Feb 27, 2015

Lessons From a Dress...

You guys. The dress.

Got it here
Certainly by now you've seen it, at least if you are on Facebook or Reddit or HuffPost. It was one of the two viral-est stories in my feed yesterday, along with the runaway llamas (shout out to Arizona!).

It's ridiculous, really. Someone posted a phone photo of the dress, and said there was great debate amongst friends as to whether it was white & gold or black & blue, and then the rest of the internet took up teams to try to gain consensus (or at least to form factions; either-or).

Now, right away I saw white & gold. I took my cues from the back-lit surroundings and assumed it was in the shadows, hence the dimmed colors. I asked The Littler One, and he agreed that it was white & gold. There was also the slightest amount of irritated condescension in his voice as he asked, "Why are you asking me this?" as if I should know by now that he is really and truly solid on his colors. So we joined #TeamWhiteGold.

Then of course there were copious discussions and articles and so on, which made me go crosseyed until I found an article that actually answered the question. And I was very pleased indeed that I was right, that the dress was white & gold.

This all happened in the space of about 20 minutes last night, and by the time I went to bed I was beginning to see how the dress debate was going to take over much of Facebook for a while, and I sighed a little sigh of anticipatory boredom, and lamented all the sheeple in this world, and focused my attention on more interesting distractions (Yes, I realize I'm devoting an entire blog post to this "sheeple-y" topic. Thank you for noticing that).

I thought about the factors that go into our perceptions of things. I mean, Big Groups of People fight about how the other Side is wrong all the time, even over issues that many will agree are open to interpretation. When we are honest, we admit that it is possible to look at things differently from each other, and still maybe not reach a right and correct answer. And here was this dress giving us a concrete example of not only seeing things differently than each other, but somehow scientifically, physically SEEING actual objects differently than others would. I don't know much about eye anatomy, but I know it has to do with differences in our eyes and brains, and color wavelengths, and some stuff about chromatic bias and whatnot. And as far as I can tell, it truly is just differences, and not a matter of higher or lower functioning.

I thought it was a good & healthy thing to be confronted with, and I thought it was cool that something as lighthearted and simple as a bit of fashion could teach us something about overarching worldviews.

But wait...there's more.

This morning I woke to see that the dress had indeed taken over the internet. I rolled my eyes good-naturedly and scrolled right on by most of the "catch-up" posts of people who had joined the phenomenon more recently than I. I posted a deep thought on a friend's wall about the whole seeing-things-differently idea, and I congratulated myself for rising above the sheeple and reaching transcendence about the dress (and also for having superior rods & cones that could perceive the actual color of the dress, unlike some people).

And then.

Then Huffington Post published an article about the dress. And they found the person who took the original photo to begin with. And they found the actual company that made the actual dress, and posted a screen grab of the dress on that company's website. And guess what?

That's right, the dress is black and blue. For realsies. Whatever I was reading before, that said it was actually white and gold, was a bunch of nonsense.

And guess what else? My inner tone shifted ever so slightly. When I thought I knew I was right, I was thinking "Oh, how interesting that we all see the dress differently. I'm so glad my rods & cones work better than some." When I found out the verifiable truth, I shifted a little to "Dude, chromatic bias and my rods & cones really got me on this one."

Notice--even though I was wrong--that I still decided my rods & cones worked just fine (and my eye doctor would agree--they really do), whereas when I thought I was right, it was most certainly because of superior functioning on my part.  It turns out there's a difference between agreeing to disagree while retaining a bit of irritated condescension (who, me??), and agreeing to disagree and staying open to the possibility (or outright fact) that you're wrong. I mean, maybe there's room for both, but I certainly learned a little bit from my own experience here.

That said, I don't want to paint too broad a picture. I'm not suggesting overarching moral relativism, or the absence of truth, or anything like that. But I do think it's a good and healthy thing to leave room for humility and extend grace to those of differing opinions, and be aware that sometimes you might go to bed one night thinking one thing, and then read an article the next morning and realize everything you thought about that thing is fully and completely wrong.

As for my own perceptions, the more I looked at the picture within the context of the truth, the more I started to see the blue & black. It took some doing, along with looking at some of the images where the settings were adjusted and/or corrected, and looking at them on my computer screen instead of my phone, but I was finally able to see the blue (looking much lighter than its actual royal color) and the black (that was looking way out of whack due to the effect of the overhead lighting on the phone camera, but was still visible as black).

(And now, of course, I can hardly see anything except blue & black, or at least blue & brown. Cuz our brains can really mess with us.)

So keep that in mind the next time you see a phone photo of a dress of dubious color. Or, you know, if you're involved in a friendly debate that begins to get heated. No matter how much you see white & gold, there's quite possibly a chance that things are blue & black.

Got it here

You're welcome...

1 comment:

Bonnie Lyn Smith said...

This was exactly the kind of brain stretching I needed this evening! Thank you! I had not participated in this phenomenon but was curious what it all was about, but I appreciate your greater lesson. And "for realsies" needs to jump back into my vocabulary! :)