Posted by Managing Editor Ben Koch
A psychological study from the 90’s originally conducted by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons has recently been resurfacing on the internet, and I believe it speaks volumes about the way our minds
interact with the worlds around us and how our perceptions and expectations shape our view of “the way things are.”
Researchers call it “selective attention” or “counter-intuition.” If I give too many details now I’ll spoil your own process of discovery when you read the attached link and watch the associated videos. But the gist is this: our expectations about what we should see in a given environment determine what we do see, even when those expectations are violated with the wackiest of “rule-breakers.”
In many different contexts I’ve heard the story about how, when the first European ships were off the coast of the “New World,” the indigenous peoples simply didn’t see them-I mean literally, physically didn’t see them! It wasn’t until a shaman–a person who by his very nature is trained to see beyond the conventional and expected–noticed a strange shimmering over the water and began to explore that he and, eventually, the others were able to visually perceive these strange “dragons” approaching the beach. It wasn’t that the indigenous people were intentionally dogmatic or close-minded about European ships. They simply had no place in their conceptual framework for them to exist and so their minds “erased” them from perception.
How many “ships” hovering near our proverbial coast are we missing today, in the 21st century? The parable of the indigenous peoples and their first encounter with Europeans is an apt comparison for many events on the edge of our current framework. Think about phenomena that don’t match the current mainstream, like UFOs, auras, telepathy, reincarnation, cryptids, etc. Most of us probably don’t identify ourselves as “scientific reductionists,” but that is precisely the overarching framework that dominates our perception of the world, thanks in large part to how the media approaches most events. It’s disguised as “common sense” and “rationality,” but those are just euphemisms for a dogma that says our 5 senses and a very special way of using them are the only valid way of determining what’s real.
So where does that foundation stand when the reliability of our senses is completely called into question by studies like the “Invisible Gorilla”? “I’ll believe it when I see it” is a common response to those phenomena floating around the periphery of our senses, but what if, in truth, you have to believe it in order to see it?
My own belief is that there are ways of unlocking these conceptual prisons and opening our minds to a wider range of experience. In certain types of meditation, for example, you analytically deconstruct the unquestioned concepts and assumptions ruling your superficial mind. Perhaps many creative processes do the same thing, thus allowing artists and writers the ability to imagine new configurations and possibilities.
What do you think, what’s the best way out of this “invisible prison”?