Afternoon Inquisition


Every Wednesday’s Afternoon Inquisition comes to you courtesy of last week’s Comment o’ the Week winner! Take it away, Malfeitor:


My brain does some odd things. For example almost every morning I wake up with a song in my head. I don’t think this is all that unusual but, with me it’s not any song. I get weird, random songs I have not heard in many years. I’ll stumble from bed in the morning (read late afternoon) and start humming or singing some B-52’s or Fatboy Slim ditty.

Keep in mind I rarely listen to music anymore. My iPod is filled with podcasts and I don’t go to sleep or wake up to the radio. The tracks I hear in my head are just randomly selected by my brain’s playlist and I have no idea why or where they come from.

The same songs will pop in my head at any given moment during the day and I’ll sing them aloud while I’m in the shower or washing dishes. I’m not sure what this says about me but, it’s times like these where I’m glad I live alone…well that and the nudity.

What weird thing does your brain do?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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  1. My brain is full of weird facts and memories that I should have forgotten years ago. If someone mentions anything that I have a stupid fun fact about, I HAVE to say it, otherwise it drives me crazy. Example, if someone mentions that they love Dexter, I absolutly have to mention that Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter are married, otherwise I’ll go insane.

  2. My brain likes to solve problems in the shower. i call them my shower epiphanies. things i’ve been thinking about for days, i sudden come up to the solution while taking a shower. Everything from complex math problems to personal problems.
    Maybe I should start showering more than a couple times a week…

  3. Am I limited to 1?
    Ah, fuck it.

    Memories will wander through for no reason at all. Some of them decades old. I remembered the kitchen of the duplex I lived in when I was 3 while I was typing this. Why?

    It will freeze and crash for no reason. I will be walking across the living room. Stop dead, forget where I was going, why I was doing it and be left speechless.

    I will forget the names of people I have known for years and who I see several times a week.

    If I am talking to someone while I am driving I will end up driving to some place I have been in forever without ever thinking about it.

    Makes me talk in my sleep.

    The unending lust.

    The huge amount of storage space devoted to useless crap and the tiny bit allocated to things I need to know.

    An idiotic fascination with fire.

    I’m sure there are more.

  4. My brain has a short … Oh, the red birds are back! I can be focused on something really important, then … did I pay the electric bill yet?

    My brain likes to multi-task and go on wild adventures. I’m just along for the ride of my life.

  5. I get very lost in day dreams and as a result I often forget what I’m doing, where I’m going or where I’ve put things. My husband has taken to clipping my cell phone and keys to my purse out of frustration. He also does a mental checklist of what I have on me when we go out so he can remind me of what I brought with me. It’s not that I’m forgetful it’s just that my brain doesn’t like to pay attention. If I’m interested in something I can remember it in great detail. I just don’t find mundane things like the location of my cell phone interesting.

  6. I can be distracted by drawing imaginary lines through objects in my surroundings such that each line segment goes for an equal length through any one colored item… yeah I have no idea either. Especially distracting are geometric patterns on blankets and wallpaper… especially when I’m on the phone. (No, really, I’m listening!)

  7. @Gabrielbrawley: LOVE FIRE. I go camping a couple times a year and whenever there is a “how much wood should we get” question my answer is always more. However much you think you need double it.

    My brain likes lists. A lot. I will make lists. My lists include everything I intend to do. Including things like comment on 5 blog posts. Or whatever….yeah and then on my really bad days each item has a time frame by it along with sub details. It is scary for other people but it means that when things go bad I can just go with the flow without an issue. But trying to go with the flow without a list to throw out makes me panic.

  8. Sometimes I just stare and stare at a challenging crossword puzzle and can’t seem to “get it.” Then I take a nap. Then I just fill in the answers.

  9. Like the OP I always wake up to the weirdest songs in my head. Or more accurately, song snippets. It drives me up the wall some days. Most days I don’t even notice anymore.

    Also I have some really weird dream fragments running through my head as I wake up. This morning it was something about an apartment complex that I was supposed to be fixing, despite the fact that I know nothing about construction.

