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Human Nature

Change Blindness

by Ron Matsen

Throughout the history of man, philosophers and theologians alike have struggled to understand the complicated nature of mankind. The Psalmist tells us simply that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”.[1] The deeper we search into the physical makeup of life itself, the more we can be truly overwhelmed by the complexity and diversity of life.

The Mystery of the Mind

With all of the awe and wonder surrounding the physical marvels that allow our existence, the one aspect of man that intrigues me the most is the mind of man. The mind is more than our brain. Although our actions are primarily controlled by our brain, there is more to the brain than just orchestrating functions in our body. It is the centre of our intellect; it produces the view of the world we see through our mind’s eye. It has been said that the brain is like a committee of experts sitting in a windowless room. The brain generally operates on 3 levels:

  1. The subconscious mind
  2. The unconscious mind
  3. The conscious mind

The subconscious mind offers automatic control over various functions. This is the “hard-wired” part of our brain. It works with the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) which controls the automatic functions like heart rate, digestion, respiration rate, salivation, and perspiration, maintaining homeostasis in the body, etc.

The unconscious mind is responsible for issuing the pre-planned actions of the body. It manages over 90% of our everyday functions. The huge majority of human everyday life is automatic. We do not need to switch on our consciousness to pick up the coffee cup from the table, while we keep on reading the morning paper, while we keep on listening to a song on the radio. Here we experience the illusion of multitasking.

The unconscious mind processes 200,000 times more information than our conscious mind. It has its memory only partially imprinted by our conscious mind through cognitive processing and practice. It is programmed through a kind of “Neural Imprinting:”

The conscious mind is responsible for our cognitive thinking. It has to make decisions on where we will focus and contemplate while the unconscious mind takes care of everything else. Our conscious mind is fed by our sensory devices (which can be fooled), our memory (which can be flawed), and/or our imagination (which can be inventive). These perceptions form the building blocks of the world we navigate through this giant construct we call reality.

The Bible tells us that our mind needs to be cleansed and renewed. The apostle Paul warned the church in Rome that, “the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”[2] Again Paul instructed, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”[3] To clearly identify and avoid deception we need to sharpen our perception. We literally need to teach our mind how to focus on the things that really matter. Jesus illustrated this by saying, “The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness.”[4]

The Gatekeeper

The mind is the gatekeeper of the heart which is the repository of our deepest held devotion. In fact, the Bible tells us that we should be very careful concerning those things that capture our heart. King Solomon warned, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.”[5] As the gatekeeper, the mind needs to consciously filter the harmful influences of the world.

Experts in the field of human perception tell us that the only place we appear to cognitively operate is where we consciously place our attention. The cognitive mind is the watchtower of our unconscious memory storage. Everything else (our automatic brain reactions) guide us through the daily tasks of living. We naturally suppress information we determine is unnecessary. The more familiar we are with our environment, the more our conscious mind can focus on new information. Our cognitive mind can only address 4–5 pieces of information at any one moment. Notice how credit cards and telephone numbers are generally displayed in groups of four numbers or less. This is because we can only retain new forms of information as small bursts of input.

A Question of Perception

We live in an exciting age for mankind. All of man’s knowledge is just a few clicks away on the internet. Film producers are creating more and more visual experiences to virtually take us anywhere. It would seem that we could almost drown in the sea of multimedia opportunities that surround us every day. The media moguls know this and want to draw your attention to what they have to sell. The question is, how perceptive are we?

Information or Illusion?

Attention diversion is the key to illusion. Discerning the difference between helpful information and harmful illusions is key. It’s all about managing our perceptions. Attention is like mental money; be careful how you spend it.

Illusion is caused by what is referred to as “Change Blindness.” In other words, we only notice change when it occurs within the field of our narrow focus. We do not detect change where you don’t think a change should appear. The pickpocket relies on the victim being distracted.

We are all basically “single-processors” (one function at a time) which means that we will not notice change in the peripheral areas outside of our prime focus. We suffer from a kind of multiprocessing-blindness, or as others call it “in-attentional blindness.” This blindness leaves us vulnerable to illusion, misinformation, and outright deception.

Today, what are the major influences in the world that are constantly trying to gain influence over our heart? What is the greatest source of input into people’s mind today? The answer is entertainment. Entertainment has become the opiate of the masses. From the Coliseum in Rome to the cinemas around the world today, people seem to crave diversion from rather than connection to real life. I constantly see people with their faces looking down at their mobile world rather than looking up to engage the real world they hardly acknowledge. What is the answer to this troubling trend? Is there a survival guide for the soul under siege? Please don’t get me wrong here. I am not advocating that we run and hide in a cave somewhere. The Bible gives us all of the answers we need to safely transit the minefield of the modern media onslaught.

Notes


  1. Psalm 139:14  ↩

  2. Romans 8:7  ↩

  3. Romans 12:2  ↩

  4. Luke 11:34  ↩

  5. Proverbs 4:23  ↩

This article was originally published in the
April 2015 Personal Update NewsJournal.

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