Archived Articles
Is Seeing Believing?
or Limited Awareness

Have you ever wondered why people who witness the same event can give such varied descriptions of what they have seen?  Eye witness testimonies can be so very different from each other, even when taken immediately after the incident.  Sometimes I wonder at the legitimacy of our criminal courts.  Can they really determine the truth?  What is truth?  Is truth unchanging law?  Can even science prove truth?  How certain can anyone be of the truth or accuracy of even our own personal experience?

Considering these questions, you might also be questioning the ability or limits of the human mind or of your own mind in particular.  Can this be tested?  In fact, it can be.  Have you ever heard of an awareness test?  They are very easily found on the Internet.  They are simple and take only a minute or two.  If you have never taken one, try this awareness test, then return to this page. 

How did you do?  That test was conducted by Daniel Simons, a professor in the Department of Psychology and the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois and Chris Chobris.  This research explores the limits of our own minds and the reasons why we often are unaware of our limits. Professor Simons is an accomplished author and teaches classes in the field of visual cognition at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. 

So what does an awareness test teach us?  Through years of research, Dr. Simons has determined that 90% of us think we see whatever is in front of our eyes.  We believe that if something distinctive or important comes before us we will most surely notice it.  But his research also shows that only about 50% of us actually do.  Time and time again, he has shown that looking is not the same as seeing. 

You could probably give numerous personal examples.  Think about this.  How many times have you searched and searched for something simple like your keys only to find them in a place you have already checked – maybe several times?  It happens all the time in our everyday lives.  So why don’t we see things that are right in front of us? 

Simon’s research shows that beyond the physical ability of the eye, we have to focus attention on something in order to see it.  In our busy and technological world we are often overstimulated.  It may seem like a very healthy or even necessary survival technique to tune out much of what is going on around us.  There is a risk in that!  We are likely filtering out something we really want to see or that would be important to see.  That filtering could have all kinds of consequences in our daily lives. 

Whether considering your visual world or a taking broader, more holistic perspective looking at your whole world view (physically, intellectually, financially, spiritually, emotionally), seriously ask yourself these questions.  What is right in front of me that I am missing?  What is being filtered out without my notice?  What am I filtering out intentionally by simply not focusing attention on it?  What are the consequences of this lack of attention? 

Follow this link to learn more or to hear Professor Simons explain his work on visual cognition using the invisible gorilla.