Monday, January 09, 2006

Believing is Seeing

Copied and pasted from a messageboard thread of mine:

'While cleaning up, I've found myself spending more time watching a television program than actually putting things away. The reason is that this public television program such a revelation and a confirmation.

They're talking about how people learn and how we THINK they learn. We tend to think that seeing is believing, but even people who're shown how to make a bulb light with only the bulb, one wire, and a battery, don't truly BELIEVE that's all that's necessary (including M.I.T. graduates*). They can repeat the words from the lesson, in some cases, but, despite having had hands-on experience, the students held on to the beliefs they had before the lesson.

Instead of believing the teacher's right because they'd seen it was so, they (and "we") tend to "see" things that confirm what we already believe. Anything that contradicts that is rejected as false, some kind of trick or something.

I find this fascinating (and suspect I'll be the only one who does) and believe that this provides insight into other elements of human interaction.

* - to be fair, this assumes that they'd encountered the light bulb circuit situation in their lessons. I think that's a fair assumption, but it IS an assumption, so I wanted to acknowledge that.'

'Originally Posted by Jared_Humpherys
In other words: we only see what we want to believe, and ignore information that contradicts our prior assumptions while embracing any information that supports it?

Pretty much.
They asked a couple students, separately, if they could see an apple in a room that was completely devoid of light. There was no way ANY light could enter the room. The question was, "Will you be able to see the apple?"

Both students thought that, given enough time to adjust, they'd be able to see the apple. One thought you'd only be able to see the outline. The other thought you'd be able to see it, but only in grayscale - no color.

The female student was put in a room with the "host," the lights were turned off, and they asked if she could see the apple. She couldn't, but said after a minute she'd probably be able to. After a minute, she couldn't.

That kinda threw her, but she said she'd probably need about four or five more minutes for her eyes to adjust. After a total of about six minutes, she still couldn't see it.

They asked her what that meant. She said it must mean she was wrong. The host asked a very important question: "Do you REALLY think that or do you think there's some other explanation?" Her response was that she'd probably need a much longer period of adjustment - maybe YEARS, but she was convinced that she'd eventually be able to see the apple, in complete darkness.

Even conclusive evidence didn't change her mind. I doubt she's some strange exception or just far more pig-headed than the average person. She just wasn't moved (enough) by the very profound evidence she was not only told, but that she experienced.

I thought that shit was fascinating. It says something about how we aren't just the blank slates, as children, that we may think. It says that teaching is much more challenging than we ever thought. It says something about what it takes just to convince another human being of something... and why they may not believe even the best evidence.'

'Anyway, the endorsed changing the approach in a few ways. Among them, the students aren't just given the answers. They have to figure them out, often by working together. In addition, they students were told to come up with four different configurations that'd result in the light coming on. This increases the chances that they'll understand why the light comes on, not just that it comes on if a particular KIND of switch and base and color wire and whatever else are hooked together.

It was neat just to watch them figure this stuff out. This makes me wanna be a teacher, again.'

'Originally Posted by Fenris
How old was the student here?

The "apple" students appeared to be around 11-13 years old. Just my guess.

However, the beginning of the program had them asking M.I.T. graduates, still in their gowns, if they could do the bulb/battery/wire thing. They all said "yes," and all of them (except maybe for one) failed.

The host said that anyone who thinks they know something about electricity, but who can't use basic principles to complete that bulb circuit, must not really understand that principle. As a result, anything BUILT upon that principle must not be fully understood... even by M.I.T. graduates.

The fact that they weren't all in electrical fields wasn't much of an issue for me. I think this is something we're all exposed to (although some of them may not have been for a period of years) and might be expected to understand.'

No comments: