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January 1, 2011

3

We Make Mistakes and Don’t Even Know It

by Peter Skillen

We go through the world observing and interpreting, making decisions based on what we see and experience. But many of those observations and interpretations are wrong. Plain and simple. Wrong. But we carry on as if we are right. In fact, we don’t even know we are wrong. So we aren’t aware that we have misread something. Is this a problem?

…we don’t even know we are wrong.

I have been reading Why We Make Mistakes by Joseph T. Hallinan. He has made me think about this some more and to ponder the implications for our students/youth in particular. How might we address these issues with students to increase their awareness, their mindfulness. Hallinan gives the classic example of the ‘table top’ illusion.

These table tops are identical. Don’t believe me? Measure it. Print it out and cut it up. Or, take them to PhotoShop and play around.

“Turning the Tables” was created by Stanford professor, Roger N. Shepard. It demonstrates “not only that our perceptual machinery is deeply entrenched in our nervous system but that its operation is totally automatic”.  So we can’t even choose to see it for what it is – a bunch of lines in ‘flatworld’* – but we automatically impose our meaning from the real 3D world on it. Our brain circuitry is triggered to see the tables in three dimensions. Hallinan also suggests that even worse, we don’t even know we’ve been tricked. We’ve made an error – but we don’t know we’ve made one.

…we can’t even choose to see it for what it is.

Should kids know about this? I sure think so. How can kids ‘be in charge of their own learning’ if they are not aware of automatic and hidden errors. This looks to me like another reason to focus on helping kids to learn to be mindful – to be aware of their brains and how they work.

Thoughts appreciated.

peter

* Any Big Bang Theory fans out there?

Resources

http://www.moillusions.com/2006/05/table-tops-optical-illusion.html

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jan 6 2011

    I love this post! When I look at those two tables I’m made really aware of my own spatial challenges…amazing! LOL

    I think it’s a good practice to make students aware of some errors, not in the fashion where we would ‘tell them’ everything, but as you suggest, making them more mindful of the way their brains work and more observant of their own thinking.

    Viewing mistakes and errors as positive and inevitable (even preferable) steps in the learning process can only be a good thing imho!

    Reply

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