Monday, July 15, 2013

"Do My Eyes Deceive Me?"

This time, it’s not about vision.  But it is about eyes.  Actually, it’s not exactly about eyes either.  Sorry for misleading you for a sentence.  It was not deliberate.  It was just sloppy writing.

This is little, but it’s been stuck in my head for forty-seven years.  That’s a lot.  Making it a little about a lot.

The problem returned to the forefront recently when it unexpectedly resurfaced.  Twice in forty-seven years may not qualify as a “frequent occurrence”, but then I realized it actually happens all the time.  Every time I make a “typo.” 

I read something and I think it’s right.  But in point of fact, it is actually wrong. 

What happens?  As far as I can tell, the mechanism involved is that somehow, my brain makes my eyes see something different from what is actually on the page.  For example, my brain fills in the gaps of mistakenly left out words, or it sees the word I intended to type, say, “it”, when what I actually typed was “is.” 

As a consequence of habit – and possibly haste, though it feels like I’m proceeding really slowly, reading and re-reading while I’m rewriting, three or four times per post – my brain automatically corrects my mistakes, causing my eyes to see what is not, in fact, there.

Apparently, not only are my eyes weak, they are also stupid.

A recent, non typographical example that triggered the forty-seven year-old memory that triggered this post:

Once in a while, I have a flare-up of ambition.  It doesn’t last long.  It’s like a headache.  I lie down for a while, and it generally goes away.

So not long ago, I wrote two politically-themed posts, and it came to mind that I should email them to a guy I met a couple of times who works for the American Enterprise Institute – though he’s more a moderate than the typical AEI conservative – for evaluation.

I Google his email address, I write a covering letter – I could have said a “cowering letter” and it would have been equally as accurate – I “Paste” the two posts to the end of the letter, and I press “Send.”  A few minutes later, I get the dreaded message from the “Email Police”, informing me that my email had not gone through, and they’re telling everybody in cyberspace I’m an idiot.

First, I get angry.  Mostly for being required to live in a world I did not create, nor ask to exist.  Then, once calm, I recheck the email address, looking real hard to see if there was something I had accidentally misread. 

It turns out there was.

I had written .com at the end of his email address, when I should have written the  suffix that was looking me straight in the face, .ael.  (Excuse:  Most of my correspondents’ email addresses end in .aol.)

I re-send the email, with the corrected address.

And it comes back again!

Once I stop cursing modern technology, I re-check the email address a third time.  And lo and behold, though I had altered the .aol suffix, I had mistakenly altered it to .org.  (Excuse Number Two:  When my correspondents’ emails do not end in .aol, they usually end in .org.)

Two times in a row, I had written what my brain had told my eyes to see.  And both times, I was wrong.  (From a psychological standpoint, there is the compounding issue of being nervous about sending the email altogether.)

The third time, I change the suffix to .ael, assiduously checking, to make sure that it was .ael and not .aei, which would make sense, standing as it does for the American Enterprise Institute.

Nope.  It was .ael which stands for…I have absolutely no idea.  And this time, it went through. 

Still, my eyes had twice betrayed me.  Which was somewhat discomfiting.  I mean, if you can’t trust your own eyes…

As it turns out, sometimes, you can’t.

Which takes me back to 1966, when the problem first came to my attention.

I was twenty-one.  I had just arrived in London, where I would live for the next seventeen months.

My new roommate, Alan, had split with his old roommate, David, who had moved to a flat a couple of blocks away.  Alan and David remained on friendly terms, and I new both of them – they were both from Toronto – so we called David to see if we could drop by and say hello.  And David said fine.

Alan and I walk over there.  We come to the front door and we discover two doorbells, one on top of the other.  There is a hand-printed note taped by the top doorbell.  It says,

“Other bell broken.  Use this doorbell.”

Have you ever been to a restaurant or a store that has two entrances, but there’s a sign on one of them that says, “Use other door”?  It never says “Use this door.”  In those cases, you would just use that door.  It always says, “Use other door.”  “Use this door” doesn’t make any sense.

I press the doorbell we believe is the right doorbell to press – the bottom doorbell.  Why do we think that’s the right doorbell to press?  Because convention and conditioning inform our brains to tell our eyes to see, not “Other bell broken.  Use this doorbell”, but rather, “This bell broken.  Use other doorbell.”

I press the doorbell my brain tells my eyes to tell me to press… 

And nobody answers. 

I press it again.  Still, nothing.  I press a third time.  Once again, no response. 

It appeared that David, who had told us he’d be there, had instead gone out. 

So we left.

As a result of our brains misleading our eyes, having pressed the doorbell the note on the door had specifically told us not to press, we returned to our flat, believing that David was mad at us, telling us to come over, but then, taking off.  (We later patched things up.  David had been home all the time.  We had simply pressed the wrong doorbell.)

Still, between the way I see and what my brain makes me see…

Oi don’t ‘ave moochova chahnce, do oi?

Thank heavens for my ears.  They hear things  exactly as they were intended.

When they don’t hear – “I’m sorry, what was that?” – anything at all.


Frank said...

Maybe your brain was saying "Dave's not here man."

Anonymous said...

"I new both of them"? Love that invisible and silent 'k'!