It All Depends on What You See

Back in the 1970s, when I was an undergraduate psychology student, I took the basic courses, where I learned about the nervous system and “dry” stuff like how the sodium and potassium balance in a nerve cell influences whether it “fires” or not. I taught rats to press levers and run around in mazes for little food pellets and studied the scientific method as it applied to the “soft” social sciences. But my primary interest was in the development of self-esteem and human to human interaction—social psychology.

So when I looked at the list of courses my faculty advisor told me I had to take and saw the class called “Sensation and Perception” on it, I sighed. What in the world did the way rods and cones worked in our eyes have to do with anything? Why should it matter to me whether depth perception and concepts like size constancy were inborn or learned?

Of course, I registered for the class, albeit begrudgingly. At least, I thought, the class would be taught by Dr. Rogers, the professor I’d taken “Statistics” from—I’d loved that class and he’d been really good at explaining how random sampling and central tendencies and the normal curve had to do with the measurement of human behavior.

As it turned out, he was also quite good at planting the seeds that would ultimately inform my approach to working with everyone from stress management clients to corporate executives tasked with strategic decision-making. What we think we see has an awful lot to do with what we think we know and choose to do, and so does what we don’t see. The great thing about perception is that virtually everybody has a different one—not necessarily right or wrong, just different. The tragedy of perception is that people are often hurt, maimed, even killed because of what we don’t see.

When I saw this photograph on Facebook, I was reminded of a group of “illusions” I’ve used with various groups to demonstrate how two people can look at something and see very different things, and yet both be right. Once you see both perspectives, you can’t go back. And yet, I think that’s called growth.

Maybe, just maybe, if we could look at life, and realize that we don’t always see all that is right in front of us, we could listen to each other and devise rich, effective, enduring solutions for everyone.


Here are a few examples, beginning with the photograph borrowed from Facebook:

Straight ahead or profile?


Hag or young girl?


Three legs or two?


Bunch of blocks or the word “LIFT”?


It all depends on what you see…

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