Was I only dreaming?

Last night I had the wierdest experience. I woke up in the early hours of the morning, wakened by a disturbing moment in a fairly vivid dream (the contents of which are not important for this story). My throat was parched, and I needed a glass of water. I knew I had an empty glass next to my bed on the bedside table, and so, not wanting to switch on a light and waken completely, I stumbled out of bed and peered through my bleary eyes into the pitch darkness of the hotel room, trying to find the glass.

I saw the shadowy outline of the glass exactly where I thought I had left it as I went to bed, and reached for it. But it wasn’t there. The shadowy circle that I thought had been the glass immediately shifted a few inches to the right. I reached for it again. It wasn’t there either. Now I became half aware that my brain was telling me where it thought the glass was, rather than actually showing me what was on the table. I ignored what I thought I could see, and swept my hands across the table until I found the actual glass.

OK, so this was not a science experiment. But it did remind me of a TED video I watched recently on optical illusions and why we need to be carefully of thinking we can know anything objectively and how we learn. Check out Beau Lotto on Optical Illusions. You can also see another example of an illusion here. Finally, there is just a fun look at optical illusions here.

When we are developing strategies and looking at the world around us, we need to be careful not to allow our brains to tell us what it thinks we want to see there. It happens all the time. Watch the TED videos – they’ll amaze (and humble) you. Then, check out our presentation on “Seeing the world through other people’s eyes“.

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