    Most of my stuff is pretty common although sometimes the music in my head gets so loud I wonder if it’s what it feels like to be genuinely crazy.

  10. My brain has OCD and synesthesia. The synesthesia is cool because it helps me do math better. Also, I have always had very strange, vivid dreams. I’d share some, but I’ve learned from experience that no one really wants to hear the details of my random dream.

  11. I also wake up with very random songs in my head. I’m so glad I’m not the only person that happens to.

    For the most part I think in blog posts.

    Because I spend so much time on the computer, working on different things and reading blog posts at the same time, I can no longer NOT multitask. While working, I’ll also be checking my email, listening to music, checking my blogs, reading Digg, checking Facebook, and Tweeting my status. My brain switches to something new every couple of minutes and then will switch to something else. It is an effort to focus on one thing for more than 10 minutes or so at a time.

  12. My brain this habit where after watching a movie or reading a book or even seeing a news story it will start putting me into the story. It usually does this when I’m drifting off to sleep that night.

    Going to sleep after watching Avatar was fun. After watching Schindler’s List – not so much.

    Yeah I get the music repeating in my head too. The best way to get rid of it is to hum a few bars to someone else. Then they’re stuck with it and you can reflect on the injustices of life rather than thinking about that stupid song.

  13. It thinks mainly in words and sucks at pictures.

    It confused me the other day by insisting the local bus takes 35 minutes to the bus station, although I knew I could walk there in 20. I had to stop pondering the question and do something else before it suddenly went: “Oh wait! It takes 35 minutes to Oslo, but only 5 minutes to the bus station. My bad!”

    It wasted several minutes of my time yesterday as I was grading physics tests, when didn’t tip me off to the fact that I was using my left hand for the right hand rule and thoroughly confusing myself.

    It likes to make me sing or chant “Thank you, Cheesus!” when I eat “leftover” cheese while making sandwiches.

    It works.

  14. After watching TV, I unconciously pick up the cadence and intonation of characters I’ve seen. Occasionally I even blab out catch-phrases from the show. This can go on for a couple of hours. In all my life this has never caused a problem until I started watching House. I have, on more than one occasion, seriously ticked off my wife because I will talk to her with the same intonation Hugh Laurie uses. Essentially everything I say to her sounds like “You idiot!”.

  15. i randomly associate words or phrases with movies
    I’ve seen and i love saying sentences backwards or jumbled up kinda like Yoda only less easy to follow.

  16. My brain gets songs stuck in it very easily, sometimes without me even hearing the song.

    Also, my brain gets very annoyed by obvious questions, like just now when somebody asked, “are you just eating now?” (it’s about 2pm here). Why yes, I am. That’s why this sandwich is visibly present in my hand, not to mention my mouth, wherein I am chewing it.

  17. When glancing at street signs or billboards while driving, my brain completes words before I fully read them… usually in very silly, nonsensical ways.

    My brain pieces together well-known sayings incorrectly. And then I say them without realizing what I’m saying. And then peeps are confused… or humored.

  18. My brain sometimes ‘traces out’ words I hear (or occasionally ones I say/write/think). Like, I get this visualisation of the word being written in cursive sort of floating in front of me.

    I can’t stop it part way through and it’s really hard to concentrate on other things while it’s happening! It’s also much slower than I actually write, and it sometimes either repeats a particular word over and over, or goes on to do all the others in the sentence >:|

  19. I get random associations that make me say something totally unrelated to the conversation, and then I have to backtrack the thoughts that got me there, and explain them.

  20. @Pinkbunny: And here I was thinking I was so special. The only problem for me is I don’t have a significant other living with me to make sure my keys are in my pocket (for example) so I lock myself out of my apartment about once a month. My landlord hates me. Argh!

    This is not an age thing either (I’m mid-40’s), cause I remember my mom saying, “If your head was not connected to the rest of your body, you’d probably forget that, too!”

    @Gabrielbrawley: I can relate to several of these, including:

    Brain freeze, and reboot.

    Forgetting names. Drives me nuts!

    But especially: The unending lust
    It’s worse now than when I was twenty. WTF?
    Maybe it’s because when I was twenty I was not surrounded by women who I found attractive, and who were also confident and super smart. I seem to meet at least one like this every week and it makes my brain hurt.

