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Comment: A collegue of mine recommended a movie to me called "What the Bleep Do We
Know?" so I rented it and watched it. The film made some rather lofty
assertions. One of the least convincing is that when Christopher Columbus
sailed to Hispanola, the natives could not see their huge ships. The
movie claims that the brain can not "see" things it's not familiar with,
and not ready to see. The natives only saw the ships after a Shaman who
was able to see them, told the others they were out there. Where did this
myth come from?

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Logoboros
We Three Blings


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quote:
"I think," said Ford in a tone of voice that Arthur by now recognized as one that presaged something utterly unintelligible, "that there's an SEP. over there."
He pointed. Curiously enough, the direction he pointed in was not the one in which he was looking. Arthur looked in the one direction, which was toward the sight screens, and in the other, which was at the field of play. He nodded, he shrugged. He shrugged again.
"A what?" he said.
"An S.E.P"
"An S… ?"
"…E.P."
"And what's that?"
"Somebody Else's Problem," said Ford.
"Ah, good," said Arthur, and relaxed. He had no idea what all that was about, but at least it seemed to be over. It wasn't.
"Over there," said Ford, again pointing at the sight screens and looking at the pitch.
"Where?" said Arthur.
"There!" said Ford.
"I see," said Arthur, who didn't.
"You do?" said Ford.
"What?" said Arthur
"Can you see," said Ford patiently, "the S.E.P.?"
"I thought you said that was someone else's problem."
"That's right."
Arthur nodded slowly, carefully and with an air of immense stupidity.
"And I want to know," said Ford, "if you can see it."
"You do?"
"Yes!"
"What," said Arthur, "does it look like?"
"Well, how should I know, you fool," shouted Ford. "If you can see it, you tell me."
Arthur experienced that dull throbbing sensation just behind the temples that was a hallmark of so many of his conversations with Ford. His brain lurked like a frightened puppy in its kennel. Ford took him by the arm.
"An S.E.P.," he said, "is something that we can't see, or don't see, or our brain doesn't let us see, because we think that it's somebody else's problem. That's what S.E.P. means. Somebody Else's Problem. The brain just edits it out; it's like a blind spot. If you look at it directly you won't see it unless you know precisely what it is. Your only hope is to catch it by surprise out of the corner of your eye."
"Ah," said Arthur, "then that's why..
"Yes," said Ford, who knew what Arthur was going to say.
"…you've been jumping up and…"
"Yes."
"...down, and blinking…"
"Yes."
"and..."
"I think you've got the message."
"I can see it," said Arthur, "it's a spaceship."


--Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe, and Everything

--Logoboros

--------------------
"If Men were Wise, the Most arbitrary Princes could not hurt them. If they are not wise, the Freest Government is compelld to be a Tyranny."

--William Blake

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I'mNotDedalus
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quote:
One of the least convincing is that when Christopher Columbus sailed to Hispanola, the natives could not see their huge ships. The movie claims that the brain can not "see" things it's not familiar with, and not ready to see.
By this logic, wouldn't the Taínos/Arawaks have not even seen any of Columbus' men when they finally did leave their ships? I don't believe they had ever seen any Europeans before this encounter = invisible whitey. (((Is it still generally agreed that Hispaniola's was the 3rd coast Columbus hit on the 1st voyage? I know there is usually some lingering debate about which was the first island)))

In either case, Columbus did note that the Indians swam out into the shallow shore to greet the men, offering immediate and (in Columbus' mind) ridiculous hospitality (see Hans Koning's Columbus: His Enterprise). Columbus does tell one story that somewhat relates to the OP:

quote:
They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance.
He cryptically goes on to add:

quote:
With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.
--see Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, pg 1

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Silas Sparkhammer
I Saw V-Chips Come Sailing In


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There is a kernel of truth in this nonsense: people have difficulty *processing* visual stimuli with which they have no familiarity.

Example: take a desert nomad and put him in a pine forest. He'll be bewildered and have difficulty getting around, because he is deprived of the horizon, by which he has navigated all his life.

It takes only a day or two, however, to re-accomodate yourself, at least at the most basic level. After a week, he'll be able to get around just fine.

The Caribs would have been *perplexed* by Columbus' ships, but they would have *seen* them just fine.

Silas

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BeachLife
The Bills of St. Mary's


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Thank you Logoboros, that was exactly my first thought as well.

To Silas' point though, there is something that occurs when your mind is flooded with impossible stimuli. I've experienced it while sky-diving, esentially your mind shuts down temporarily, I think sky divers call it 'brain freeze'. But I doubt that's what happened to the natives.

