Skepticism

These are not the droids you’re looking for….

Welcome to my first entry as your guest Skepchick blogger!
Rebecca is gadding about in Europe, and has inexplicably left me behind.

I first found out that I’d be the stand-in last Wednesday, and spent most of the week thinking about how to start.

Actually, that’s a lie. I spent most of the week freaking out.
Wednesday night: “OMG OMG OMG OMG, I’m going to kill Becca’s blog!”
I took a Xanax and went to sleep.

Thursday night: “I should write about…I have no idea what to write about.”
I took a Vicodan and went to sleep.

Friday night: “I should draft something out for Rebecca’s blog…but first, I’ll have a little drink.”

So, it’s Saturday morning.
And I thought I would start with a short story about cognitive bias.
As you can see from that list, there are a lot of ways to muck up your thinking.
People often see what they are expecting, not what is actually there.
There are some really great optical illusions that demonstrate this.
In fact, this particular optical illusion has been fooling people into thinking it’s a president for several years.
But.. I digress.

Recently, I had something digging big holes under my house. I switched on the light one night, and there was a raccoon on our front stairs. Raccoons are known to like burrows, and I had a lovely cistern perfect for living in.raccoon After 3 weeks of trying various ways of excluding or discouraging raccoons from digging, and unsuccessful live trapping, we finally called a professional. He set up some kill traps.
Two days later, there was a furry body under the stairs. Huzzah! No more raccoons!
The trapper didn’t come to collect his body right away, and since it was under our bedroom window, and a wee bit smelly, I decided to move it.
I picked up the corpse and moved it out into the drive way. In plain view. And went happily off to putter in the garden.

Hubby came home. I warn him not to step on the raccoon. As I’m helping him unload the groceries, I think: “Damn. That raccoon has one hell of an overbite.”
Couple hours later, I collect the mail. As I walk past the raccoon, I think: “What happened to that raccoon’s tail? It’s awfully short.

And that was how, a full 6 hours after actually picking up and carrying the animal and putting it in plain sight, I finally realized we had a woodchuck, not a raccoon. These animals are completely different–it’s like mistaking a rat for a bear.
My brain took the part of the information that fit my hypothesis and ignored all the contradictary information. Like, lack of a prominent ringed tail. Or the presence of big, pointy teeth.pointy teeth!
Fluffy dead thing = raccoon.

The moral of my little story is that we must all be careful to constantly scrutinize our thinking and information gathering to make sure we don’t become careless.
Except….
I’m hoping that since you are visiting Rebecca’s blog to read witty, insightful commentary written by a total hottie, you will see exactly what you expect to see.

bug_girl

Bug_girl has a PhD in Entomology, and is a pointy-headed former academic living in Ohio. She is obsessed with insects, but otherwise perfectly normal. Really! If you want a daily stream of cool info about bugs, follow her Facebook page or find her on Twitter.

Related Articles

7 Comments

  1. I got them to work in Firefox just fine. I seem to be opening troublesome links there, rather than updating plugins in Opera… silly really. Never mind that though.

    Great links! It's oddly painful when you can't force your mind to overcome illusions that from other cues you can clearly see are there.

  2. Or you don't see what you are not looking for. Daniel Dennett gives a lecture that includes a video of a basketball game.

    The audience is told to count the baskets being made by the players in the white shirts. The link to the clip is in the Answer section of this reference:
    http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=4
    People usually miss entirely something else taking place on the basketball court.

    You were probably thinking about something else; automatic pilot. I think it has something to do with not being able to concentrate on more than one thing at a time.

    I think it was normal for you to be focussed on getting the decomposing animal away from your bedroom window, and you just took care of the task at hand. For my money, multi tasking is overrated.

Leave a Reply

You May Also Enjoy

Close
Close