Why does the brain skip over repeated “the” words in sentences?


For example, in this sentence by the the time you are done reading you will have already skipped over the double “the”.

In: 134

Your brain does a *lot* of pre-processing before anything gets to your conscious mind. It’s a testament to just how automatic this processing is that you’re focused on the fact that you see “the the” and not on the fact that you aren’t thinking at all about the shapes of the symbols you’re currently reading. Your brain is automatically translating those symbols into ideas or sounds (depending on exactly how you were trained to read – this varies a surprising amount between people), and those ideas are what are reaching your consciousness.

Almost everything about your perceptions of the world is filtered through this kind of processing. Color, shapes, the ability to pick out the specific sounds of speech in a noisy environment, noticing the sound of your alarm in the morning but not waking up to other noises, and a million other everyday phenomena come from this processing. Malfunctions in this processing are responsible for a lot of mental illness: people often (mis-)model depression and anxiety as problems with people’s *thinking*, but more properly, they are problems with the *inputs to* that thinking, and the problem with the thinking is just that the conscious mind isn’t compensating for bad input.

In this specific case, your brain “knows” that “the the” is a rare string in English text. So it assumes that your perception made an error (maybe your eyes are screwy and you’re seeing double for a moment) and ‘corrects’ that error into a sensible input that matches your models of language. Similar corrections are responsible for things like “the dress” (where different people’s brains tried to correct for background lighting in different ways) and most optical illusions (where your brain is assuming that a drawing represents some real-world object and is modeling its interpretation of the drawing to match).

While you read (or perceive anything really) the brain works to discern meaning and to try to integrate this meaning into the reality it constructs. Since the second “the” doesn’t meaningfully change the substance of what is written, the brain simply discards it. Only when the presence of the second “the” becomes meaningful (i.e. when you specifically look for it, or for typos in general) does it become apparent.

a huge part of what you perceive of the world around you isn’t actually what’s happening, it’s what you expect to be happening. there’s way too much information for you to process everything going on around you all the time so you actually just pull in part of the information, then make up the rest based on previous experiences. equally, your memories aren’t of what happened, they’re of what you thought happened.

I saw the “for example” and I was like no way man you’re not gonna get me on this and then it totally got me.

Missed opportunity to put an extra the in the title to see if anyone caught it. Your brain lies to you all day long and it randomly removes or adds things at will.