Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Art of Seeing and Remembering

Me and my girlfriends have a joke about sending our husbands to do something and 1) they come back empty-handed because they forgot or 2) they come back with the wrong thing or 3) they come back and say they couldn't find the thing that was RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEIR NOSE. We call this man's disease. sorry about 1/2 the population or what is it now--about 51% of the population because of gender selection, women are becoming a minority--something I've noticed for a long while--anyway!

But come to find out it isn't just man's disease, but a characteristic of just being human.

NPR Radio did a story not too long ago, a story that as I listened I thought--geez can this get any worse, and then it did, I listened more and it got even MORE worse. Here's how it goes:

Officers in Boston got the report of man down, one of their own had been shot. The bulletin went out and many officers arrived at the scene. One of those who responded was a black undercover officer wearing plainsclothes, he started chasing the assailant. But as he was running he noticed that his fellow cops were like CHASING HIM. Whoa, they took him down and beat him half to death. Nevermind that he was a cop.

Several officers also in pursuit ran past this pileup. The report never mentioned if the assialant was ever captured.

But the black man, the officer, pressed charges. And of course, cops investigating cops is always a tricky thing. Not one of the officers came forward to say who had participated in the beating. The cops who had run past the conflagration were also questioned, but none of them could identify anyone--there was even a few cops who said THEY'D SEEN NOTHING THAT NIGHT. One of these cops was charged and found guilty of perjury and was sentenced to jail.

Well a Boston reporter and a university professor decided to look into this phenomenon: was it possible for a cop or anyone to be so close and not see anything?! They instituted a study and had several participants run after someone and like talk their observations into a recorder ie he's wearing a hat, we just passed a Dunkin' Donuts, etc. The participants did really well with their observations because they were focused on the task at hand, but several entirely missed a faux fight taking place right beside the running path. They had a couple actors stage a fight. The participants just kept on running.

Of course the scientists are thinking it all goes back to primitive man, coping mechanisms, skills for survival of the fittest. If we kept getting distracted by other stuff then we'd never get the mastodon or Sibertooth (cybertooth?) tiger we're actually hunting down. We tend to tune out the peripheral like a horse wearing blinders and keep our eyes on the prize or the thing we were told to do.

Thus, sometimes missing the bigger picture. And there you have it: man's disease decoded and explained.

But it also teaches us a lesson about memory and observation and how 5 people can experience the same thing but yet come away with 5 different interpretations.

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