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Do you see the gorilla?

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Do you see the gorilla?2004-06-23 10:35
21 comments
picture by Flemming Funch

Via PuzzlePieces, an article from The Telegraph, about our highly selective vision. I.e. we see what we're looking for, and humans often have a shocking ability to overlook even large factors if we're not paying attention to them.
In one experiment, people who were walking across a college campus were asked by a stranger for directions. During the resulting chat, two men carrying a wooden door passed between the stranger and the subjects. After the door went by, the subjects were asked if they had noticed anything change.

Half of those tested failed to notice that, as the door passed by, the stranger had been substituted with a man who was of different height, of different build and who sounded different. He was also wearing different clothes.

Despite the fact that the subjects had talked to the stranger for 10-15 seconds before the swap, half of them did not detect that, after the passing of the door, they had ended up speaking to a different person. This phenomenon, called change blindness, highlights how we see much less than we think we do.
And then there's this one:
Working with Christopher Chabris at Harvard University, Simons came up with another demonstration that has now become a classic, based on a videotape of a handful of people playing basketball. They played the tape to subjects and asked them to count the passes made by one of the teams.

Around half failed to spot a woman dressed in a gorilla suit who walked slowly across the scene for nine seconds, even though this hairy interloper had passed between the players and stopped to face the camera and thump her chest.

However, if people were simply asked to view the tape, they noticed the gorilla easily. The effect is so striking that some of them refused to accept they were looking at the same tape and thought that it was a different version of the video, one edited to include the ape.

Prof Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire recently repeated this experiment before a live audience in London (as part of his Theatre of Science, performed with the author Dr Simon Singh) and found that only 10 per cent of the 400 or so people who saw the show managed to spot the gorilla.
Part of the problem is that most of us seem limited to paying attention to a small number of thngs at the same time. The number I've learned is that we can pay conscious attention to at the most 5-7 different items at the same time, and even that is a stretch. If we're exposed to more items, we'll start dropping some of them from our awareness. Naturally, if we've been asked to pay attention to a certain set of items, it is the other ones that we're likely to drop.

Really, that is very important. Not just for stage magic and fun psychology experiments. It is a key factor in our frequent inability to understand the world and make good decisions, and the ease with which we can be mislead.

If a certain problem space involves more than a handful of simultaneous inter-connected factors, we're in trouble. Chances are that a majority of people will refer to some simplified political or religious ideology or belief system, containing less than a handful of key points, rather than dealing with the actual complexity in front of them.

That provides both significant manipulative advantages and potential problems for any group that can organize themselves so as to deal with complex factors. If you want to manipulate, you just make sure the truth is too complex to understand for normal people, and you might get away with even the most horrendous activites, as long as they split up into enough independent pieces. And if you're actually trying to solve a problem that needs solving, with the best of intentions, and you could use some public support, but you can't explain the whole thing in a two-minute soundbite format with at the most 2 or 3 interlinked factors - people probably won't get it, and you might not get any support.

It is rather critically important that we become smarter. I.e. more able to make meaningful decisions about complex situations. That either means better information tools, better organization, or better thinking methods. The better tools might be a good place to start.


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21 comments

23 Jun 2004 @ 21:04 by Quirkeboy @209.92.185.201 : Patriot act
You've mentioned covering the truth by making it so convoluted as to make it indecipherable.. and I think of the Patriot act..
The Patriot act is 342 pages long and filled with legaleze such as this:

SEC. 216. MODIFICATION OF AUTHORITIES RELATING TO USE OF PEN REGISTERS AND TRAP AND TRACE DEVICES.
(a) GENERAL LIMITATIONS- Section 3121(c) of title 18, United States Code, is amended--

(1) by inserting `or trap and trace device' after `pen register';
(2) by inserting `, routing, addressing,' after `dialing'; and
(3) by striking `call processing' and inserting `the processing and transmitting of wire or electronic communications so as not to include the contents of any wire or electronic communications'.

Soooo.. unless you have the time and the resources to track down what code they're amending.. you have NO idea what there changing!!
Ive also read that MOST of the senators and congressmen never even READ the Patriot Act!!  



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