  21. Not sure if I have the time or space to list everything but here are some highlights:
    – I get the songs repeating in my head thing too, but with weird variations. Some of you might remember “Any Old Ion”. More recently, I had an Andrews Sisters version of “Single Ladies” playing in my head for no particular reason.
    – Auditory hypnagogia. Oddly, listening to podcasts at night seems to fix that.
    – Shiny objects are very distracting.
    – Long, complicated chains of associations to remember something that suddenly resolve themselves when I hit some key piece of information. “Who’s that actress… she was in that movie… with that guy… mustache… he was in that deodorant commercial… Right Guard, Tom Selleck, ‘Runaway’, Kirsty Alley!” …sort of thing.
    – A strange affinity for bullet points.

  22. Ever since I started storing old hard drives in my freezer, I get the odd desire to put things in there that don’t belong (even more then the hard drives). When I can’t find my keys, sure enough, they are in the freezer.

  23. I remember being shocked that some of my friends can’t do things I find automatic or “normal” like snapping my fingers, whistling or following a map I can see in my head.

    For years I had to navigate for others, give strangers directions in towns I barely knew, and try to describe how to get from one place to another without giving visual clues. My brain is wired for 3 dimensional images.

    I can’t remember names of streets very well, but I can tell you what restaurant or tree is at the intersection.

  24. @Jaz: That’s me, too! Music gets a landscape kind of horizon with rising and falling features and colors to show where the song changes key or goes from verse to chorus.

  25. Oh spelling. When I’m under extreme stress I start spelling everything everyone says (luckily silently in my head not out loud) this is especially strange because I’m not a good speller. I’m a particularly bad speller. But my brain just takes over and does it.

    And cutting things. I am very careful about chopping things because even though I was a chef for a while and I cook a lot whenever I think about cooking something the only image that pops into my head (and is unbidden and unwelcome) is me chopping my fingers after chopping whatever veg goes into the meal. Yeah yikes. But it makes me very careful.

  26. @magicdude20: Same here
    @Gabrielbrawley: Every thing but the sleep talking here.
    @loudlyquiet: There’s never enough wood when camping.

    My brain is/has/makes random associations, distractible, non stop imagination, frequent puns and double entendre’s, often thinks in metaphors and has a collection of embedded crap that allows me to kick ass while watching Jeopardy fairly often and strangest of all I enjoy talking in front of groups.

  27. The weirdest/worst thing my brain does is flatulate. Here’s an example. I was in college and bought a lottery ticket for $10 million. As I waited for the numbers to be drawn, I had a flash of panic.

    Oh no, I thought. If I win this lottery, I’ll never qualify for a student loan.

    Of course, if I won $10 million I’d be able to cover the tuition and books and still have at least half a mill left over, but for that one handful of seconds I was terrified. That is when I realized I was too dumb to play the lottery.

    This sort of thing happens on all too frequent a basis, despite my being smart as a button. A really smart button.

  28. It’s nice to see how so many people have the same quirks I do. I forget a name before i have even released the introductory handshake. And it is embarassing when I have to meet a business contact that I have met before in a public place and can’t remember what he or she looks like. Songs pop into my head if the lyrics have anything to do with what is being done or said at the moment. Strangest of all, when I was a kid, I would whisper back to myself whatever I just finished saying. Sometimes I catch myself doing that even today. Sheesh. Basically, I am perpetually so preoccupied that I live in fear of driving away from a gas pump without paying or some similar innocent gaffe that could land me in big trouble.

  29. @loudlyquiet: exactly, I can stare at it for hours. The best part of being a homeowner was that it came with a fireplace.

    @Garrison22: So true and the older I get the wider the pool of lust worthy women. I wish I could keep it to one a week. Damn one a day would be an improvement.

    @Frankiemouse: Could be. I wouldn’t put anything past my brain.

    And I have remembered more.

    I “write” mental letters constantly and then never write them and send them. Letters to authors about how much I liked a book. To artists about a piece of art they have created. To my sister about my week. Etc.

