidden but has come to light.”
At best, the feeling is disorienting. At worst, it’s creepy.
Now a study suggests that, paradoxically, this same sensation may prime the brain to sense patterns it would otherwise miss — in mathematical equations, in language, in the world at large.
“We’re so motivated to get rid of that feeling that we look for meaning and coherence elsewhere,” said Travis Proulx, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and lead author of the paper appearing in the journal Psychological Science.
“We channel the feeling into some other project, and it appears to improve some kinds of learning.”
Researchers have long known that people cling to their personal biases more tightly when feeling threatened. After thinking about their own inevitable death, they become more patriotic, more religious and less tolerant of outsiders, studies find.
When insulted, they profess more loyalty to friends — and when told they’ve done poorly on a trivia test, they even identify more strongly with their school’s winning teams.
Sumber: How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect oleh Benedict Carey (New York Times, October 5, 2009)