Friday, February 1, 2013

Perception is a funny thing

I spent a bunch of time in Stockholm on business.

Took the opportunity to get thoroughly lost in its many streets a couple of time. Being lost is a precious commodity when you've grown up playing video games (many of which puts you through some serious spatial awareness practice), and have a GPS-equipped cellphone with google maps.

This, getting lost, led me to think a lot about how we perceive direction.

If you ask me which direction I would be facing, were I located in some other room I've previously visited in a building far away, perhaps even in another city, I would give you an answer, and I would feel it was correct. I'm of course most likely wrong about the answer, but it seems our brains are wired to accept cues like door, window and furniture placement in deciding which direction you're facing.

Assuming we evolved not really moving very far, I guess such fixed cues such as mountain ranges and rivers would be relevant in instinctively calculating the direction we're facing. Could be that the brain is still accepting that type of input and deeming it unduly accurate.

Furthermore, perception of motion is also peculiar. I sometimes play an amusing little game with my motion perception. When I'm in a taxi-ing airplane or similar, I close my eyes and picture myself moving backwards, and suddenly, it feels like the plane is moving in the opposite direction. As it's physically impossible to feel motionperception of moving comes from the vessel bumping around perpendicular to the direction of motionour perception of motion in the lack of visual cues is going to be necessarily bistable. This naturally doesn't work in an accelerating vessel, as acceleration is directly perceivable.