Schick and Vaughn Chapter 3
This chapter describes various ways in which personal experience can be deceptive.
Much in this chapter may be familiar to you from psychology. Psychologists have
compiled a large body of research showing that our minds contribute hugely to
our perceptions – that there is in fact no “raw perception,” but that perception
is always mediated and interpreted by the mind. As SV put it, perception is
Rule: Just because something seems (feels, appears) real
doesn’t mean that it is. (32)
The following factors contribute to perceptual construction:
or even needing a particular experience. SV give the example by Gustav Jahoda
on p. 33. Think of Agent Mulder’s poster “I Want to Believe.” Another example:
PK parties (40-41). Emotional factors and stress make perceptual constructions
especially unreliable. Stresses might be relatively minor (being hungry or tired),
or quite major (receiving a diagnosis of a terminal disease).
- Perceptual constancies: “our tendency to have certain
perceptual experiences even in the absence of relevant input from our senses.”(34)
Examples: color constancy, size constancy. (Interestingly, these perceptual
constancies are learned.)
- Expectation: e.g., people told they will experience a
certain stimulus often experience it even if it hasn’t been given (36f.).
- Looking for clarity in vagueness: we automatically order
our perception. We “see as”: e.g., seeing a cloud as a shape, seeing the “face”
on Mars, or the Martian “canals,” or the face of Jesus in a tortilla. We read
the vague predictions of “prophets” (such as Nostradamus) and astrologers as
meaningful and precisely descriptive of our current lives and events.(59-61)
- Examples that combine all the above: the Blondlot case,
supposed UFO sightings (37-45)
Furthermore, memory is also constructed,
or “re-constructed.” Expectations, beliefs, emotions, and perceptual constancies
all contribute to inaccurate reconstructions and interpretations. Example: the
classic experiment involving the film of the black man and the white man, with
the white man holding a razor. (47) Another classic experiment: students rate
the identical paper higher when they believe the author is male, lower when
they believe the author is female.
Our long-term memories can be significantly
altered (and falsified) by subsequent suggestions that appear to provide new
and relevant information. Example: recovered memory syndrome (48-49).
Other well-documented psychological phenomena include:
- Cryptomnesia: “hidden memory.” Sometimes we get an idea
that strikes us as new and original, and we forget that it’s really a memory
of something we learned in the past. Examples: the Bridey Murphy case, George
Harrison and “My Sweet Lord.”
- Selective memory: many examples. Remembering evidence
for a claim and forgetting all the evidence against it. “Dad, you never give
me any money!” Remembering only the dreams that “come true” – forgetting that
most dreams don’t – and then inferring precognition.
- Selective attention and selective validation: e.g., preferring
eye data over ear data (a natural tendency). The Lunar effect (56) and the Forer
effect (56) illustrate selective validation.
- Misjudging probabilities: e.g., the gambler’s fallacy,
or so-called “incredible” coincidences (52-53). People often fail to realize
that “incredible coincidences are common and must occur.” (53) For example,
given the very large numbers of dreams we have, it would be incredible if some
of our dreams didn’t come true; i.e., of course some dreams come
true, but that doesn’t prove that we learn the future through dreams. Given
the millions of things I think about, it’s not at all incredible that I might
think about a person I haven’t seen in years, and then immediately run into
that person, or see that person’s obituary. Given facts about the dispersion
of molecules in the atmosphere, it is not incredible that any deep breath has
a 99% probability of containing a molecule of Julius Caesar’s dying breath.
Here's the advantage of science: “scientific work is
largely the business of not taking any one person’s word for it.” (62) Science
tries to remove the potential errors of purely subjective personal experience,
replacing subjective data with intersubjective data.