How to Break the Gestalt

Gestalt principles are a set rules, if they can be considered as such, or programs that our brains do to information as it enters our nervous system but before it gets to our consciousness.  These are used to solidify our perception and while you might have never heard of them before, you’ve no doubt experienced them.  The simplest one for me to explain – or show – deals with the following picture.

When we look at this picture, we automatically assume that the shapes before us are a rectangle on top of another rectangle and not a rectangle and a weird L shaped box.

So, our brain is constantly applying these principles to everything we see to build a more solid world for us to interact in.  Personally, I find this to be fantastic and just breathtaking but a while ago I came across an issue with them.  To be fair, there are lots of ways to mess with them, I’ve just never heard of something so… extreme?  Or a situation that broke them and I’d like to tell you about it.

I was driving to work.  I’d done this drive somewhere in the proximity of a 1000 times.  Due to the nature of the roads used on this journey, there was essentially only one route of this commute.  What I am trying to say here is that I, intimately, knew the route.  Unfortunately on this day, road construction had left me in park for the last 10 minutes and I stared absently out the window.   When I would look forward I would feel this great sense of uncertainty and uncomfortableness.  Now, at this section of the road it was beginning to curve to the right and went up a hill a little bit.  But when I looked forward, my brain was telling me there was no curve and that the road just went straight.  I know this to be wrong, yet when I looked forward that was what the scene before me was being processed as.  It made a funny feeling in my brain and I had to keep looking away.

When I was not looking forward, everything I saw and knew said the road was beginning to curve to the right and go up a little hill.  Yet when I looked forward, the whole world wanted to shift to meet this new perception.  I am, actually, thankful for the construction on this day because I got to figure this out.  I got to experiment on my own brain in the middle of its crisis.  Fun.

So, I am now aware that there is an issue with the view in front of me that is causing me discomfort.  I focus my attention here to start, to understand how I can see something that is not what the world really is.  I am staring as hard as I can at the piece of the road that goes straight and I see the problem.  The view to my right was blocked by construction materials and there was a car in front of me and cars in front of them.  Now, one of the cars in the very front of this pack was a pickup truck with those storage containers hugging their rear window.  It was reflecting the sun in a way that made it look like pavement.  To make sure we got this, this tiny piece of my vision, the storage container on a car in front of the car in front of me and the one in front of that, that I can only see by looking through the cars has a reflection that indicates the road goes straight.  Half the size of a stop size and 100 feet away.  Just miniscule.

This was causing my confusion.  But even finding this great cause didn’t change the feelings, I still thought the road went straight when looking forward.  Honestly, it is quite maddening.  One could probably leave this insight alone and move on but I wanted to push it, oh no, I needed to push it.

Recap of the facts:

  1. Road, in reality, curves to the right and goes up a slight hill.
  2. Looking straight ahead makes me think that the road just goes straight.
  3. Looking anywhere else and I am aware that the road curves to the right and goes up a slight hill.

There’s only really one thing we can do in a situation like this.  Find the point where the beams cross.  So slowly moving from the position of reality, looking to the left, I move my point of focus closer and closer to the point which imparts the wrong perception.  And there it was a point at like 11 o’clock, with 12 being the broken bit that had two perceptions fighting to be recognized as the correct one.

It was a horrible, horrible feeling that this caused in my consciousness.  I just remember the raw uncomfortableness of it and how I needed to look elsewhere.  So, I did.  And I never thought about it again.  Or actually, think about it all the time.

So where do we go from here?

All of this makes me wonder if this feeling can be applied to other mental concepts that can occur.  Or if there something more to this than just making people uncomfortable?  I have spent quite a lot of time since this occurred trying to figure out a way to intentionally put someone into this state.

The requirements as I see them:

  1. Individual would need to be intimately familiar with setting.
  2. Make a change to the setting which can cause the issue.

And in order to accomplish this, I think it is only recently has the technology become available to accomplish this.  Namely, virtual reality headsets with the false motion platforms.  But, at this point there are still too many variables to move forward and it sits as a wonderful thought experiment.

Of a side note:  This is the reprinting of my first post ever.  I just saw that the original was no longer part of my archives.  Technology be weird.

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