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One thing I learned today… magic of the mind

April 11, 2011

I’m away from WRNI this week, taking a crash course in science for radio journalists.  The setting is beautiful Berkeley, California where practically every front yard is full of blossoming plants and it seems every grocery store is a health foods store.

I had a chance to walk around today, but for the rest of the week I’ll be spending most of my time inside at the University of Berkeley, listening to lectures on everything from climate change to neuroscience.

So, because I’ll be taking a break from news about Little Rhody, I thought this blog could temporarily serve as a window into what I’m doing this week.  Expect posts with brief write ups of the most stand out lesson of the day.

Our dinner lecture tonight was a talk on the similarities between science and magic.  Luckily our speaker Luigi Anzivino (from San Fransisco’s Exploratorium) had both a PhD  in neuroscience and a quick slight of hand.  He started out with one of those “now you see it, now you don’t” tricks with a pen knife- transferring it from hand to hand and changing its color.

The trick lead him into a discussion about the difference between how we think attention works and how it actually works emotionally.  We may think that we’re observing everything around us, but we’re easy distracted/often focused on one aspect more than another.

For example, the concept of “change blindness”.  Luigi Anzivino illustrated this phenomenon by showing us two pictures of a nature scene that were identical except for one major change. He’d show one photo, then a gray screen, and then the next photo.  I could not find what had changed!  Only when he removed the shot of the gray screen was it obvious- the shadow from one of the trees had been erased.  What was the difference? The gray screen interrupted my perception of what I was seeing.  Go here to see another example of Anzivino’s experiment.

Luigi Anzivino says this act of forgetting what you’ve seen after an interruption also made this video possible-

He also offered this famous example of “change blindness.”   For this movie, count the number of times the white team passes the ball.

In this case, the distraction isn’t an interruption, but a task that requires your attention, leaving you oblivious to what *should* be obvious.

Did you notice anything weird?

Like a someone in a gorilla suit?

For those of you who have seen this before, did you notice that the curtain changed color and one of the players left in the middle of the video?

So you see, we aren’t as observant as we think we are.  Our brains don’t work the way we’d assume they do. And that was Luigi’s point.  He said,  in a way, science and magic are the same thing- they show us that the world is not as it seems.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 11, 2011 6:07 pm

    I love it! Sounds like a great dinner. Looking forward to hearing more!

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