I have always been aware. Acutely aware even at a young age. I remember staring intently at ant hills on the hot asphalt watching the hidden hierarchy and habits of routine tasks. Place a bread crumb near the opening and within a tiny increment of time it was removed and brought below. Place an inhabitant from a neighboring hill into the stream of ants over here--the dead ant would soon appear--placed near the opening.
Not solely a fan of the macabre I also notice outliers. The data point way up and to the left--afterall, in my field of analytics, a data point is a person. My goal is to convince you that your perception is trying to fool you. Not in an evil sort of way. It means well. You have to filter a lot of information in our 24/7 digital universe. It makes sense on some level to automate and leave us to our confirmatory biases. The real risk, especially if you are a communicator? Anything out of the ordinary will be missed.
A new book by Amy E. Herman, Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception Improve Your Life reminded me of my early art memories. Amy is a recovering lawyer that transitioned her keen observational skills from a career in law to an art historian leading a popular course on art and perception.
I grew up surrounded by classical music, jazz, and an appreciation for art. I read about Guernica and the history of both the war it represented and the artist, Pablo Picasso. I knew it was in the Museum of Modern Art and I planned to visit someday. Fast forward and the painting was sent to Spain. I searched at the Prado and eventually located Guernica--I was transfixed and firmly planted in The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid.
I am not sure if you are aware of the controversy of the textile replica of Guernica that served as the backdrop near the Security Council room at the United Nations back in 2003. Watch the video about the problematic cautionary masterpiece. The solution--cover it up.
I share the story because it was my first memory of art as power. Politics not withstanding, it was a modern day revelation of the polarizing impact of art. The news stories and debates lasted for a long time and I would argue still resonate today. One of my favorite story collections, Other Septembers, Many Americas Selected Provocations, 1980-2004 by Ariel Dorfman had this story to share--although just an excerpt (full poem at link) it serves as a guide to the famous painting. You instinctually look for the child and the horse--trying to decipher the artistic representation of a brutal war silenced behind the blue curtain.
Yes, there you were, Mr. Secretary,
The media has a perception problem. Journalists and science writers need to start poking around the evidence. Who funded the study? How many participants? What was the study design? Adverse events? And on and on. Reporting soundbites and not questioning the evidence. The story is likely to be 99% written before the interview. We are our biases. We know what we believe and prefer to gravitate not necessarily to the truth--but to our truth.
"Throughout the debate on Iraq, there has been a remarkable degree of obfuscation, evasion and denial, and never more so than when it comes to the grim realities of military action. We may well live in the age of the so-called 'smart bomb', but the horror on the ground will be just the same as that visited upon the villagers of Gernika [the Basque spelling of the town]... And it won't be possible to pull a curtain over that."--Laurie Brereton, UN delegate Australia
Sturm und Drang prevails. Anything that can make us believe that our workouts can be replaced with chocolate bars, a reality tv celebrity is qualified to lead the free world, or every discomfort should be medicalized, flies in the face of a rigorous review of the data.
I encourage you to follow the discussion--and for pete's sake--peek behind the curtain.
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In a world of "evidence-based" medicine I am a bigger fan of practice-based evidence.
Remember the quote by Upton Sinclair...
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”
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