Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Difference In Perception

By Eilis Flynn

One of my favorite cable shows is Perception, about a crime-solving paranoid schizophrenic neuroscientist college professor (whew!) working as a consultant with the FBI. It’s on TNT, and it stars Eric McCormack and Rachael Leigh Cook. Someone commented that it’s a little bit Beautiful Mind, which is fair, because our hero is by his own admission (and everyone else’s) mentally ill. He even has two sidekicks, one of whom is real (a former student of his, now an FBI agent, played by Rachael Leigh Cook) and the other of whom is not (a former girlfriend, who really wasn’t, but someone our hero created from a barely remembered memory, played by Kelly Rowan). Our hero, whose name is Daniel Pierce, is supposed to be on meds to control the delusions, but often doesn’t take them, and that’s when a lot of the stories take a lot of depth and color. Of course, the delusions that result—from someone wearing an alligator costume to World War II soldiers to old-time baseball players—help Pierce solve the crime of the day.

The episode I was watching recently (okay, I was watching more than one, since the new episodes are starting next month and I was getting caught up) covered the topic of inattentional blindness, making the question of if you’re not paying attention, did you really see it? According to Wikipedia, inattentional blindness is the failure to notice something unexpected in your field of vision when you’re taking care of other tasks that require your attention. It’s not that you couldn’t see it; it’s that you were distracted. Too much to pay attention to, and the mind has to focus somewhere.

There’s a test that researchers use to study this particular phenomenon referred to as the “invisible gorilla” test, in which people are asked to complete a task while something unexpected is sprung on them, and then those people are asked if they noticed anything out of the ordinary during the task. The episode of Perception used a variation of this for a murder that takes place during the period of distraction (and using someone dressed up in an alligator suit instead of a gorilla suit), eventually leading to a serial killer. Anyone who’s ever had to answer the phone while answering the door and fending off a persistent person (child or adult who should be whapped over the head) will tell you that you can’t do it all, not at once, at least. 

I keep thinking about the drivers who insist on using their cellphones as they’re driving (I’ve been known to yell for them to hang up the phone, and none too politely, and sometimes from the bus I’m on)(this is a source of great amusement for many who know me, for some mysterious reason), causing harm to themselves or others. It’s all too common, and even illegal in a number of places, but I can’t help but let my mind wander about the possibilities. What if when your mind wanders during these periods of displaced perception, you actually go somewhere else?

Think about that. What if your mind is truly elsewhere?

Isn’t letting your mind wander a wonderful thing sometimes? The possibilities are endless!

Eilis Flynn can be found to argue with at Facebook, Twitter, or at her website at If you’re looking for an editor, you can find her at as Elizabeth Flynn. Either way, you’ll find her online somewhere!