My Cheated Eyes

Kalamazoo College Psychology Professor Siu-Lan Tan in her officeBelieving is not seeing–especially at the movies. Siu-Lan Tan, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Kalamazoo College and a very popular blogger for Psychology Today and Oxford University Press (What Shapes Film: Elements of the Cinematic Experience and More), recently wrote two interesting pieces on perception … or rather, perhaps, misperception. The most fundamental illusion of the movies is obvious (except this reader never realized it until he read Siu-Lan’s blog), and that is the illusion of motion. Pictures don’t move even though things seem to move in the movies that I watch. From that revelation the blog moves (no pun intended) to differences in perception among different animals (an outcome of natural selection driven by survival). Take birds. Their perception has evolved to be much more sensitive to moving stimuli (compared to humans). Good for snatching prey, good for avoiding becoming prey, and good for safe high-speed landings into small nests. Not so good for a summer flick date night. That explains why Siu-Lan titled that blog: Why You Can’t Take a Pigeon to the Movies: A bird’s eye view of film. Not long after she wrote that mind-bending delight, Siu-Lan posted a second blog on the subject of perception–this one focused on a viral music video by the band OK Go. The title of that piece: Is the Writing on the Wall? A musical tribute to Gestalt psychologists. Turns out the writing was NOT on the wall (though you could have–and did–fool me). Siu-Lan skillfully connects the video’s visuals with the song’s words (I needed someone to do that because I was too busy following the moving–but, remember not really moving–pictures to even register the lyrics. Siu-Lan writes: “The music is not just an accompaniment to the collage of optical illusions and paradoxes, but an integral part of the work. The song is about miscommunication that can go on in a relationship. (Or is the idea of two people really ‘getting each other’ merely an illusion?)” Hmmmm. Anyway, check out both posts. You gotta see the OK Go video. Of course, you won’t be seeing what you’re seeing.