Change of Perspective

Musings on Writing, Reading, and Life Narratives

Fiction writers and literary critics speak of point of view. Social scientists are more likely to discuss perspective. But both of these terms refer to essentially the same construct: the consciousness behind the perception and narration of experience. Each individual’s point of view is unique, and point of view shapes the stories people tell to themselves and to others about themselves and their relationships with their environment. The same event narrated from two different perspectives will produce two different stories.

A change of perspective can expand our perception and reframe our thinking about our experiences. We can all benefit from an occasional change of perspective.

[Return to MetaPerspective]

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Summary

Sleep makes room for memories

Sleep not only refreshes the body, it may also push the reset button on the brain, helping the brain stay flexible and ready to learn, new research shows.

Whether it is slow-wave sleep or rapid eye movement (REM), sleep changes the biochemistry of the brain, and the change is necessary to continue learning new things, suggests research presented November 18 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

Memory loss: Special report

This page collects a series of articles from this fall in the Los Angeles Times about memory loss (e.g., Early Warning Signs of Alzhiemer's Disease, Tips for Preventing Memory Loss).

Art as Visual Research: 12 Examples of Kinetic Illusions in Op Art

Scientists did not invent the vast majority of visual illusions. Rather, they are the work of visual artists, who have used their insights into the workings of the visual system to create visual illusions in their pieces of art. We have previously pointed out in our essays that, long before visual science existed as a formal discipline, artists had devised techniques to “trick” the brain into thinking that a flat canvas was three-dimensional, or that a series of brushstrokes in a still life was in fact a bowl of luscious fruit. Thus the visual arts have sometimes preceded the visual sciences in the discovery of fundamental vision principles, through the application of methodical—although perhaps more intuitive—research techniques. In this sense, art, illusions and visual science have always been implicitly linked.

Related Posts:

Video: Natalie Goldberg on "Old Friend from Far Away"

Related Post:

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday Summary

A Boy's Life
This long article in The Atlantic treats the difficult subject of transgender children: children, some as young as 3 or 4, who want to be the gender opposite from their physiology. Should parents treat their young children as members of the other gender, or should they seek treatment to help their children adjust to the gender that matches their biological sex? The existence of such transgender children raises the age-old questions of nature vs. nurture: Are transgender children born that way or made that way? Is gender a biological given or a social construction?

Writer Hanna Rosin has done extensive research into this complex topic and does a good job of presenting both sides of the issue. Her presentation of the stories of several children, and their parents, who have experienced transgenderism gives her article an air of poignant reality.

Think You're Multitasking? Think Again
Don't believe the multitasking hype, scientists say. New research shows that we humans aren't as good as we think we are at doing several things at once. But it also highlights a human skill that gave us an evolutionary edge.

Multitasking Teens May Be Muddling Their Brains
Doing several things at once can feel so productive. But scientists say switching rapidly between tasks can actually slow us down.

Even though modern technology allows people to perform more tasks at the same time, juggling tasks can make our brains lose connections to important information. Which means, in the end, it takes longer because we have to remind our brains what we were working on.

The Ties That Bind
In this New York Times blog Allison Arieff considers what kind of legacy our dependence on technology will leave for our children.

First Person Plural
In this article in The Atlantic Paul Bloom looks at the definition of happy:
Many researchers now believe, to varying degrees, that each of us is a community of competing selves, with the happiness of one often causing the misery of another. This theory might explain certain puzzles of everyday life, such as why addictions and compulsions are so hard to shake off, and why we insist on spending so much of our lives in worlds­—like TV shows and novels and virtual-reality experiences—that don’t actually exist. And it provides a useful framework for thinking about the increasingly popular position that people would be better off if governments and businesses helped them inhibit certain gut feelings and emotional reactions.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

"That One"?

Did you hear John McCain call Barack Obama "that one" last night?

It's not quite as bad as "you people," but it's close.

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Sunday, February 3, 2008

Perspective Switch

Perspective Switch � QuinnCreative
Quinn McDonald, a creativity coach, has a nice piece on the effectiveness of perspective switch on her blog. She uses a couple of photographs to illustrate how a change of perspective can influence what we see and how we think about what we see.

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Saturday, February 2, 2008

Video: Frozen in Time

Check this out

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Daydream Believer

In the earlier post Driving on Autopilot, I talked about driving somewhere and then not remembering the trip. What were you actually doing while driving that you don't remember?

