Note: For those who have not as yet seen the brief video that demonstrates a selective attention test, I suggest that they do so now by clicking here.
I agree with Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons that just because we vividly experience some aspects of our world, especially those that are the focus of our attention, that does not mean that we process all of the detailed information around us. “In essence, we know how vividly we see some aspects of our world, but we are completely unaware of those aspects of our world that fall outside of that current focus of attention. Our vivid visual experience masks a striking mental blindness – we assume that visually distinctive or unusual objects will draw our attention, but in reality they go completely unnoticed.”
Vast amounts of scientific research reveal these redundantly verifiable insights:
1. Because we have limited attention resources, we usually see only what we expect to see; more often than not, we fail to see what we do not expect to see.
2. “Our neurological circuits for vision and attention are built for pedestrian speeds, not for driving speeds.”
3. We often have an illusion of memory: “the disconnect between how we think memory works and how it actually works.” That is, we tend to remember only what we expect to remember.
4. We often have an illusion of confidence. This causes us to overestimate our abilities, especially in relation to others; also, we tend to assume that people who seem confident are, and those who seem to lack confidence lack it.
5. Many of us have the illusion of knowledge: we believe we have wider and deeper understanding than in fact we do. Therefore, poor decisions are often made because we do not know what we think we know.
6. The illusion of knowledge can also involve others: we assume so-called “experts” know more, understand more, can do more and can do it better, etc. We are reassured by their self-confidence, although it may well be unjustified.
7. The illusion of cause can affect us three ways: we perceive repeating patterns in randomness as predictive of future events; we assume that events that happen together have a causal relationship when in fact the reality is coincidence; and we tend to assume that events that happen earlier cause events that happened (or appear to have happened) later.
8. The “Mozart Effect” is an example of the illusion of potential: Expand the brain’s capabilities by listening to Mozart’s music. This presupposes that (a) there is undeveloped potential, perhaps as much as 90%, and (b) the music of Mozart (a genius) will achieve the greatest improvement. In fact, “The benefits of [physical] exercise [such as walking at a reasonable clip for 30 minutes or more a few times a week] are deeper than improvements in behavior and cognition.”
9. “Illusions result from mistaken judgments about our limitations, and it is these judgments that we must adjust.” Hence the importance of knowing the limits of our cognition so that we can redesign the “spaces” in which we function and thereby avoid the consequences of mistaken intuitions.
10. It is impossible to notice everything around us, much less process recognition of it, nor can we “readily dismiss our intuitive (and incorrect) beliefs about what captures our attention.” However, as indicated earlier, we can “proactively restructure our lives so that we are less likely to be misled by an illusion.”
However entertaining and instructive the film clip may be, this book is by no means an “easy read” and in fact should be re-read at least once if not more. In that event, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons will generously reward the careful reader. I conclude by presuming to offer three suggestions: First, as you begin to read The Invisible Gorilla, be receptive to unexpected insights that require you to change many of your assumptions about how you perceive, process, remember, and think about your visual world. Second, don’t assume that Chabris and Simons are “experts” simply because they have written this book and seem confident about what they affirm and what they challenge. Focus on sharpening your awareness and increasing your capacities to absorb and digest what you observe. Finally, once you have increased your understanding, do not fall victim to the illusion of knowledge. Continually challenge each of your assumptions. Your mind is, literally, a work in progress.