The way we see things
This week, I started my teaching at NTU again, and in my first lesson, we talked about the concept of ‘Perception’ when it comes to communication. I have always been fascinated by the idea of perception, and how it shapes the way we see things, the kinds of things that we ‘see’, the way we organize the information in the little rooms or pigeonholes in our heads, and the way we interpret the myriad information, details, experiences that we gather as we go through our lives everyday. One of the areas we discussed was that of ‘Stereotypes’, and I asked my classes what they thought when they are asked about the areas which black people in America are well-known for. Almost unanimously they shouted “basketball”, “rapping”, “running”, “R & B”. It is interesting that none of them said engineers, lawyers or historians. But I told them that equally there could be a number of blacks who are experts in these other fields, yet why are they not the first things that come to our mind? In fact, how about “President of the United States”? So stereotypes are dangerous because they make us see generalized ideas of the group, but often make us fail to see the individual behind that stereotype.
At times, our perceptions also get in the way of seeing things for what they truly are. I showed slides of a few classic optical illusions (do you see the two faces or the vase in between? can you see both a young lady and an old woman?) And then I showed them this picture:
And again they all shouted in chrous: “Same!” Which meant that the lengths of the two horizontal lines are of same length. But actually they are not. I have deliberately created these two arrows so that the horizontal line at the bottom is longer than the one above. But we assume straiughtaway that the two lines must be the same length because we are so used to seeing this illusion that we have an automatic response to it. Did we measure the lines? Did we take a closer look to see if they are the same length? No, but yet we seem confident that they are the “same”. We try to be clever and prevent our minds from being tricked by these illusions, but at times, we get tricked even further. So familiarity to something sometimes blinds us to the possibility of differences.
We had a fun and enriching lesson (albeit brief, for I could go on about other types of illusions, such as illusions of the mind, logical fallacies, but not possible in a one-hour class), and I hope my students learn to look a little deeper, a little beyond, a little harder at things around them. When we do, what then do we see?