Seeing the Gorillas

I’m in the process of rereading Richard Tarnas’s Cosmos And Psyche as part of my ongoing research into the effects of world view and epistemology on alternate reality and social innovation game design.  Early on in his book, Tarnas identifies the two major Western paradigms of history: the first sees history as an “epic narrative of human progress” from ignorance to insight, to put it bluntly.  The second sees history as a tragic narrative in which human beings have progressively lost touch with the spiritual underpinnings of the world, have descended from an existence rich in innate meaning to one essential devoid of it.  Tarnas also writes of a third and more contemporary paradigm.  In this one, history has no intrinsic meaning, but only the meaning that human beings project onto it, a sort of Kantian perspective.  He concludes that all three of these narratives are only partial truths, and really, the three together give a fuller, though not even close to the fullest, reality.  In my mind, each of these world views is like an alternate reality creation technology that we continually and unconsciously employ and reify through our zombie-like performance of habitual missions of thinking, feeling, and action.

Yesterday, as I was trolling the contemporary zeitgeist by listening to NPR, I heard a segment on an “Attention Scientist” who studied how radiologists read x-rays.  He noticed in these doctors’  readings the whole “Inuits-recognizing-fifty-different-types-of-snow” phenomenon.  Cancer nodules which this scientist could not see, the radiologists quite clearly could.  This scientist then devised an experiment to test whether the attention of the radiologists was so focused on a particular perceptual field that it was unable to perceive very well or at all beyond that field.  In the experiment he superimposed a matchbox-sized image of a gorilla on a series of x-rays and asked some radiologists to look for signs of cancer on the x-rays.  As you might guess, 83% of the radiologists did not see the gorilla on the x-ray.  In other words, for the vast majority of the radiologist, the gorilla was essentially not there.  I bring up this example in the context of Tarnas’s explication of dominant world views to raise the following two questions, the first for everyone, the second more for myself:  Like radiologists, how much of the world are we missing because of our limited sphere of attention, our limited world view, our alternate reality creation technology?  And the second question:  How can I design, and here I’m coining a term, “expanded reality missions” that allow us to see the gorillas?

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