Monday, August 20, 2007

The Psychology of Obvious

The human brain is an excellent pattern-recognition machine. When it comes to an 'obvious' detector, it can fall short - tricking a person into thinking something is obvious when it's not. How a toilet works seems obvious, until you're asked to explain it, for example. The idea that the obvious isn't necessarily so is an important one in science. After all, why test for something if it's a forgone conclusion? This seems particularly true for psychology - a field where many conclusions seem obvious after the fact. (I've been guilty of accusing a psychology-major roommate that "It's all just common sense" in my undergrad days. After all, it's not *real* science, right?) There's a nice little article in The Psychologist discussing the nature of obviousness, some examples of non-obvious findings and the importance of testing 'obvious' ideas. If you're interested in reading other examples of counter-intuitive science, Lim at Freshbrainz has been running a series on his blog.


5 comments:

Bayman said...

I think you hit on a very key point here...it's extremely bizarre how our consciousness plays tricks on us...another example many of us might be familiar with is looking back on old lab notes and discovering your actual methodology or results from an experiment were totally different from your conscious recollection.

Lately I've been wondering if the real essence of science is really just about opening up the collective human consciousness to new perceptions through meticulous measurement and observation - by taking the time to become conscious of phenomena that our brains usually just skip over and ignore without us being aware, and then communicating this to others in a way that prepares their own mind to consciously perceive the same events.

In this regard, science would be like art, but employing numbers and statistics rather than visual imagery to convey awareness...

Anonymous said...

As an arts student with a healthy love of science, I have often felt that art at it's most important served to help people observe things that they would perhaps otherwise take for granted. I think that although science serves a more practical function, it should also be viewed as a tool for widening the collective consciousness. If more people were simply more open minded towards understanding the "obvious" everday things they run into ie) the flushing of a toilet, then there would be much less arrogance within the species and the world would progress in a much smoother course. A touch too idealistic? perhaps. Excuse me while I go stare in wonder at my toilet.
-Adam

Bayman said...

Damn, so even enlightened arts students agree, the bayblab is saving humanity, one post at a time...

Lim Leng Hiong said...

Ah, thanks for the mention. I, for one, am completely familiar with how a toilet works, right down to the ballcock.

Yessiree.

sildenafil citrate said...

more people were simply more open minded towards understanding the "obvious"