Please watch the following clip of a detective trying to solve a murder very attentively to see how aware and perceptive you are:
It is all too easy to miss changes that we were not looking for! Our mind is adapted to how things were in the past, to our model of the world.
Our mind works based on what has worked in the past. Because it is impossible and would be way too slow to reconstruct all of reality from our sensual information, the brain takes shortcuts (heuristics) based on past experience. This works so long as our experiential models of realities more or less accurately reflect the current situation. In pathological cases like the above staged scene, many of our assumptions about the world fail, especially since the scene is geared towards exactly those weaknesses.
Deletion, Distortion, Generalization
On top of this we continuously delete, distort and generalize the information from our senses.
- We have to delete much of the incoming information simply because we don’t have the attentional bandwidth to take in everything
- We distort information because we have a great need for congruence. If two pieces of information don’t agree then one of them must be wrong, and having great difficulty to hold disagreeing information in our mind at once, one piece of information will very quickly be distorted to fit our model of the world
- We generalize as a technique to handle our limited attention. By making assumptions about the world and chunking information into categories we can think more abstractly. On the other hand we also lose a lot of detailed information in this process, BUT without being aware of all the things we don’t pay attention to and think we know but don’t
(See the whole series “BBC – Brain Story”)
We simply aren’t as aware, or as observant, or as objective as we like to think we are. Let’s stay humble about it, aware of our biased view of the world and let’s make a habit of widening our perspective, of noticing more of the things we are not particularly paying attention to.