Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Editing Reality

Daniel Pink just pointed to an article from Wired magazine called Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up by Jonah Lehrer. 
(T)he real reason researchers automatically assume that every unexpected result is a stupid mistake .. is rooted in the way the human brain works... we carefully edit our reality, searching for evidence that confirms what we already believe. Although we pretend we’re empiricists — our views dictated by nothing but the facts — we’re actually blinkered, especially when it comes to information that contradicts our theories. The problem with science, then, isn’t that most experiments fail — it’s that most failures are ignored.
When you read it, replace "science" with "fiber art." Sometimes we approach our work with assumptions that have us editing out possibilities before they're even considered. Now that's a tragedy. Just something to think about during your next critique.


  1. I think many fibre artists have a problem seeing success, rather than ignoring failure. If something isn't what they intended, the idealised work-to-be in their minds, they are disappointed and discouraged. That's why leaving something out of sight and going back later can be useful - you let go (forget!) your original intention and are more likely to see the actual piece in front of you.

  2. Good point. Taking time for an idea or a piece to "incubate" makes a huge difference when you don't see the forest for the trees. What I found interesting in the article was how our brains actually delete the information. It sounds like an almost instant response.

    "But there’s another region of the brain that can be activated as we go about editing reality. It’s called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, or DLPFC. It’s located just behind the forehead and is one of the last brain areas to develop in young adults. It plays a crucial role in suppressing so-called unwanted representations, getting rid of those thoughts that don’t square with our preconceptions...(When test subjects saw a video that challended their perceptions) their DLPFCs kicked into gear and they quickly deleted the image from their consciousness. In most contexts, this act of editing is an essential cognitive skill. (When the DLPFC is damaged, people often struggle to pay attention, since they can’t filter out irrelevant stimuli.) However, when it comes to noticing anomalies, an efficient prefrontal cortex can actually be a serious liability. The DLPFC is constantly censoring the world, erasing facts from our experience."

    Now I'm wondering how to come up with an exercise for students that builds awareness of this response and how to overcome it in a positive way. Hmm.


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