Opening Our Eyes

I read/heard two interesting things recently that got me thinking.

First, I was reading an article in Astronomy magazine about UB-313, the (potentially) tenth planet that was recently discovered orbiting our Sun. Based on the limited set of observations they have, astronomers attempted to calculate the planet’s orbital speed and how elliptical said orbit is. They then extrapolated those estimates out and looked on older photographic plates for the planet to check if it appeared where there figures indicated it should, and it did. The interesting part was, they were able to find photos of the planet on plates as far back as 1954. We’ve had photos of this thing sitting in the archives for over half of a century, and only just last year finally saw it.

Second, I was listening to the SETI podcast and the guest was discussing human perception and how easily we can be distracted and miss something very obvious. In his experiment, a video is shown to the subjects which shows a number of men on a basketball court passing a basketball around. The subjects are instructed to count how many times the ball is passed over the length of the video. While they are doing this, a man in a gorilla suit walks through the shot, right behind the players and in plain and clear sight, and waves his arms. When asked about this, roughly 95% of people replied “What gorilla?” They were so focused on watching the ball and counting the passes that they completely overlooked the gorilla.

He then poses the question, “How often, in our day-to-day lives, do we miss the gorilla because we’re too busy watching the basketball?” The first thing is a solid example of this, the scientists weren’t looking for a new planet on those plates but were instead focused on whatever it was they were looking for. They were so busy counting basketballs that they missed the gorilla walking by. You could look at this as a variation on the “thinking outside the box” concept, but it’s really a different animal (no pun intended) altogether. It’s not actively seeking solutions outside your normal scope, but more a relaxing of the eyes to allow you to see the obvious solution that’s already there.

I will certainly be reminding myself from time-to-time to stop counting basketballs. How many gorillas do I miss every day?

Ever heard some song that had such an obvious but catchy and instantly memorable hook? The songwriter noticed the gorilla. Read a story that was so simple but so engaging and satisfying at the same time? The writer wasn’t counting basketballs when he thought of it. Saw someone in a completely new light? You were too busy counting basketballs to notice their gorilla. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

So, every so often, remind yourself to stop counting and start looking. Experience life and walk through the world, rather than just walk by it. Who knows what you might find?