How our conscious can hide the truth from us

A number of recent articles, videos, etc. focus on how concentrating on one thing or having a specific worldview keeps us from seeing what is really going on.

The New York Times “Sleights of Mind” had an interesting piece about this in yesterday’s Science Times, 8/21/07) which discusses the science and categorization of cases when much of the information that the subconscious takes in never gets revealed to the conscious, because the conscious filters out that information as irrelevant.

One category, how focusing on one thing can obscure attention to other matters, is called ‘inattention blindness.’  Examples of this can be found in The amazing Card Color Change Video and on this site where focusing on certain tasks like counting the number of passes of basketballs from one player to another can cause you to miss things going on in the video; here is a different video example of the same thing.  And a description of this inattention blindness phenomenon is here

Other categories of these ‘sleights of mind’ are: ‘disgusing one action as another. implying data that isn’t there, [and] taking advantage of how the brain fills in gaps.’

The article described one effort where the brain mistakenly sees a pattern where it isn’t there.  “Pulling one coin after another from the air, he dropped them, thunk, thunk, thunk, into the bucket. Just as the audience was beginning to catch on — somehow he was concealing the coins between his fingers — he flashed his empty palm and, thunk, dropped another coin, and then grabbed another from a gentlemen’s white hair. For the climax of the act, Teller deftly removed a spectator’s glasses, tipped them over the bucket and, thunk, thunk, two more coins fell.

“As he ran through the trick a second time, annotating each step, we saw how we had been led to mismatch cause and effect, to form one false hypothesis after another. Sometimes the coins were coming from his right hand, and sometimes from his left, hidden beneath the fingers holding the bucket.

“He left us with his definition of magic: ‘The theatrical linking of a cause with an effect that has no basis in physical reality, but that — in our hearts — ought to.’ ”

Full “Sleights of Mind” article available here and is worth reading.


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