Thinking Out Loud

January 19, 2021

Politics, Race, Viruses, Immigration: The Illusion Analogy

So what do you see?

Do you see a vase? Or do you see two profiles of people facing each other (and not social distancing)?

It occurred to me last week that this is an analogy to where we find ourselves in a coincidentally black-and-white situation with regard to the issues of the day, be it the U.S. federal election, models of theories of the impact of ethnicity, masking or non-masking, getting vaccinated or remaining an anti-vaxxer, being pro-immigration or anti-immigration, etc.

Things are currently polarized. Like we’ve never seen before.

Fact checking is pointless, because sources are challenged. Is it my truth or your truth? Where might objective truth be found? Social media has become a default news source, so you’re getting most of your information from your brother-in-law’s Facebook post.

Which brings us back to the vase above. The picture — and there are now dozens of variations — is called Rubin’s Vase, attributed to the Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin who created it around 1915.

The key to the whole thing is that you can’t see both the vase and the profiles at the same time. At any given millisecond you’re seeing either one or the other. Wikipedia puts it this way: “The visual effect generally presents the viewer with two shape interpretations, each of which is consistent with the retinal image, but only one of which can be maintained at a given moment.”

And this is where the analogy breaks down, because if you’re seeing a vase, or a goblet, or a birdbath; I can then point out the faces to you. You may remain loyal to your initial impression, but you’ll be forced to concede another perspective is possible.

But in real life, it’s often impossible to get someone to see the contrary position.

Or admit that they see it…

…Interestingly, Wikipedia links to an article on Pareidolia, which is the way we read things into certain stimuli that aren’t really there; “the tendency for incorrect perception of a stimulus as an object, pattern or meaning known to the observer, such as seeing shapes in clouds, seeing faces in inanimate objects or abstract patterns, or hearing hidden messages in music. Common examples are perceived images of animals, faces, or objects in cloud formations, the Man in the Moon…”

(Interesting for the purposes of readers here, is that later on the article notes: “There have been many instances of perceptions of religious imagery and themes, especially the faces of religious figures, in ordinary phenomena. Many involve images of Jesus, the Virgin Mary,…”)

If Rubin’s Vase helps us understand polarization of opinion, I would argue that Pareidolia helps us understand conspiracy theories which are, in simple terms, reading something into a situation which isn’t there.

 

February 7, 2016

Orangutans Are Skeptical of Changes in Their Cages

Filed under: current events, politics — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:34 pm

So on Saturday night I was feeling a bit whimsical, so I tweeted:

Orangutans are skeptical of changes in their cages.

You can see it on my Twitter feed. Or maybe not. I just scrubbed it now realizing that I spelled orangutans wrong. #embarrassing

The reason I put that on Twitter is that I tuned in for the final half hour of A Prairie Home Companion on Saturday night only to find that I’d not only missed most of the live show, but the guest was Paul Simon. Definitely want to listen to more of that show on line.

So I listened to a few of Simon’s greatest hits on YouTube, including “At the Zoo” hence the tweet.

img020716But then I started reading my Twitter feed and realized that unless people were of a certain age and knew obscure Paul Simon lyrics, they would simply see it as a veiled reference to the Republican leadership debate, which was happening live at the same time.

Republicans are skeptical of changes in the cages?

Speaking from the perspective of someone who is part of that group called “America’s closest neighbors” do we really have to endure ten more months of this? The election — and that most complex of processes leading up to it — probably bumps many more important stories off the nightly news cycle. I suggested to more than one U.S. citizen that if they want to know what really happened in their country on a given day, they would learn more from BBC World Service or even Canadian news.

Right now it is caucus and primary season. You can lose in any state but still come up a winner if you’re continually adding to your number of delegates at the national convention. Proud Americans speaking glowingly of the beauty of the complexity on the road to Inauguration Day, but it’s not that there’s anything wrong with the system of getting to naming the Presidential nominee; rather, it’s the vast amounts of mental energy that are associated with the process.

Opinions on all matter political also consume vast amounts of water cooler time at the office and heated discussions around the kitchen table. And once a new U.S. President is chosen, from the first day, politicians and those who surround them will begin contemplating how that choice affects their prospects in the 2020 campaign. It’s a election process that now runs non-stop, 24/7 over connected four-year cycles.

To my readers, most of whom are Americans: I love your passion for the November election. But stay in touch with the larger, international news cycle. Keep in contact with the science, health, social justice, arts and economics news stories. Allow margin for non-election-related activities and discussions.

Engage with it, but don’t let it consume you.

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