The husband’s lies were so relentless over time that the wife began to doubt her own understanding of events. Even though she saw it with her own eyes.
When I heard this, words disappeared for me… how is it possible that this woman would doubt something she experienced?
So I started digging a bit… and this is some of what I found.
I came across something called “gyroscopic precession,” as it relates to a motorcyclist. The simple example of this scientific phenomenon is a spinning toy top. This same science is unnatural to the human body, so when driving a motorcycle, it’s necessary to learn. As I understand it, it’s partially to do with perception.
“ …fact about motorcycle steering: the bike goes wherever your gaze is focused… if your eyes lock on some hazard in the road, you will surely hit it. It is a reliable fact, and it reveals something deep about the ‘intentionality’ of our prereflective sensorimotor negotiation of the world… Our gaze and our locomotion are connected in ways that work for us, and we don’t have to think about it. But this accomplished integration becomes a liability when riding a motorcycle, and must be deliberately short-circuited. You have to learn to unlock your eyes as quickly as possible from every hazard, and instead look where you want to go...” ~ Matt Crawford
Though I have no intention of ever hopping on to a motorcycle, the whole concept was fascinating to me. Because then Crawford connects all this to the skill of picking details out of wide array of “true facts” in order to choose the next action – like firefighters or police officers - people in high-energy situations that have to make split second decisions.
Which brings us to how we come to know things: experientially or objectively.
One way of explaining the difference between the two, is distance. Experiential knowledge is, as it sounds, an outcome of understanding through the experience of living it. Objective knowledge, while it may be valid, is distanced from the actual experience of living it.
Like anything else, there is a skill to making decisions based on the balance of both experiential and objective knowledge. Emergency rescuers are expertly skilled at reading the signs of situation so in a split second, they know the next action to take.
Ok. But this still didn’t explain to me how the woman was able to cognitively orient herself to believe something untrue about a situation she witnessed.
Until we look at the role language plays in perception.
Like stars in the sky, words help orient us. They help shape our understanding of something sensually experienced by the entire body. And collaboration between our words about the moment and others’ words about that same moment feed into the end story that is created, and ultimately believed.
What you have in any given circumstance, are innumerable facts. So, when something seemingly outrageous occurs right under our nose, we wonder how we “missed the signs” leading up to that event.
We didn’t. All the information we needed to foresee the event was there the whole time. If we missed it, it’s because we weren’t skilled or practiced enough to pick out the pertinent information. Instead, we chose to focus on or to weight other information that was also present.
From the wife’s point of view, something that may be carelessly tossed out is that she was not smart enough or was crazy to believe this man, because how else could this happen...
Which reminds me of something Patsy Rodenburg once said about madness. (In her life she is many things, one of which has been vocal coach for the Royal Shakespeare Company, where she worked with such actors as Ian McKellan, Judi Dench, Patrick Stewart, etc.)
She spoke of madness not as a lesser intelligence, but rather as a hyper-focused fixation on a particular piece of information – eclipsing all other information present. Rodenburg was talking specifically about how to act madness, but there has always been something that rang true to me in this…
Relentless repetition. Complicit myopic choosing.
Physiological and scientific explanations for how this woman could, over time, come to doubt her own eyes.
always in motion,