    My brain will get into arguments with itself. If I am unsure about something my brain will form two opposing voices and have a conversation about it and sometimes a name calling argument.

    I can’t walk into a bank without trying to figure out how to rob it.

  30. @intimeoflilacs: Ah, the shower epiphanies have solved me many a problem. The downside is that I shower on autopilot and if that gets disrupted by thinking about anything I end up conditioning before I shampoo and only shaving one leg.

  31. Ditto on the waking up with a song in my head

    Also @Gabrielbrawley‘s Brain freeze and unending lust (especially over a certain midwestern Skepchick)

    If I’m really bored I’ll run through proofs of math theorems.

    If I’m dreaming and I realize it’s a dream I immediately wake up.

  32. Recently I decided to learn to sing. And my brain is being very strange about it. My teacher will play a note and conciously I have no idea how to sing it. But I open my mouth and make a noise and hit the note. But I have no idea how! Its very very strange.

  33. I have what my boyfriend terms AADD, or “Animal Attention Deficit Disorder”. Whenever I see a wild animal (and I live in northern BC, so it’s not as rare of an occurrence as you may think) I have to stop everything I’m doing to point it out. Middle of the conversation? “Hey look! a grouse!” Listening to someone pour out their heart’s deepest feeling? “oh, a moose!” It drives him bananas sometimes, but mostly just makes him laugh.

    I have also on occasion “seen” things that make no sense at all but stil come blurting out of my mouth. For instance, driving down a logging road on day we passed a large boulder. Despite the fact that we pass that boulder almost every day, on that one day my brain suddenly decided that it was an elephant, and my mouth was halfway through exclaiming, “look! and elephant!” when my brain realized that it was being totally ridiculous.

  34. I very frequently confuse the letter ‘S’ and the number ‘2’ when typing and handwriting. I was annotating a document the other day with notes that required the abbreviation ‘SF’ a lot. I must have written and erased ‘2’ at least 50% of the times. And I don’t write my 2 like a backwards-S, I write it with the loopy thing at the bottom, otherwise it might make 2ense.

  35. @JamieF:

    Yeah, I don’t automatically visualise music as much but if I’m listening to some with little other visual distractions, I can see the music landscape shifting around with the music. That’s mostly enjoyable though, unlike the spelling-things-in-my-head!


    I do this too. Even really mundane animals. I’ll be in a group of adults and go ‘OOH! COWS!’ really loudly.

  36. When I’m walking, I frequently catch myself looking down and trying to space my steps evenly across geometric patterns: expansion joints in the sidewalk, cracks between floor tiles, etc. It’s kind of weird because I really don’t do it consciously, but I’ve been doing it since I was very little.

    Can I tell about something my wife does? During conversations, she will frequently jump to a completely unrelated topic with no prompting or contextual hints as to what the new topic is. Example:

    My Lovely Wife: Did you remember to drop off the check at the daycare?
    Me: Yep, the lady at the desk said we’re all paid up.
    MLW: (pauses for a few seconds) She found the pan she was looking for.
    Me: The lady at the desk?
    MLW: What? No. Your mom.
    Me: …?

    In her own head, the topic changes make perfect sense. When asked about this, it turns out that she has an internal dialog going on all the time, and sometimes she forgets that people can’t hear her thoughts. So in her head, she may have heard something like this:
    The lady at the desk’s name is Jane, like your mother. That reminds me, your mother called.

  37. I have some of the things that others have said, especially the remembering names thing…
    Me and names are like water and fire. Just doesn’t mix. :)

    Somewhat like NoAstronomer, I dream about whatever I’ve been doing before going to bed. Watched a movie, read a book, played a game, I’m in it.
    Maybe the weirdest thing about my dreams, though, is that I often switch between first and third person view in the same dream, and experience the same scene from different characters’ point of view. Can make for some… interesting waking ups from time to time. :P

  38. Flashbacks. When I’m concentrating hard on something, I’ll flash for an instant to a place I usually haven’t been to or thought of in years. It has nothing to do with what I’m concentrating on. Very clear, and kind of refreshing!

