Posts Tagged ‘juxtaposition’

“You Have No Idea Where They’ve been.”

“There are some things that can beat smartness and foresight? Awkwardness and stupidity can. The best swordsman in the world doesn’t need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn’t do the thing he ought to do, and so the expert isn’t prepared for him; he does the thing he ought not to do; and often it catches the expert out and ends him on the spot.”
~ Mark Twain

Twain mentioned awkwardness, stupidity, and ignorance, which are things with which I’ve had some experience over the years, both as antagonist and protagonist.  Took a fencing class as a theater student. Once on the mat, I was able to score well in competition. I was feeling pretty good about it when my professor, John Rudy, pulled me to the side. After staring at the ground for what seemed like several minutes (though probably only seconds) as if he was struggling with the words, he finally spoke:

“Don’t get a swelled head about beating the competition today. There are two primary reasons you looked good out there:

  1. You’re left handed, and most of the others were used to seeing a different approach, in fact, an opposite one;
  2. But the main thing is, you didn’t seem to have any idea what you were going to do from one moment to the other, and neither did your opponents.”

After awhile I realized I was the only student in the class that could get a technical advantage from practicing in front of a mirror. The image I saw in it would have an accurate juxtaposition, while all the others just saw everything backwards.  Never became great at fencing.  Sometimes I’d just paint the fence, and at other times, just sit on it.

In time, I took classes in modern dance, acting, and directing. I look back on my successes with the realization that most of the prosperity of favorable outcomes may have been due to the outrageous courage felt, because and in spite of, not being aware of what I didn’t know.

In 2002, Donald Rumsfeld is credited for saying:

“…there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

However, the term “unknown unknowns” had been around in NASA for a while, and also used by other engineers.

“Known unknowns result from phenomena which are recognized, but poorly understood. On the other hand, unknown unknowns are phenomena which cannot be expected because there has been no prior experience or theoretical basis for expecting the phenomena.”
~ Statement of Evidence of E. D’Appolonia, D’Appolonia Consulting Engineers, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Proceedings of the British Columbia Royal Commission of Inquiry into Uranium Mining, Phase V: Waste Disposal, ISBN 0-7718-8198-3

In recent years, there have been a number of unpleasant results from hydraulic fracturing, such as earthquakes and polluted ground water, that was not the expected or hoped for outcome.  At the same time, you’d think by now most adults have some experience with placing a spoon in the sink face up, and turning on the water.  Even when some people know it’s likely to splash water all over the place, they turn the water on anyway.  So it brings up the question of there being a difference between unknown unknowns, and just making stupid decisions.

My mind goes back to the first grade.  It was a regular practice to wash our hands before lining up to go to the Lunchroom.  I distinctly remember the teacher telling me and some of the other boys:

“When you wash up, use soap.  And wash both hands.  You have no idea where they’ve been.”

I’ve struggled with those instructions now for six decades, and from time to time I think the teacher was correct.

Constancy of Color; Constancy of Acceptable

Imagine a grid of nondescript generic patterns.  The shapes define no objects in particular that you’d be familiar with.   Each block or pattern in the grid is painted a different color.  These patches can vary in shade, and even color under different kinds of lighting. When looking at the patches, you’re looking at colors determined by your perception of reflected light.  But when the patches take on familiar shapes of things you might see and use every day, your brain makes decisions that can override the authority of your photoreceptors and optic nerves.

Depending on spectrum filters or enhancements, a yellow square or rectangle might seem slightly green, or orange.  But you still see the banana and the crook neck squash as yellow, because you accept that you’re supposed to know what bananas and crook neck squashes look like.  A swatch of color on a paint chart is just a color image in your mind, but a banana is a banana.

Your brain accepts the “color” of these objects, and adjusts whatever reflection you might be observing in a variety of situations.  Under artificial light: incandescent, LED, or florescent, the colors of common familiar objects can appear to you to be the same as they do outside in natural light.

Even then, as the actual spectrum of light frequency seen at dawn, midday, and dusk do vary greatly, your brain makes adjustments according to how you’ve trained it to accept certain things.  A banana can actually remain the same yellow to you all day long; inside, outside, day or night.  Your brain does this automatically for most of the recognizable world around you.  Think for a moment of the contrast you notice when taking off sunglasses.  Until you thought to take them off, everything seemed normal.  Sometimes it has to get rather dark to remind you that you have them on.  But colors of familiar foods and other objects appear normal in the light you’ve adjusted to.

