Perception is a fascinating psychological process. We may see the world through our eyes but we perceive the world through our brain. Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” In other words, we see what we are prepared to see. As an example, fluent English readers see what I’ve written here almost effortlessly. Our minds have learned the pattern and we hear the words or know the meaning. But we also ignore a great deal. We fit the world into a pattern, and if something is outside that pattern we tend to discount it or ignore it. Our attention can be so focused on one item that we are totally oblivious to the obvious.
Here is a link to a classic example:
This is called In-attentional blindness, or a term I’ve heard target fixation . Unfortunately, this very common phenomenon is not well appreciated. In medical imaging, a gross abnormality may be missed because the readers focus is on another finding. Those who sit in judgment, already knowing the answer, view the first reader as incompetent for missing the obvious.
We see what we are prepared to see, we see what we want to see. We have a built-in cultural bias which blinds us to understanding how others think and see the world. At this point I could delve into a long diatribe about politics. I’ll leave that to the reader to think about. I want to discuss some less contentious areas.
One of the phenomenons I have noticed is how people perceive things, that at least for “intelligent” people if they do not understand something they discounted and feel that it is not worth understanding. I limit this comment to “intelligent” or “educated” people because those are with whom I associate with. (Is it really improper to end a sentence with a preposition?) From my personal experience, this is a very common phenomenon particularly among physicians, who frequently have a very high opinion of themselves. As a side note, I don’t think the average physician is nearly as intelligent as the physicists or engineers whom I have known. But it requires a different intellectual skill sets. Medicine requires the ability to memorize vast quantities of material and to recognize when it applies. In other words – pattern recognition. It doesn’t require a lot of creative cognitive thought. Physicians and surgeons who don’t understand the ancillary services, such as health physicists, view them as one may view one’s gardener or auto mechanic. Useful but menial, something I could do if I had the time or inclination without too much effort. (Not that this is actually true.)
But is this phenomenon is limited to the arrogant? I don’t think so. In a family or society that values athletic ability, those qualities are encouraged while other qualities such as intellectual endeavors or artistic expression may be just tolerated. Growing up in North Texas where football is king, I attended a very preppy high school. That high school took great pride in the academic achievements of its students and where they went to university. Even there, I perceived a positive bias toward students who demonstrated an athletic talent. The administration spent more time with them and their sports and presented them with greater honors then with other activities such as the chess club.
My son Colin wrote a poem about his recently widowed grandfather… it’s amazing. @adamslisa
Throwing this quote in from @adamslisa may seem like a Monty Python-“Now for something completely different” moment, but it is what got me thinking about what we value. I have noticed that at points like this, I will say something and somebody will take it as a criticism. Other than my own reaction of “Isn’t that nice” I am fairly neutral on the topic, but it got me thinking about whether Colin had done something else, like proved a particularly difficult mathematical theorem, what would the reaction of his family have been? If there was no outside authority to tell them that this was truly an amazing event, would his family appreciate it’s value?
When our children do something we understand that is remarkable we respond positively. If they do something we don’t really comprehend, we are supportive-mostly. If someone who has no emotional connection to us does something outstanding that we do not comprehend, my first reactions is “So what?”
At this point I should say something profound or of great moral value. If ever think of it I will edit this post to include it.
For the four or five of you who actually read this, if you have a profound statement or just a mere observation, please leave a comment.
And speaking of value, do visit Lisa_Bonchek_Adams