Have you ever heard a noise you couldn't identify? Seen a shadowy something that was there and then gone? As most of us are wont to do, you most likely put it down to imagination, or something you ate, or just assumed it was some ordinary thing, plopping it down in some experiential category we're all accustomed to. A car door. The neighbor's dog. The wind. Was it really the wind? Are you certain?
Your brain is constantly being bombarded with a huge amount of information from your senses, far more than it can actually process. So, it relies on a bunch of calculating tricks to "fill in" the world you see around you. As you might surmise, it tends to fill that world in according to your previous perceptions and experience of how the world works. Illusionists have been relying on this blind spot in the mind for centuries. It will even discard information that it can't make fit, so that we sometimes literally don't see what's right in front of us. I learned about this from a strange source: humming birds.
Until we put up a feeder, I'd never seen a hummingbird in the flesh. I'd seen pictures, of course, but never a live one. Then one year we decided to put up a hummingbird feeder. The birds showed up immediately. They're very aggressive little things, constantly fighting among themselves, they'll even call and tap at the windows when the feeder is empty. Some will try to take your hair for their nests. While it's still attached to your head.
The weird part is, they'd always been there. I realized that until I had learned what they look like and sound like, my brain had been passing them off as a bee buzzing by, or a cricket chirping (their calls sound a little like a high pitched cricket), or a leaf on a twig. I literally hadn't been seeing them. I had this confirmed several times when I started pointing the birds out to other people in various places, such as the local garden center. Some people literally could not see the bird unless the bird moved when I was pointing at it.
I started second guessing myself after this, and it has been rewarding. While at college, I spotted a small animal running from bush to bush. I pointed it out to a couple of people, who replied with something like, "yeah, there are lots of squirrels around here." I suggested they look again, because what I was seeing was a rare California Black Footed Ferret.
On a darker note, a few years ago, while on the freeway, I happened to look up into a small canyon in the hills overlooking the freeway just outside of town, and saw a large black animal strolling along a trail. My mind said "dog", but something wasn't right about that. The gait was odd, the head too big, legs too short, tail too long. On the second look I found myself staring at a black phase jaguar. Thinking that someone had let their exotic pet escape, I called the sheriff's office as soon as I got home. Their response was predictably useless. Thanks for calling, we'll check it out, snicker snicker. A couple of years later, I did a little research into big cats for unrelated reasons, and found out that the jaguar's original range extended clear into central California, and through most of the Southwest. Now that ranchers aren't shooting them anymore, the cats are moving back into their old range. There are even breeding populations in Texas. People mistake their kills and tracks for those of mountain lions.
So, when that something goes bump, perhaps we should make it a habit to take the time for a second look. The next time you see a dark shape under the tree in your front yard, it may be best not to assume the neighbor's dog has jumped the fence again.
I am, and have always been, unafraid to voice my opinions. In fact I believe everyone needs to vent now and then, and we all have a God given right to do so. I despise willful ignorance and intellectual dishonesty, and take a perhaps perverse pleasure in puncturing the politically correct proclamations of those who have anointed themselves as our betters. I could be described as a contrarian and a bit of a curmudgeon, having now reached an age at which those labels no longer sound odd. Not everything I'll address here will be controversial. In fact, I would rather keep that sort of thing somewhat limited (and it should surprise no one that I probably won't succeed in doing so). We already have our fill of whining talking heads on the 'net. However, if you are easily offended or thin skinned, you might want to skip this blog. You have been warned.