Friday, July 11, 2014

Optical Illusions - Trivial And Otherwise"

Nobody makes “typos” on prupose. 

Okay, I did there, but that’s just for fun.  “Typos” occur because you read over what you wrote, and out of, I don’t know, habit or distraction, you descend into some kind of a trance, your mind registering what you expect to see and not what is actually there, which in the case of a “typo” is the wrong thing.

So what?  It’s a “typo.”  A minor embarrassment for the writer, some momentary confusion for the reader, perhaps some diminished respect for the perpetrator for their inadequate oversight.  “Typos” are unfortunate, but they are hardly life and death.  (Unless “Shame equals death”, which in reality, it does not.  It is simply just shame.  Confession:  I have, on not a few occasions, gotten the two of them mixed up.)

Moving on to a similar situation, but one emanating from the outside world rather than self-generated:

I have mentioned once before an occasion when I was living in London wherein on the day of my arrival my new roommate and I went to visit his former roommate, now housed in accommodations nearby.

We stepped up to the front door.  There were two doorbells, situated side by side.  One of them had a sign taped below it.  The sign read:

“Other bell broken.  Use this bell.”

What proceeded was an example of “Mass Hypnosis”, wherein “Mass” refers to a hundred percent of the participants, though the actual number of participants was two.

Being familiar with signs saying, “This bell broken.  Use other bell” or more often even, upon entering a store or restaurant, “This door broken.  Use other door”, we both reflexively misread the sign in front of us, and we immediately pressed the other doorbell.

And, of course, nobody came to the door.

No matter how many times we pressed it. 

We eventually went away,

Never knowing

That, having read the posted sign incorrectly,

We had spent more than five minutes

Ringing the wrong – and broken – doorbell.

Okay, a guy was home, but he didn’t know we were there because we were ringing the wrong doorbell.  Unfortunate but, again, not life and death.  (Though somewhat uncomfortable because we had called to say we’d be over and then we had, apparently, never shown up.  Two weeks later, that person moved back to Canada.  To this very day, I am uncertain whether the “Doorbell Incident” had something to do with his precipitous departure.)

Moving on again….

During our recent visit to Michiana, while Dr. M was at a conference in Chicago and I was driving around on my own – Read:  “Uh-oh.” – I came up to an intersection where there was a “Stop” sign, so I stopped.

So far, so good.


Affixed to the post beneath the “Stop” was another sign – a smallish, horizontal rectangle.  Where I live – I don’t know about you – a little sign affixed beneath a “Stop” sign indicates a “Four Way” or “All Ways” intersectional stop. 

What that means – for those of you from other planets – is that is that cars from all four directions are required to stop at that intersection before proceeding.  You arrive at the “Stop” sign, you stop, look both ways, and then you proceed. 

If a car has arrived at the intersection before you, then that car has the right of way.  If two cars arrive at the intersection simultaneously, then the car on the right has the right of way. 

It’s in the Driver’s Manual.  I know, because I failed my Driver’s Test twice, and had to study that Driver’s Manual three times.

To me, it was automatic.  You see the little sign below the “Stop” sign and you reflexively think it says “All Ways.”

The little sign in Michiana did not.

It said “Two Ways.”

Why “Indiana Traffic Control” had posted a little sign saying “Two Ways” when, if it does not say “All Ways” or when there is no little sign at all, it is automatically understood to be “Two ways” was inexplicable to me. 

As well as potentially dangerous. 

Why?  (You probably already know why.  Please indulge me, for the record.)

If your expectation is that any little sign beneath a “Stop” sign will read “All Ways” and it actually reads “Two Ways”, you will stop, and then, seeing no cars arriving from the perpendicular direction – and even if one does arrive, having misread the sign to say “All Ways”, you believe it is legally required to stop – you will proceed into the intersection and then, should a car from that perpendicular direction suddenly appear

You can see where I am going here –   


An ambulance.  A call to Chicago.  And an unsatisfying excuse from “Intensive Care.”

“It never says “Two Ways” at home.  They need to take down that sign.”

I believe I am right that, considering human conditioning, that a “Two Way” sign under a “Stop” sign is precariously counter-productive.

But as they used to say in the old Driving Safety public service announcements:

“You could be right.  Dead right.”

Since habitual expectations are incredibly difficult to overcome, I am thinking of avoiding that Michiana intersection completely.  Since, sad to say,

“I can’t believe it.  He wrote about it, and then he forgot.”


and with serious consequences,

Entirely possible. 


Wendy M. Grossman said...

Of course it is. Show me someone who can remember what he wrote last week and I'll show you an...



JED said...

We can't find all of our mistakes whether it's proof reading our own stuff or making assumptions about the layout of traffic signs. Or, in my case, finding errors in the computer programs I write for a living. One little demonstration of this is the following sentence. You are supposed to count the number of letter 'F' characters:


Believe it or not, there are 6 'F' characters in that short piece. Most people say 3. I even saw this before and said 3 when I searched for it to print here.

If most of us can't count 'F' characters correctly, how could we ever expect to write anything? Somehow we manage (often with the help of others) but the mistakes keep coming.

Jose Valdivielso said...