Click through to watch the wonderful gorilla study you’ve heard me talk about in class. It’s an example of what scientists call “cognitive blindness.” In other words, our eyes can see, but our brains can’t. Harvard researchers Daniel J. Simons and Christopher Chabris, in their paper “Gorillas in Our Midst,” write:
With each eye fixation, we experience a richly detailed visual world. Yet recent work on visual integration and change direction reveals that we are surprisingly unaware of the details of our environment from one view to the next: we often do not detect large changes to objects and scenes (‘change blindness’). Furthermore, without attention, we may not even perceive objects (‘inattentional blindness’). Taken together, these findings suggest that we perceive and remember only those objects and details that receive focused attention.
The graphic at the top of this page is an example of quite the opposite effect, where instead of ignoring something that’s there, our brains see something that isn’t. As you move your eyes around the image, you see black spots dancing where there’s really only white space. Wikipedia describes visual illusion (optical illusion) as:
characterized by visually perceived images that differ from objective reality. The information gathered by the eye is processed and the brain to give a percept that does not tally with a physical measurement of the stimulus source. There are three main types of illusion – literal optical illusions that create images that are different from the objects that make them, physiological illusions that are the effects on the eyes and brain of excessive stimulation of a specific type – brightness, tilt, color, movement, and cognitive illusions where the eye and brain make unconscious inferences.
In her book, Extraordinary Knowing, Dr. Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer notes one of the most interesting aspects of attention is that you can’t look at more than one perspective at the same time. She demonstrates this with a classic “figure ground” illusion of faces and a vase.
Try it! Although by releasing your focus you can acknowledge the presence of both “interpretations” of this image, you can only see the vase by focussing on it, which makes the faces look like a background, or focussing on the faces, which makes the vase look like space between them.
What does this suggest to you about your perspective on your focus in life, or how you see the world? Visual or optical illusions are fun, and they present us with an opportunity to let go of our self judgment about emotions or “attitude”. The practice of yoga is not so much about “self improvement” as it is about attention, and the ability to attend. It is skillful attention, the ability to redirect focus, to understand how we’re seeing things and to be open to other possibilities.
Outside Chance: The Yoga of Possibility December 12 – 14, 2008 @ Kripalu
We may publish any content, comments or ideas sent to us.
Name may be withheld by request.
© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.