vase illusion

Ways of Seeing

Seeing is believing … or is it? What you see depends on how you look …

In the familiar illusion above, you see either a vase or two faces nose to nose. This requires no thought or analysis – you simply have a first impression.

Points of View

But appearances can deceive. Some years ago, a Metropolitan Police ad showed a man running up and knocking another to the ground. First impression: he’s up to no good – a mugger caught in the act. But then, with the scene repeated from a different angle, you realise that the ‘mugger’ is really a good guy, running to pull the ‘victim’ away from an accident that’s about to happen.

There is always more than one way of looking at things. What you see may depend on where you are standing … or what position you take.

This can be a cause of misunderstanding … or, if you can embrace other perspectives, it can be a basis for deeper insight and empathy.

Wielding the Knife

When it comes to analytical thinking, awareness of point of view – and of preconceptions and biases – is all the more important.

Pink Lines
Do you recognise this ? Click to check …

The diagram shows how the same thing can appear very different depending on how you decide to look at it.

Whenever you analyse, you start to examine the parts rather than looking at the whole.  What you see, as you dissect the reality in front of you, depends on how you wield the ‘intellectual knife’ – which slice you decide to take through reality.

Slicing and Dicing

You see this when archaeologists dig trenches across a site to take a vertical slice through the strata.  This gives an indication of what has happened over time. But this cross section is only a sample of the site – a simplified model from which conclusions can be drawn.

Similarly, a table of data is just one slice through all the possible numbers that could be used to describe a particular situation. Analysts typically ‘slice and dice’ data to generate insights from multiple perspectives.

In everyday analysis – to support decisions or to justify ideas – how you wield the knife is often guided by common-sense – or perhaps custom and practice – “the way we do things here”. But to generate fresh insight and understanding you have to embrace alternative ways of looking at things.

The Lens of Experience

What we see and the questions we are ask are often limited by experience and language – we tend to see what we have words to express. But we can change our frame of reference and discover areas of meaning that we did not see at first. This often happens with word play – even in corny cracker jokes. There is reward when a hidden dimensions or alternative way of construing the situation is revealed to us.

Finally, if you still think seeing is believing you might explore the strange world of Magic Eye These abstract images, which became popular in the 1990s, demonstrate vividly that we can change our way of seeing. At first sight, the images are no more than abstract patterns yet they reveal hidden pictures when you change your way of seeing.

It’s like looking at a pond – if you change your focus, you can see either what is under the water or a reflection of what is above. There’s always more than one way of seeing.

Jo Ouston  


RockIt is – of course – a stick of Brighton rock … but cut in the unfamiliar lengthwise direction rather than in the normal cross-section view!

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