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ETpro's avatar

How imperfect is our perception?

Asked by ETpro (34571points) September 14th, 2013

Are you going to believe me or your own lying eyes? Enjoy this TED Talk from Apollo Robbins, who boasts of being the world’s greatest pickpocket, and tell me how often you think our perceptions fail or fool us. Did watching him perform his magic do anything to change your trust of eye witnesses?

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18 Answers

Rarebear's avatar

Magicians make a living on misdirecting perception.

ETpro's avatar

@Rarebear So do pickpockets. Most aren’t nearly so subtle in their methods as Apollo Robbins is, though.

ragingloli's avatar

Massively imperfect. You apes only see a narrow band of EM radiation, and you only hear a narrow band of sonic frequencies.
Of the small amount that you see, only a small region is actually in focus, the rest is a blur.
And of what ends up in your vestigial brains, much is interpolated and gaps are filled in with expectations.
It is actually quite amazing that humans can survive at all.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Whether my eyes see what I want them to, or see what you want them to, misperception is simply the manifestation of conflict between our desires. Misperception is not the imperfection. The conflict between us is.

My eyes don’t lie. But to protect my ego, my brain can leverage any observation to suit my sense of self worth. Otherwise I might have to admit being stupid, or easily manipulated. Not the qualities the tribe needs when enduring the Zombie Apocalypse.

gondwanalon's avatar

Our perceptions are not exact but they are extremely precise.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Our perceptions are limited by the capabilities of our sensory equipment and the previous experience on which we reply on to interpret the sensory information we obtain.

YARNLADY's avatar

Because my Dad was a magician, I was raised with a certain understanding of perception.

LuckyGuy's avatar

“In the grand scheme of things we’re all pretty much blind and deaf.” – Abstruse Goose.
The Sliver of perception

One of the most fun parts of my job is looking into areas outside of that tiny sliver.

ETpro's avatar

@ragingloli All your indictments of human perception are accurate. Citing them as if they do not apply to you is probably not. :-)

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies & @gondwanalon Eyes that don’t lie? A law professor once devised an experiment to teach his students how imperfect human perception can be. He was in the midst of a lecture when a crazed man burst into the room, pulled a revolver and fired several shots at the professor, who immediately went down. The gunman then fled the room. When the gunman was gone and enough time had gone by for the effect to sink in, the professor got back up and explained that this was just an experiment, and that the gun was loaded with blanks. He was unharmed, he assured them.

He then asked all 30 law students to refrain from discussing what happened with each other, but to write up all the details they could recall. What resulted was 30 completely unique descriptions. The gunman was tall or of average height or short, dark skinned or white, had anything from blond to black hair, did or did not wear a hat, had every colored shirt under the rainbow on, and fired anywhere from 1 to 6 shots. When we are under duress, our perceptions are pathetically poor.

@YARNLADY You were probably able to see more of Apollo Robbins moves to misdirect attention than most of us then, but did you catch them all?

@LuckyGuy That’s a terrific chart. So true. Even if our perceptions were perfect in the bandwidth they do over, they miss far more than 99% of what happens simply because most of the electromagnetic and sound radiation bandwidth is that outside the window we are even able to perceive.

YARNLADY's avatar

@ETpro No, he is a very smooth, professional performer.

ETpro's avatar

@YARNLADY Thanks for your honesty. I have some idea of what to look for, and much of what he did escaped my eyes.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@ETpro “Eyes that don’t lie?... The gunman then fled… our perceptions are pathetically poor…”

Yes I understand your point. I think you missed mine.

Eyes don’t have the faculties necessary to lie, or mislead, or even misperceive. The brain does that, based upon the observations made with the eyes. @Dr_Lawrence calls it “sensory information”. I call it “observation”.

It’s kind of the “guns don’t kill” argument. People kill. And sometimes they kill with guns. But let’s not blame the gun.

ETpro's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Indeed my eyes saw that, but my brain missed it. Thanks for a fun point.

drhat77's avatar

It’s not just our senses that are imperfect. Our brain filters most sensory information out, and constructs a simplified version of the world around us that matches our biases. When we want to investigate something, we usually start by searching through the bias-world in our heads.

LuckyGuy's avatar

This is why you need electronics – (and tasers).
I number of years back a pick pocketing ring moved through the city. They were so good they managed to pick pocket the police decoys.
To help, we made devices that would line the fficers’ pockets and fit on the outside of the wallets. When they pulled out the wallet, two magnets would make contact and a small vibrator would silently buzz in the user’s pocket. When the wallet was returned the buzzing would stop. The decoy could flash cash and generally act stupid and unaware but could tell the instant someone tried to remove the wallet. It was a neat installation not more than a few sheets of paper thick.

jnogood74's avatar

Thanks for the share. I do enjoy ted talks. To answer your question; I have long argued the validity of eye witnesses. Even without this information from Apollo, I can think of several human traits that would completely discredit the “eye witness” ( age, religious belief, social and economical standings…etc).

This made me think about a few things. How many times do we make our frank turn to the file cabinet( both knowingly and unknowingly)? For example, I asked myself a question about the shade of red a car is that was about to hit a green 1999, or 2000 suburban. In that statement i went to the shelve twice. I did not see who had the right away. I immediately analyzed things that interested me. This is pretty interesting!

ETpro's avatar

@drhat77 Outstanding link. But I knew that! :-)

@LuckyGuy Taser equipped pockets. How long till I forget, tase myself, and get robbed blind while writhing in agony on the sidewalk?

@jnogood74 Thanks. You are at least aware of the problem. That’s a great step beyond unconscious incompetence.

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