Invisibility for Beginners

Daniel Simons at IdeaFestival 2011. Image: Goeff Oliver Bugbee

Some of you will recall "Invisible Gorilla" author and psychologist Daniel Simons speaking at the IdeaFestival about how we too often fail to see what's in front of our noses. A recent New Yorker piece on invisibility goes into some depth on how it might be possible to bend light waves so as to render an object invisible, as well as the ethical, philosophical and historical dimensions of the subject.

It's worth a few moments of your time. A Beginner's Guide to Invisibility:

People, too, come with perception filters. Modern cognitive science has divvied these up and named them—inattentional blindness (think invisible gorillas), change blindness, confirmation bias, and so forth—but magicians and tricksters have known about them for centuries. The power of turning invisible, the nineteenth-century occultist Eliphas Levi wrote, was, above all, 'that of turning or paralyzing the attention, so that light arrives at the visual organ without exciting the regard of the soul.' His example sounds like a scene from a Marx Brothers movie. 'Let a man,' he wrote, 'who is being pursued by his intending murderers, dart into a side street, return immediately, and advance with perfect calmness toward his pursuers, or let him mix with them and seem intent on the case, and he will certainly make himself invisible.'

"Paralyzing attention" is a pretty good description of what happens when the questions and answers have become too familiar, wouldn't you say?

Stay curious.

Don't forget that Early Bird Festival Passes for IdeaFestival 2015 are now on sale! They won't be this low again.