Repost: FIML and illusions, visual and verbal

It’s well known that memory, context, and expectation are fundamental to our perceptions of “reality.” For more info on this see: FIML and memory distortion.

In this post I want to give a few examples of how this happens and then discuss how these examples are relevant to FIML practice.

Yesterday I took a walk with my partner. It was a sunny day and at one point the reflection of a leafless tree in the windshield of a car parked about thirty yards ahead of us caught my eye. Most of the car was in shade, so the reflection stood out prominently though I could not quite figure out what I was seeing at first. As I stared at the windshield, I saw the crude image of a human face. It flickered in my mind and changed several times as we advanced toward the car. Was I seeing a person sitting in the passenger seat, I wondered. Or was it something else? What I saw in the reflection was more of a proto-face than a real human face. My brain made several attempts to interpret the reflection as we drew closer to the car. At last, I saw that what I was looking at was a bright reflection of tree branches high above the car. The scene fooled me because the car was in the shade and the tree branches were in the sun quite high above the street.

This incident illustrates how our minds try to make sense out of what we are seeing even before we have sufficient information to do so reliably. Why did I see a person and not a cat or something else? The answer is probably that a person would be the most significant to me of the likely interpretations of what was there. In a kind of self-centered all-too-human way, I interpreted the reflection as an image that would have the most bearing on my life. In the case of that reflection, I was able to ascertain what the image really was. I remember being quite curious about it. It was kind of a delightful optical illusion which was fun to ponder once I understood it.

Another incident that happened yesterday also occured while I was walking with my partner. This time it was dark. On the street ahead of us she saw what she told me looked like a pillar that had fallen in the road. That would have been a real anomaly, so she kept looking at the object. Eventually she realized that it was a car parked in shadows in such a way that its outline had not been clear. Why she saw it as a collapsed pillar, I don’t know, but as I had done earlier in the day, she was quite curious about what she was seeing as we approached the scene. When she figured it out, she described what had happened and we discussed how it relates to FIML.

What she noticed is that since the anomaly was visual, it was fairly easy to figure out. She also noticed that her curiosity would have made her walk toward the pillar/car to see what it was even if it had meant going out of our way. Most of us, I think, would do the same. Visual illusions like that are not threatening and usually are fun to figure out.

If an illusion arises in what we think we have heard someone say, however, most of us will normally not pursue the matter. What kinds of illusions arise when we speak with others? Any interpretation that is wrong is an illusion. Any interpretation on the personal-public spectrum of possible interpretations that is not what our interlocutor meant is an illusion. Any interpretation founded on our own private neuroses or on public misconceptions instead of what the other person really meant is an illusion.

An example might be someone seems too familiar when they greet you, so you interpret their behavior as being disrespectful, flirtatious, or nutty when the person is just feeling good because of something that had recently happened. In real life, you usually can’t figure those sorts of illusions out unless they occur with your FIML partner. In real life, that sort of thing occurs many times per day and is compounded by as many people as we deal with. Just being “positive” and “a friend to all” doesn’t solve the problem either because maybe that person actually was being disrespectful or flirtatious or nutty or all of them at once. You will be deluded, to some extent, no matter what you conclude because you have no way of knowing what really happened, what was really in their mind. That is the vague and irresolute reality in which we all live. We deal with that poor level of mutual understanding by emphasizing professional standards, good manners, shared beliefs, and so on. This works well enough in the public sphere but will lead to sorrow in your private life.

A third incident occurred later that evening. As we were getting ready for bed, my partner noticed a car outside stopped near our driveway with its motor running. It was getting late, so she wondered about it. Was someone coming over? Were they turning around? The car was pretty rundown and noisy so it looked maybe a little suspicious. My partner kept watching. After a few minutes, our neighbor’s daughter got out of the car and waved goodbye to the driver. All questions answered. This is another example of how we can usually have our curiosity about visual events satisfied while it is much more difficult to do the same with verbal events.

If you can understand this and notice stuff like this in your own life, you will probably be able to see what the value of FIML is and how and why it works so well.

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