Recently I started listening to the podcast RadioLab. Hosted by WNYC (creators of one of the best shows on radio; Freakonomics Radio), this show records and explores interesting and enigmatic explanations of ideas and concepts that we hold so dear, but never thought about. The episode I listened to was about “Colors”; How is it that we can see color? What does our color originate from?
Well, one of the oddities in this story was the observation that the famous poet Homer (of Illiad and Odyssey fame) had no mentions of the color blue in his text. Homer also seemed to de-emphasize the abnormal colors, such as green or red. This might suggest that Homer was color-blind. However, we found that this tendency of not seeing colors like this was universal across the cultures of the time. There were no ancient civilizations who saw the color blue. Did this mean that man eventually “evolved” an ability to see vivid colors?
The evidence doesn’t seem to support it. As long as we have known, we have the “Receptors” that allow us to see these colors. Our biology never changed
Instead, sociologists believe this to be an issue related to cultural trends. If history and data is correct, the Greeks would never have heard of blue. There are no natural colors of blue that exist in nature.
Now, you’d likely yell at me “What about the blue sky? How can we miss that?” And that certainly seems like an obvious answer. However, a scientist tried out a little experiment with his daughter. He happened to be teaching his youngest daughter all of her essential colors. She was an expert at pointing out colors. There was no doubt that she didn’t have any issues. however, there was one catch; the scientist never told his daughter the sky was blue.
Imagine that; not knowing that the sky above your head was blue. It would be a mind-boggling shift in thought to consider that the sky had a color like blue.
So, how did the scientist test this out? what were the implications of not informing the daughter that the sky was blue?
It turns out that when the scientist asked the daughter about the “Blueness” in the sky, she never noticed. She zoned it all out.
Now, a young child is not a pinnacle of evidence. Frankly, she could be the odd one out.
However, I can see how this observation can be true. As I look at the sky out my window, I can see how I could easily tune out the color blue from my understanding of the sky.
The point here is that we tune out things in reality. As I drive on the roads, I tend to tune out the lines on the road that divide me from others. I still obey them, but I no longer need to consciously think about it.
But the worst victim of this lack of notice is everything. Everything has something to it that makes it unique; it’s ALL INTERESTING.
Everything has attributes of interestingness existent within it. The question is whether or not we recognize this interestingness. Too often, we tune it out and just go out around life. But why do we have this tendency of tuning?
Scientists have found that we’re born with this natural ability to tune things out. Our eyes are designed to only see one thing at a time. While our eyes and mind do “notice” other things, we can only actively focus on one thing, whether it our mother’s shirt, our favorite show, or that guy walking along the beach in a Speedo (Scary thought. Shiver), we only see that one thing at a time. This proclivity of seeing one thing at a time is naturally helpful, especially when we have limited interests. We naturally look for that which relates directly to our life. Everything else doesn’t matter.
HOW TO TAKE OUT THE FILTER
This tendency of tuning out get in the way of our ability to learn and master a topic. How are we supposed to overcome this dilemma of interestingness ignorance?
- Open a new door: Do you know how hard it is to find something interesting about a topic if you don’t know a thing about it? I had this friend in school who was obsessed with the game Yu-Gi-Oh. I knew nothing about, and so as I listened to him rant about his tactics and the intricacies of one card type versus another,I become exceptionally bored.
But when I took some time to become acquainted with the rules of the game, I found myself understanding and enjoying more of my friend’s descriptions of the game. So, taking a course in the basic principles and ideas of a topic is often the best way to start thinking and noticing things more.
- Walk with another: What is the best way to notice the intricacies of a topic? Walk with one who understands the intricacies. One of the topics that made little sense to me was psychology and the Myers-Briggs system of personality types. I didn’t see value in it. When a few friends from school showed me how the system worked, I found it far more fascinating. Eventually, I even grew to appreciate the varieties and differentiations in the system as they enjoyed them. I can see the intricate personality differences between an INFP and an ENTP by way of recognizing personality behaviors and trends.