First published on 26 Jun 2013. Updated on 26 Jun 2013.
Jason Silva, host of National Geographic’s Brain Games – the highest-rated new series in the network’s history – describes himself on Twitter as a "futurist, filmmaker, ecstatic truth lover, techno optimist [and] infinity in all directions.” Abstract? Perhaps. But what he fails to mention is that he will also blow your mind. Seriously.
Each Brain Games episode zooms in on a different aspect of how our brains work, tackling topics including focus, fear, motion and persuasion. During each episode, viewers engage in tricks in perceptipm and mind games to highlight the ways in which our brains do not accurately convey reality. The games then segue into scientific explanations that emphasise how the brain works and delve into the mechanics behind the trickery. It’s like, try this magic eye – now let us explain it. “We are leveraging shortcomings in your perceptual apparatus,” Silva explains.
One aspect that differentiates Brain Games from other shows of this nature is that each viewer’s brain becomes a sort of contestant. “We like to say that the real star of the show is your brain at home,” Silva says.
Granted, science is not everyone’s forte, especially when it comes to hard-to-grasp information about brain processes. But, by utilising games that appeal to a wide audience, Brain Games opens the scientific conversation to all. Silva credits the show’s writers with tackling the creative challenge of condensing complex ideas about the brain into information digestible for general audiences.
With scientific explanations simplified, Brain Games has managed to appeal to everyone from tots to the elderly “We really have developed a fan base that runs the gamut from little kids that love the games and love blowing their minds to adults who are like, ‘Wow! I did not know this is how perception works!’” remarks Silva.
Often times Silva even stuns himself. He certainly stunned us during our interview. How’s about this little factoid he dropped on us: Silva explains that we actually receive low-resolution 2D images through our eyes that our brain interprets in a 3D perception field. “We don’t actually perceive the world in 3D,” Silva casually remarks. “In other words: the 3D world that we experience every day is more of a destination of our brain than an actual direct experience. We literally don’t see the world in 3D. We just infer it.”
If you’re as lost as we were, Silva has a game to explain. “Sometimes you need to experience these games directly in order to believe us when we’re trying to tell you these mind-blowing facts about how this biological computer actually works.” In the 3D mind trick he uses here, a normal plastic mask of Albert Einstein’s face rotates on a plate. As you look through the front, you perceive Einstein’s face in 3D as you should. But as it spins, you start to see the concave side of the mask. Once the mask finishes its rotation and the hollow part of the mask faces you head-on, you won’t see a concave face because the brain has not evolved to see concave faces. “Your brain literally will turn the concave side of the mask into a normal forward-facing face,” Silva explains. “You see it spinning around and you know it’s the hollow side that’s coming, but it looks as if you’re looking at the front of the mask even though you know you’re not.”
Silva places Brain Games in the category of ‘smart-ertainment’ – content he thinks will make viewers laugh and entertain them, all the while teaching them about brain functions and processes. “And I think that you could do both of those things at once,” Silva says. “It’s like having your cake and eating it too.”
Brain Games airs Sundays 7.30pm on National Geographic Channel