  39. My brain is a stage producer/director. I can’t leave the TV or the radio on when I go to bed unless it’s on a timer that turns it off before I wake up. There’s a time of the morning when my brain is getting ready to wake up that somehow makes it very susceptible to distractions. If there’s a TV show (even the news) or a radio talk show (music is okay) my brain starts making up scenes in my head using the voices. The problem is that the scenes don’t usually have anything to do with the dialog and it really makes me confused when I wake up. It also makes me stay in that half-awake state for longer than I would have otherwise. I’ve been known to make it through an alarm clock ringing without waking up. My brain just incorporates the sound.

    I remember waking up one morning with a momentary desire to start buying real estate to somehow prevent an alien invasion until I realized there was an unfortunate infomercial on TV. It is really a spectacularly bizarre feeling.

    On the plus side, I sometimes get ideas for stories to write out of that, but it’s mostly a nuisance.

    Also, I’ve noticed that if I get a song stuck in my head, buying it from iTunes makes it go away… but I’m thinking that’s really just a diabolical plot by Apple to make money.

  40. My brain is either paying attention to the fake people who live in my head (but I’m a published author and they’re my characters so you can’t send me to the loony bin over it, hahahahaaaaa…ahem…), or working out crafts I want to do.

    Right now my brain is all on about my show cake for the Austin cake show at the end of this month. It’s totally epic. Sci-fi nerdy goodness, and listening to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe as I work, which is how I found out about this place.

  41. When I’m thirsty while I’m asleep, some part of my brain will play tricks on me to make me wake up and get a drink of water. I’ll think I heard a knock at the door, or the phone, or just have a nightmare.

  42. I dream in film. And by that I mean, it’s third person perspective, contains wide shots, medium shots, close ups, camera cuts, panning shots, tracking shots…

    Getting songs stuck in my head can be fun. Or annoying, or both. I’ve had everything from Tyr to Mesh to Britney Spears songs stuck in my head. I hate it when a song I can’t stand (like the last of the three mentioned) gets stuck in my head and I can’t seem to get it out. I usually just pick an ear worm that I know most, if not all of the lyrics to, and start humming that. It gets rid of the bad song, or the song with the partial lyrics and mostly harmony, that I can’t get out of my head, and I am singing incorrectly, and I know it, which just gets annoying, yeah, that sort of thing. Where was I? I am also easily distra- Ooh shiny!

  43. Lately, I have been listening to videogame music, so those got stuck in my head.
    One very weird thing that has happened, though was when I woke up, but I was completely paralyzed for a minute or so. It was like locked in syndrome, but temporary. Kinda weird. Plus, sometimes, I feel a ticklish sensation when there is nothing.

  44. i have a number fascination. if i’m nervous, bored, or stressed, i find myself looking at numbers (on a license plate for example) and creating equations that will conclude with the sum of a number i like.
    there are good numbers and bad numbers, ones that easily submit to my equations and others that you really have to work for.

    brains do funny things.

  45. IBY:

    One very weird thing that has happened, though was when I woke up, but I was completely paralyzed for a minute or so. It was like locked in syndrome, but temporary. Kinda weird.

    Its called sleep paralysis, its not common, but not unheard of. It may be weird, but now at least you know what its called.

    Now let me see, strange things my brain does:
    Intuitive grasp of mathematics, total inability to relate to other people, the ability to memorise random facts but terrible memory for anything personal, really sideways approach to problem solving, offbeat and morbid sense of humour.

    Come to think of it, it might be easier to list the things my brain does normally.

  46. Watching fire for hours….

    I’ve had sleep paralysis occasionally… often enough to know that I can wait it out.

    @Jsug: I have a daughter that does that. Interestingly, she’s a near-genius, too. We just call it her habit of “parallel processing.”

    I have an addiction to checklists. I’m not sure if that’s my brain or my training, but it is useful.

    @SkepPunk: That’s your other head “talking.”

  47. My brain like many others here does seem to have a perhaps more than healthy enjoyment of fire and explosions, probably one of the big reasons I did chemistry.

