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…ambiguity is pervasive; but the conscious experience of ambiguity is quite rare. [Baar]

The illusion to your left has eight different perspectives or ways of delineating relative positions. Some people with study will be able to see all eight perspective and others will not. Even those who can see the different views will have trouble holding some in mind and getting them to come to mind when they want to evoke them. In some ways, this illusion, because of its multiple perspectives, provides the best concrete example of what lay people refer to as personality. The personality of an individual person is based on the attitudes and behaviors that they convey to others in various situations. Some attitudes and behaviors will only become apparent in certain situations, while others will be fairly obvious at all times.

The difference between the illusion and life, is that the illusions is much less complex. “…a structure such as the cerebral cortex is indeed immensely complex, containing by recent estimates 55,000,000,000 neurons, each firing off an electrochemical pulse 40 – 1000 times per second, with rich subcortical and contralateral connections, and all apparently active at the same time” (Montcastle, 1978). While the illusion has eight perspectives, people obviously have many more. People create mental representations of almost everything they experiences, and these mental representations are combined and separated regularly. Thus even in the most rigid personality, we would have more than eight perspectives, although a rigid person would have fewer perspectives than a flexible person. Rigid people tend to group experiences into very strong views [beliefs] and hold to those perspectives despite evidence to the contrary.

… established presuppositions tend to become unconscious. Whatever we believe with absolute certainty we tend to take for granted. ….We lose sight of the fact that alternatives to our stable presuppositions can be entertained. [Baar]

Despite [or perhaps because of] the difference in complexity, the use of the illusion to make a point, may be helpful. Depending on the perspective you are seeing at a given time and how much emotional value you give to it; you can take positions. For example, I might talk about placing something upon the platform made by the stack of cubes that I see in the illusion. And most of you might immediately know what I am talking about. On the other hand I might see only the six-pointed star and be quite upset that many of you don’t notice it. Depending upon whether my perspective matches what most of you happen to be seeing at the moment, I might be considered “normal” or “odd”.

In fact, simple reference points can make communication quite ambiguous. A reference to a ‘bank’, without any other context may not be understood. Many will place that term within the context of finance, while a simple contextual reference to water might change the meaning significantly. Similarly we can prime our linguistic understanding by using words such as volume or arrest before the word ‘book”. Such priming effects occur in sensation, perception and comprehension and are pervasive. Some of you may not have seen the star and/or the stacked cubes before it was brought to your attention. In fact, it has been suggested that without priming [context], we cannot not even experience.

‘It seems that the human mind has first to construct forms independently before we can find them in things …knowledge cannot spring from experience alone, but only from a comparison of the inventions of the intellect with observed facts.’ –Albert Einstein [1949]

We continually utilize a host of such contextual processes, without experiencing them as conscious experiences. The mental representations that are conceptual abstractions provide the basis upon which we experience. People and personalities have many facets and much of human behavior is unpredictable. However, certain traits of perspective or ways of contextualizing may be observed in individuals over time and form a paradigm or world perspective, or if we may, a personality. To make the point as clearly as possible we will offer these traits simplistically and in the extreme. Some people have sad, fearful, angry paradigms or the converse. Thus we refer to people as being hostile or depressed. What we are really saying is that they have so absorbed a single perspective, that they cannot see the star for the cubes, much less see other perspectives. It does no good to argue with them about an experience since their frame of reference or perspective is on that which we do not understand. What is more, they often don’t even experience what you are trying to say. Until we enter into their perspective or ‘inner logic’, communication is inhibited if not extinct.

Each of us has these perspectives and tend to fall into a habitual ways of experiencing the world. Most of us can see more than one of the eight perspectives of the illusion, although without priming, we may miss some. In order to develop our own creativity, we find that we need to find ways to experience the world from new perspectives. The gurus of creative thinking such as de Bono and Nierenberg all provide tools to help you shift perspective. De Bono’s lateral thinking and thinking hats deliberately try to help the person view the experience differently. We can all benefit from an expansion of our thinking perspectives both creatively and attitudenally. Seeking the humor in every situation no matter how traumatic is an exercise in changing both perspective and personality. Seeking an understanding of the other persons’ emotional status [empathetic thinking] changes perspective – ‘walk a mile in their shoes”. Challenging our own position and actively debating against it can help to shape new experiences.

When we talk about the development of the human mind we are talking about processes of self-transformation: processes by which we turn ourselves into different beings. However, in stressing self-transformation we should never forget that this is not a solitary effort. We are dependent in the most crucial ways on the help of others. And others may hinder or constrain us also. [Donaldson]

We have created who we are by the perspective groups or paradigms that we have adopted. The cliché of the brothers [same genes] who grow up in “Hells Kitchen” [same environment] and one becomes a cop and one becomes a thief epitomizes a difference in perspective. The good news is that we now understand how these perspectives interactively develop and how they can be influenced. The bad news is that we continue to react to the perspective of others from our own perspectives. If we believe that people with problems in living are 1) chemically imbalanced, 2) bad people, 3) irritating, or 4) all of the above we probably cannot help them. For if they are chemically imbalanced, we must drug them; if bad, we must punish them, and if they are irritating, we must put them away from us.

…paradigms are conceptual contexts. If one tried to make a paradigm conscious, one could only make one aspect of it conscious at any one time because of the limited capacity of consciousness. But typically paradigm-differences between two groups of scientists involves not just one, but many different aspects of the mental framework simultaneously. [Baar]


“I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.

Leo Tolstoy [As Reported by James Gleick, 1987]