Automatic Responses & Stepping Outside the Box


"I have the feeling that I've seen everything,
but failed to notice the elephants."
- Anton Chekhov

We watched something recently that featured what looks like an ordinary room with a very tiny man in one corner and a very large man in another, they then walked across the room and took each others place, the small man then became the giant and vice versa.

The presenter explained that the room was vastly askew and the floor was sloping so much it looked as though the man was walking uphill when crossing the room to change places, but due to the perspective used and the place it was being viewed from it looked like a perfectly normal room.

He then went on to explain that as the mind is so used to a room being square, that, that is the image that is being fed back to you. Here is a youtube clip of a similar experiment - Click Here to see it

Also have you ever seen this before? You are presented with a paragraph and all the letters are jumbled up, but surprisingly if you relax you can read it just fine because the first and last letter of each word are in the right place.

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

In both of these cases our mind is taking what is coming in through our eyes and using what I call its predictive text function.

Anyone who has used a mobile/cell phone will have come across predictive text - where it attempts to speed things up for the user by predicting what you are trying to write based on the first few letters you type.

Now of course these are just a couple of examples of the ways in which our brains deal with incoming information based on the facts that it already has in its memory banks.

Now I wonder, if we had never seen a room before and didn't have a 'mental model' of what a room looked like, would we then have seen it as it actually is? as obviously, if we weren't already familiar with the English language, we would have just seen a lot of jumbled shapes in the example text.

So it is the already existing model of reality that we have stored in our minds that constitutes what reality is to us - and all incoming data is measured against that and seemingly altered to suit!

Did you realise how much of this was going on with our own every day perception of things?

So I wonder in what other ways this is operating in our lives?

If everything is subject to the minds preditive text, then I suppose that the emotions have that facility too. Anything that we have already experienced or have a 'model' for is influencing the box that information or feelings are filed in, and therefore determining the responses that come forth from within us.

One bad event will influence the predictive text response to another similar event that may be wonderful, but because of the original blueprint that was layed down we may never get to experience it, as we believe our responses are us and don't question them.

So what if when this internal filing system was set up by our first experiences of things, it was based on innacurate or warped information - is then our predictive text function still sending out responses to events interpretated against its first filed model of reality?

We don't usually question the things we see, hear, or feel, we trust that we are accurately perceiving what is there - it seems that this isn't always the case!

"Don't believe everything you think."- Faith Duck

So maybe we should begin to question our responses and reactions to certain things, especially if they are holding us back in any areas of our life. Perhaps we could delve a little deeper by understanding how our we/our systems are programmed.

Names are needed so that we have a common understanding but they put things in boxes, wrap them up in neat little parcels, sum things up in just a few words.

Sometimes words are barriers to seeing . . .

As a child we have things named and compartmentalised for us - a pointing finger and three letters render that huge burning ball of gas in the sky around which we orbit, and all its wonder . . . Sun.

Thereafter on a day to day level, it is, "is the Sun out today". Beauty, majesty, mystery and the enormity of its splendour gone, replaced by three letters. We have a model, a box.

"Words, words, words! They shut one off from the universe..."
- Aldous Huxley

I have a deep feeling that this realisation about how we work could be profound. If we know this about ourselves and our reality, we can use this awareness to question our assumptions and responses.
If life seems lack lustre perhaps the labels have got in the way.

We can become aware that the words, the labels, are just doorways and if we enter the vast halls behind them and look at what is there with new eyes (and the predictive text disabled) we will be witness to an amazing and astounding world.

We literally need to step outside the box.

"When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge." - Tuli Kupferberg

Image and words - Susannah Bec


Jennifer said...

Love your "predictive text" metaphor Susannah. I'm a big proponent of critical thinking and it's central to my focus as an adult educator. I think the biggest challenge of all is to turn the critical thinking inward, and see things with a fresh eye, rather than what the predictive text told us to perceive.

Michaela said...

Regular, I realize that I do not see the things how they are because I persist in something.
It feels like if I would limit my field of vision.
But I'm working on this :-)

Susannah said...

Hi Jennifer I am glad that you could identify with the 'predictive text' metaphor. :-)

It just struck me after seeing that how we see what we expect to see and that that can stop us from seeing what is really there.

I remember years back when I actually 'saw' the Moon! No more hiding behind the word I had been given! it was a great big amazing thing hanging there in the sky just above me - In an instant I got all the realisation that the word/label had been hiding. :-)

Thanks for the comment Jennifer, I appreciate it.

Susannah said...

Hi Michaela, I would be surprised if there are many who actually do see things as they are - we all filter things differently based on so many things, variables and viewpoints. I know when I have altered my thoughts about something, the thing itself has seemingly changed.

Thanks for dropping in, it is good to see you. :-)

Colleen Loehr said...

Hi Susannah,

This is a mind-opening post, and I also enjoyed the you tube video very much. This post also reminds me of the wonderful post you once wrote about your mother's fear of church bells. How much does conditioning color our perceptions without our realizing it? Also, how much do words and thoughts blind us from clear seeing?

"Sometimes words are barriers to seeing..."

"If life seems to lack lustre perhaps the labels have got in the way."

These sentences from the post especially resonate with me. The example of how the word "Sun" blocks off our appreciation of that magnificent mystery beaming in the sky is a great example.

I'm also struck by the artwork Susannah, which expresses this sense of being blinded by seeing, in a way. The powerful image expresses feelings deep within me.

Susannah your post brings to mind a remarkable essay I read online yesterday, David Foster Wallace's 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech. I had never heard of Wallace, and sadly he died by suicide in 2008, but I found his speech to really strike a powerful chord within. A transcript is available at "more intelligent life.com".

Thank you for a penetrating and contemplative post, it is eye-opening.

Angela Artemis said...

This is a great post. I agree with what you've said. We are all really living in one huge mind construct that we've all been socialized to accept. Our minds searches - just like the mobile phone - for predictive text as to how to perceive everything we see and experience. It is just as you've titled your post an: Automatic Response.

No wonder children eventually lose their capability of seeing "imaginary friends" and other magical places as they grow older.

Thank you for this excellent article.

Susannah said...

Hello Colleen,

Yes, you are right, it is like the conditioned response of my Mother to the bells. The predictive text called up her first programming and replayed it.

Thank you for your insightful comment and I especially liked your observation about the image - "Blinded by seeing" - yes, I think we often are. I am glad that you found the post mind-opening.

Thanks also for the information about David Foster Wallace's 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech - I have just read it and was really struck by the profound truth of the fish story. . .

"There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"
The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about."

Thanks very much for your comment Colleen, it is always good to hear from you.

Susannah said...

Hello Angela,

I really like your point that "We are all really living in one huge mind construct that we've all been socialized to accept." I think that has summed up so much in one sentance, thank you.

Thank you very much also for your visit and for your comment, both much appreciated.

It is very nice to meet you. :-)

WishIKnew said...

"Sometimes words are barriers to seeing . . ."

What an excellent blog. I just happened upon this and it was in direct alignment with what has been on my mind. The "predictive text" function needs to be re-programmed in all of us.

Susannah said...

Hi Wishiknew and thanks for your comment. I am glad you could identify with this.

It is nice to 'meet' you. :-)


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