    It also does the fun thing when reading a properly good book of just sort of seemingly shutting down my actual reading and just transporting me into my own little immersive experience of the thing. Always love it when that happens.

    I can also sympathise with the reboot event and damn is it annoying.

    I’ve also managed to dream perfectly normal days that didn’t happen and then also dream that a day that actually did happen was a dream, utterly confused me when I did both in a week.

  48. @QuestionAuthority:

    I get sleep paralysis occasionally too! Usually right as I’m falling asleep, my brain slips into the paralysis mode while I’m still conscious. Fortunately I’m aware of it, and don’t get the paranoia that some people do. It’s mostly just annoying and pretty disconcerting, but knowing that it’s not supernatural is actually a comfort.

  49. @JSug: I do the geometric patterns too. I imagine lines coming from a corner of the wall and step over it. When there’s nothing distracting me, I have to consciously force myself to not pay attention to geometric patterns and step around them.

    I also count. Everything. Footsteps, light poles, links in a chain, trees, people, anything. When I was a kid in long car trips I used to stare out the window and count about how many car lengths between two points (usually light poles or tenth-mile markers). That has actually made me good at judging if a car can fit in a parallel parking spot, but I can’t parallel park for anything.

  50. I’ve always wondered what it indicates about me that I very very rarely appear in my own dreams… they are almost always like little surreal movies that I am watching, but I am rarely anything but an outside observer. Maybe I watch too much TV.

  51. My brain reacts quite differently to different forms of alcohol when I’m asleep, to the point where I can tell if I’ve been drinking rum, beer or wine by the kind of dream I had.

    Not that I’ve ever forgotten what I was drinking…. at least not all that often…

  52. @jradtke: I usually have it happen when I’m waking up. It used to scare the crap out of me as a kid. I found out the truth about it later and now I find it kind of annoying.

  53. I get the exact same thing, just not always after I wake up. Songs I haven’t heard in years, some of which I don’t even like. Is there any research on this? And is it related to some personality traits?

  54. My brain likes to go on strange trips – going to different places at different times, and I’m never fully on any one track at any one time, usually jumping between two to three different subjects in my mind.

    For an illustration, take any three books you have lying around – preferably on different topics. Now, start reading one of those books. While you’re reading, have someone else start to randomly tell you to switch. At this point, switch to another book. Do this all day.

    Congratulations, now you know why I act insane and ADD.

  55. @Pinkbunny: Unfortunately, that’s not an option as we share the same entrance and my landlady is not about to shell out the bucks for a keypad system. I live in the upper apartment of a “mother-daughter” and she lives in the lower.

    It’s actually not as bad as I paint it, since I have developed a system where I put my keys (car and house) all together on the same chain and hang them on a hook next to the door in my apartment. The hook is at eye level so I can’t help but see it on the way out. I also check my pockets for three things before I leave: cellphone, wallet and keys. If I’ve got those, I know the days going to go pretty smoothly. Of course I still forget my cellphone at least once a month, too. Argh!

  56. Wow, I can relate to many of the already listed “weirdnesses”. Most notably the imaginary tracing line thing (usually while on the phone) and the song-in-the head thing.

    One thing I noticed about the song in the head thing is that if I pay really close attention to my surroundings/thoughts, I can usually figure out the connection to the seemingly random song and what is happening.

    For example : I’m driving, and subconsciosly notice a steal your face sticker on a car. So my brain pops “Boys of Summer” in my mind. One of the lyrics is “saw a headhead sticker on a cadillac”. Or, I’m flipping through the TV and there is something about Maine for a split second, so I get “Rock Lobster”..etc, etc..

  57. I thought the song thing was my quirk, apparently I’m not as “quirky” as I once thought. Those the songs in the morning are literally like a radio playing in my head more loudly and clearly than any other time of day if you were to just think of a song or have it stuck in your head.

    Also, I’ve talked to people about my dreams and realize I need to shut up b/c they think I’m crazy. Like, being able to make anything (or anyone) happen or appear, nice when I want to make out with Brad Pitt! Bad, when I’m “stuck” in a nightmare and have to run through the streets yelling at people to wake me up. Or being in a dream in a dream in a dream….

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