If you're like most people, you were probably daydreaming. Here's how Wikipedia describes this mental state:
Daydreaming may take the form of... a train of thought, leading the daydreamer away from being aware of his immediate surroundings, and concentrating more and more on these new directions of thought.
In his writings on creativity and the unconscious, Freud likened daydreaming to the imaginative fantasy constructions of children and to the creative state of the poet. Freud believed that people are capable of such flights of daydreaming fantasy throughout their lives. He called unsatisfied wishes the driving force behind these fantasies.

Over the years daydreaming has gotten a bad name. Freud said that daydreams fall into one of two categories: (1) ambitious wishes, serving to exalt the person creating them, or (2) erotic fantasies (a category to which, he said, women are particularly prone). Many people think of daydreaming as a waste of time and a sign of laziness.

But recent research has led to more enlightened views about daydreams. When children daydream about conquering the world or otherwise triumphing over adversity, they are imaginatively trying out various ways of existing and getting along in the world. We adults continue to do the same thing. Haven't we all daydreamed about "This is what I SHOULD have said (or done) when So-and-So insulted me. . . ."? In those instances we're imaginatively rehearsing the alternative behavior so that the next time a similar situation arises, we'll be ready. Daydreams like this also help to dissipate some of the negative emotions (anger, hurt, humiliation) we may be feeling from the incident.

So the automatic thinking that occasionally allows us to drive on autopilot isn't always bad. Sometimes it can even serve a positive, healthy function.

© 2007 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Memories, Attention, and Intention

Cognitive Daily: Memories, attention, and intention

Dave Munger has written about perception over at Cognitive Daily (a cognitive psychology blog). He touches on some of the same areas I've been talking about here lately, though in a much more scientific way. His entry includes a video demonstration (QuickTime required) of what happens when we max out our brain's multitasking ability (similar to my experience of lifting weights while balancing on the BOSU).


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Perception Deception

I have to thank my personal trainer, Patti, for this insight. Patti is always looking for new exercises (which she thinks are FUN) involving balance and core stability. She's a big fan of the BOSU, which looks like this:BOSU is an acronym for "both sides utilized," which means that you can turn this thing upside down, put the soft round blue part on the floor, then try to balance standing on the flat surface.

Yesterday I was doing a pretty good job of balancing on the inverted BOSU. This feat requires a lot of concentration and focus as the brain keeps sending messages to the legs, ankles, and feet, all of which keep wiggling to keep you upright. Then Patti put a free weight in each of my hands and told me to do bicep curls. After I had done two sets of 10 bicep curls, I handed the weights back to her and jumped off the BOSU.

"I bet it hardly felt like you were doing bicep curls," Patti said.

WHOA! She was right. My brain was working so hard on maintaining my balance that it didn't have time to focus on what my arms were doing. (Actually, it's probably more accurate to say that, when I started lifting the weights, my brain also had to take that movement into account and work even harder at keeping me from falling off the BOSU.) At any rate, my brain wasn't concerned with registering the heaviness of the weights because it just had too much else on its mind.

Do you remember the picture that could be either a vase or two faces in profile from an earlier post? Once you could recognize both ways to see the image, you could still only see one image or the other at any given moment. Even though our brains are amazingly quick and slick calculating apparatuses, they are limited in the amount of input they can process at once.

My experience of doing bicep curls on the BOSU is another example of this. When too many different stimuli are bombarding us all at once, our brain will pick out the most important ones and selectively ignore the rest. Since balance is crucial to a creature that walks upright, my brain put most of its effort there and paid little mind to those 8-pound weights in my hands. Those same weights would have felt a lot heavier if I had been simply standing on the floor while doing those bicep curls.

Thanks for this informative observation, Patti. (And no, this doesn't mean that we should increase my weights.)

© 2007 by Mary Daniels Brown


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Driving on Autopilot

Have you ever driven somewhere and, when you got to your destination, had no memory of the trip? It's not that you weren't paying attention. You were. And if something out-of-the-ordinary had happened, you would have been right on top of it. But as long as everything went along in an ordinary, routine manner, you were able to drive on autopilot.

In the earlier post We See What We Expect to See, I talked about schemata (which is the plural of schema), the patterns we unconsciously apply to things we perceive in order to organize and make sense out of them. The more often we apply a particular schema, the more deeply ingrained and readily accessible it becomes. Someone who is just learning to drive or is unfamiliar with the area would not have the experience I described above. Only someone who has been driving the same route for a long time will slip into autopilot.

