Sunday, March 10, 2013

Do you see?


I recently read The Invisible Gorilla, a fascinating book by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. The author discusses a study done in 1975 and repeated many times since which was designed to inform the researchers about how the brain processes and stores information. The study went like this. Participants were brought into a room to view a video. They were told that people on the screen would be throwing a ball back and forth. The participants were then told that they were to count the number of times the ball was thrown back and forth. However, at the end of the study the participants were asked how many of them saw the gorilla.

While the ball was being passed back and forth a person in a gorilla suit entered, walked from one side to the other side of the screen and exited. About 50% percent of the individuals did not recall seeing the person in the gorilla suit. The participants were then shown the tape again after which all of the participants saw the gorilla. While debriefing the events, those that saw the gorilla pass were convinced the other people were lying or crazy, while those who did not see the gorilla were convinced that somehow the tapes were switched and it was a hoax.

The book continues with additional studies and research including the same study done years later which was supplemented with sophisticated eye-tracking technology. Using this technology the researchers were able to view where on the screen the participants were looking. In this way, they were able to answer an additional question: did those participants who did not recall seeing the gorilla actually look at the gorilla? The answer? Yes. While the results were similar to the original study with about half the people reporting to have not seen the gorilla, everyone actually spent about half a second looking at the gorilla.

The author makes the point over and over with different studies that our brains don't work the way we think they do. We aren't walking around with video recorders in our heads, subconsciously recording every detail. We don't have untapped capacity waiting to be unlocked if only there were a certain combination of brain exercises. No, the study findings indicate that our brains look for patterns - and they do it really well. Our brains look for faces and will attempt to find a face sometimes in things that are not faces, including images burnt on toast. Further, the more our brains are trained to recognize certain patterns the more they see the pattern. And this scientific fact brings me to a spiritual thought.

Many people go through their lives not seeing God at work. Whether in a relationship, a particular event or circumstance, or even a broad arc of an individual's life and development, they just aren't looking for God. And it's not because God isn't there. No, he is active and always moving and if we were to look for him, he would be seen plainly. But for many people, they aren't told to look for him. The Bible asks the question "how will they know if no one tells them?" (Romans 10:14). The Bible also confirms a promise that God will be found if we seek him and that he is not far from any one of us (Acts 17:27, 1 Chronicles 28:9). That's all great news for us!

We can often be like the participants who miss the obvious because we haven't attuned our spiritual eyes to see. We glance at the obvious, don't give it a thought and in the process miss something profound. But if we were to look, if we were to open our eyes, if we were to train ourselves to recognize the pattern, God is at work all around us. Or perhaps you have an opportunity to tell someone else and show them what you see.

So the question is - do you see?

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