Almost as a direct contrast to Lawrence Krauss’s presentation last night in which we were reminded to look to see what is actually there, Richard Wiseman showed us how we can’t help but see things that aren’t.
To make an example of all of us, he asked us to choose one card out of a set of five on the screen, and lo and behold, when he took one away, we all believed he had taken away the one we had chosen. (“Not so skeptical now, are we?”) Well, he had taken our card, but only because he had swapped out every card, leaving four wholly new cards, making is seem to us that he had somehow plucked something from our minds.
But just as with all good magic tricks, we were delighted to be fooled.
The point was that our brains cannot resist trying to make sense of the senseless, has no choice but to seek patterns and understandable and familiar images. We see faces in random objects, and we miss big changes that don’t interest our brains. “You can’t overcome this bias,” said Wiseman.
“We’re not seeing what’s there,” he said. “We’re bringing a lot to the party.”
Well, it’s a good thing we brought Wiseman to the party.
Oh, I forgot to add, you know that optical illusion image of what could either be a duck or a rabbit depending on how you look at it? Wiseman said that as this picture has been studied by experts over a hundred years, “the consensus is that it’s actually a rabbit.”
Whatever. I’m #TeamDuck all the way.