[LMB] OT: Change blindness

Peter Hews Peterhews at protonmail.com
Sat Oct 9 12:16:33 BST 2021


"Change blindness" is often invoked in paranormal works to explain why people don't notice weird stuff around them. In the webcomic “El Goonish Shive” a shape-shifter demonstrates it by repeatedly changing her hair colour when people look away, and when they look back they don't realise she was a different colour before.

But I wasn't sure it was real until it happened to me. Last Spring we ordered a load of firewood that came in a couple of big pallet crates, and the owner collected one of the empty crates but took his time coming back for the other. So I heaved it to one side of the carport and worked round it.

Last week we were working out how much wood we needed for this Winter, and I couldn't remember if those crates had been one cubic metre or one and a half, and I reflected that I could measure the one in the carport to find out. After the conversation my mind was still on it when I went down to the car, and I realised with a jolt that the crate wasn't there.

When I ran through my memory I realised it had been gone for many weeks. The owner must have come for it when I was out, and I simply didn't notice. All that time I'd actually been turning my car around in the space the crate had previously cluttered up, and not consciously registered the change until I had a reason to look for it. So yes, change blindness is real, and it can happen to anyone.

(Or maybe anyone. When I told my wife, she said “Of course, I saw it had gone, I thought you had too.” Is change blindness a man thing, or is she just smarter than me?)

Peter Hews

Oh better far to live and die under the brave black flag I fly,
Than play a sanctimonious part with a pirate head and a pirate heart.

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