Such automatic thinking can be harmless, sometimes even enjoyable, but it can also be dangerous. It can prevent us from learning new things, meeting new people, and finding new ways to solve old problems. A very obvious example of automatic thinking is stereotyping people on the basis of their religion, their ethnicity, or their appearance. But automatic thinking can also happen in more subtle ways that we are often not even aware of.

I used to have a friend whom I originally met in a situation where she was the instructor and I was a student. We became friends and interacted in lots of other situations, but she was never able to shake off the instructor-student schema. In her mind, she was always the instructor and I was always the student. This meant that she could never accept that I knew anything that she didn't already know, even in areas in which I had a lot of training and experience and she had none. She was never able either to adjust her schema of me as student or to apply a different schema that was more appropriate for our changed circumstances. This inflexibility of thinking strained our relationship and contributed (although it was only one of several contributing factors) to the dissolution of our friendship. Because of her rigid, automatic thinking, she lost many opportunities to learn new things. She also lost a friend.

How can we avoid becoming mired in the ruts of automatic thinking? By seeking a change of perspective. If the situation warrants, try literally looking at something from a different angle. Or try to imagine an event from someone else's point of view. Or, better yet, ask other people for their perspectives on an issue. Look for ways of approaching a problem that are as different as possible from your usual approach. Don't always grab on to the first idea or interpretation that comes to mind.

And, at least occasionally, explore a different route on your daily commute.

© 2007 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

We See What We Expect to See (Part 2)

The previous post (see the most recent post before this one or click here) about assimilation and accommodation made me think a bit more about perception.

What do you see when you look at this picture?



If you're like most people, you probably saw a white vase on a black background. Some people instead saw two heads facing each other in profile. (To see the vase, concentrate on the white part of the image and bring it to the front. To see the two faces, concentrate on the black parts of the image and bring them to the front.)

Once you know that both images are there, you will probably be able to switch back and forth between them, seeing first one image, then the other. But you cannot see both images at the same time. Our brain must select which one it will perceive at any given moment.

The concepts of differing perspectives and selectivity of perception are not exactly the same, but they are very similar. Both concepts demonstrate that there is more than one way to look at something and that the way we see something is not the only possible way to see it.

© 2007 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Friday, November 23, 2007

We See What We Expect to See

Yesterday my husband and I watched the movie The Sixth Sense on one of the movie channels. Seeing this movie again reminded me of the great lesson I learned when seeing it the first time: We see what we expect to see, or what we want to see.

The first time I watched The Sixth Sense, there were little things throughout the movie that didn't seem quite right. I noticed them, but didn't dwell on them. Instead, I went on watching as if I hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary. Only after the film was over did I understand the significance of those little blips on my mental radar. (I'm trying not to give too much away here, just in case there are some people who haven't yet seen the movie. If you haven't seen it, rent it and take a look. [It would be better to see it in one continuous presentation than to watch it chopped up for network broadcast in order to get the full impact.])

We see what we expect to see or what we want to see because of the way our brain organizes experience to make sense out of it. Without being aware of doing it, we impose a schema over our experience. A schema (plural: schemata) is a pattern or template that we use to interpret and understand new information that our senses perceive. When we perceive something, we automatically look for the appropriate schema into which to place it. We absorb new information into a pre-existing schema through a process known as assimilation.

But when none of our existing schemata seem able to assimilate the new information, we must change, or expand, a schema to allow it to incorporate the new information. This process is known as accommodation because we must change a schema to accommodate something new.

When we encounter something new, our brain will attempt to find a schema to assimilate it. If this attempt fails, we then have two choices: (1) we can throw out, or ignore, the new material, or (2) we can revise a schema to accommodate the new material. In most cases we will ignore the new material for as long as possible. Only when we are faced with a great amount of material we can't understand will we begin to change our schemata to accommodate it all.

This is what happened to me while watching The Sixth Sense. Perhaps if I hadn't been so intent on continuing to follow the movie, I might have figured things out sooner. But I had to keep watching, so I didn't have time to think consciously about why those little things seemed out of place.

You've probably had a similar experience at some time. Did you ever find out or figure out something, then think, "Oh, now A, B, and C all make sense"? This realization is the moment of accommodation, when your way of understanding has shifted slightly because of some new knowledge.

© 2007 by Mary Daniels Brown