As we begin to understand color constancy, we might also wonder about how accurate we are with interpreting other perceptions.  For it isn’t just the color our minds define, we also judge whether we like it or not.  How powerful our brains can be for causing things to appear to be acceptable, or unacceptable.  Once we’ve learned something very well, the process continues almost unconsciously.  And acceptance of something as true is not dependent on the information being true at all.

We react to colors.  Some reactions can be based on what we’ve learned, or what we have been taught.  We also react to intensity of light, and to darkness.  Sometimes the reactions vary by the significance of how quickly light becomes dark, or dark becomes light.  Reactions can take on quite a range from a feeling of calm, tension, like, dislike, and even fear.  Shades, shape, and apparent size can also have similar effects on how we consciously and unconsciously react to objects we see.

Imagine seeing a red apple for the first time, and having no knowledge of what it is.  Imagine also that you’ve never had any pleasant experience with the color red.  Maybe from some former scrape or cut, you might associate the red blood with pain.  And with other foodstuff of crimson hues, your only prior experience has been with some toxic things that not only made you fell sick, but tasted badly.

The apple just sits there not making a sound.  You could feel it, smell it and even taste it if you wanted to, but unless you were on the verge of literal starvation, chances are that you  wouldn’t risk it.  In fact, your mind will very likely assign a powerfully negative value to the apple.

You may not know what the apple is, or even think you know.  But you will be very likely to be certain your suspicion of it is valid.  This curiosity of how the mind works is very important to some friends of mine who make their living in the magic business.  Combination of patterns, colors and the relative positions they are in, can change how we detect the meaning of them, and in some instances can be fooled into thinking we see something that isn’t there at all.  Other than just shape and position manipulations, there are situations where a Same color illusion can convince you to be certain, though you will be wrong.

And as we can be fooled about color and shade, we can be confused about shape and relationships to other shapes, too.  In the Ebbinghaus illusion, at first glance the inner circles of these two patterns appear to be different sizes, but they are not.  Sometimes, something is right in front of our eyes, but for some reason we just don’t see it at first, as in this example:

Illusions are a part of the magician’s stock-in-trade but things that alter our perception of reality are also very much used as tools of the trade for some other professions, too.  Think of the effectiveness of advertising for products that will never live up to the expectations created in the mind.  So besides shape, size and color, illusions can also happen in the arena of concepts.  

With concepts, it can be the juxtaposition with other concepts presuming comparative relationships when they are not relative.  This is often done rhetorically in politics by attempting to connect or disconnect various economic, religious, and other ideological concepts to make a point that would not stand logically on its own.  I’m sure you can think of examples.

Imagine a study of people who buy the majority of diet chemicals, food supplements, drugs, and controlled meal plans sold.  Would it surprise you if you learned the majority of those people never come close to losing the weight they were lead to believe would be so easily done, and almost happen miraculously?  No, I don’t think you’ll be surprised at all, even if you’re one of them.  

But after trying one “miracle” plan that turns out to be just money spent, will they try another one?  Yes, they will.  Other than the price of the ticket, all that is needed is to believe it will work.  And the reason they will believe, is because they want to believe.  So, they accept the paid testimony in the ad rather than trying to find one real person they know who can certify the magic trick works.  But the magic trick is played on the mind, and the bathroom scale is not obliged to always go along with it. 

When observing nature, we can have the the ability to control what we see of the natural by all kinds of natural means; by movements, shading, lighting, lenses, changes in temperature that can vary states of solids, liquids and gases, and even angles of positioning.  Most people who see motion pictures and television, while they may not be skilled in the technologies that allow them to happen, they know these things to be the result of technology, and not magic.  Yet for other things, perhaps less familiar, illusions not recognized as such may appear to be resulting from things not natural.

With the use of lighting, a human face that might look beige or tan in natural light can be made to appear green or red.  I’m sure you’ll agree that some who would have no knowledge or understanding of this kind of manipulation might presume what they are observing could somehow outside the realm of what nature can do.  But that the nature of what they’ve observed appears to be phenomenal to them does not in and of itself cause what they have observed to in any way in fact be supernatural.

So today when you hear someone say:  “it appears that…”, the only certainty is, that at least from their point of view, and also for what they desire to have others believe, whatever it is they are seeing is apparent.  Folks often accept the apparent for truth, but accepting it as such does not make it so.  There was a time when you would not have been able to convince me the apparently magical Santa Claus was not real.  All the evidence was forced, but none of it was true.  So the idea of it that seemed so true for me, remained true, but entirely and also only in the realm of what I believed.  While it was all so apparently awesome to me at the time, the key word there is “apparently”.