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Confessions of a Dragon's scribe
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Linden
I'll Be Home for After Christmas Sales


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quote:

The
movie claims that the brain can not "see" things it's not familiar with,
and not ready to see. The natives only saw the ships after a Shaman who
was able to see them, told the others they were out there. Where did this
myth come from?

I've heard exactly the same theory applied to the Aboriginal people of Australia. It's always struck me as unlikely; apart from anything else, how would the Europeans know that this was the reaction? This is the sort of conclusion that one could only draw after some reasonably good anthropological study.

In some cases when European sailors arrived, it seems that the local inhabitants showed no interest in them. Perhaps the self-esteem of Europeans couldn't handle the notion that they just weren't very interesting, and so they created this idea of the psychological and cultural inferiority of the indigenous people.

Yours &c

Linden

--------------------
Yours, &c

Linden

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Logoboros
We Three Blings


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I'd also float the concept (based on no real information) that if the tribe/society in question has a strong belief in the spirit world, they may well *see* the sailors, but believing them to be spirits (potentially good or evil), deliberately ignore them and refuse to acknowledge their presence out of fear of attracting supernatural attention.

I know this type of belief about spirits holds for many central African tribes, but I'm not sure about Aborigines or Amerindians.

--Logoboros

PS: is "Amerindians" politically incorrect? I'd say Native Americans, but that seems to have a very strongly North American connotation. And I've never heard Native South or Central Americans used...

--------------------
"If Men were Wise, the Most arbitrary Princes could not hurt them. If they are not wise, the Freest Government is compelld to be a Tyranny."

--William Blake

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Linden
I'll Be Home for After Christmas Sales


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Incidentally, can anyone put a starting date on this notion? Was it current during the time when European sailors were encountering people who had never seen nor heard of them before? Or is it something that has been created more recently? I haven't seen it mentioned in the accounts of the French expedition to Australia around 1802 under Baudin, which had anthropologists on board.

Here's a link to more about the Baudin expedition
http://www.abc.net.au/navigators/naturalists/peron.htm

Yours &c

Linden

--------------------
Yours, &c

Linden

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StewPot
I'll Be Home for After Christmas Sales


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quote:
--Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe, and Everything
Sounds even more like the improbability field theory in Adams' "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" series... The basic idea is that if your brain sees something sufficiently improbable, it assumes it doesn't exist.

--------------------
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DemonWolf
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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I suppose that it might me possible that as they saw the ships on the horizon, the thought that the sails were clouds. But how would we know what people whose language we couldn't understand have thought? It probably took a few months (at the least) for us to be able to speak to them, and we probably insisted on "teaching the savages to speak" rather than learning the language of the indiginous peoples.

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vampyrviolia
Happy Holly Days


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quote:
Originally posted by StewPot:
quote:
--Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe, and Everything
Sounds even more like the improbability field theory in Adams' "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" series... The basic idea is that if your brain sees something sufficiently improbable, it assumes it doesn't exist.
I think something similar is talked about in Terry Pratchetts Discworld series.

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He grooms dogs too.

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The Rubber Chicken
The First USA Noel


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The other point nobody has brought up is that, even if it were true that you might physically not see something you find improbable (a notion I personally find to be very improbable), were ships that incredible to the natives? A lot of natives, especially those who lived near bodies of water, had seacraft of their own. Ships the size of European clipper ships might have been startling, but I doubt that the concept of a ship itself was completely unheard of.

That and I saw the movie in question, and it was terrible. A lot of real science mixed in with a lot of nonsense to promote some weird cult led by a woman who claims to be channeling a 35,000 year old Atlantian. Not exactly high on my credibility scale.

--------------------
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Cold DecEmbra Brings The Sleet
Angels Wii Have Heard on High


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A similar point was raised in the current BBC series How Art Made the World.

One of the episodes dealt with the development of representational art - when and why did human beings decide to represent actuality in their art.

The presenter used a realistic painting of a horse (maybe by Stubbs, but I can't remember) and said that when it was shown to a person who only had knowledge of art as a decorative medium (I think from the perspective of Islamic art), it was not recognised as a "horse": the viewer said he could not "walk round it" - a horse was only recognisable as a 3D object.

I can't remember the details of the argument, or when the encounter the presenter described was supposed to have taken place, but it seems to raise a similar conceptual point to the OP.

Embra "ceci n'est pas un cheval"

--------------------
I want you to lay down your life, Perkins. We need a futile gesture at this stage. It will raise the whole tone of the war.

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Steve
Happy Holly Days


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quote:
Originally posted by Embra:

The presenter used a realistic painting of a horse (maybe by Stubbs, but I can't remember) and said that when it was shown to a person who only had knowledge of art as a decorative medium (I think from the perspective of Islamic art), it was not recognised as a "horse": the viewer said he could not "walk round it" - a horse was only recognisable as a 3D object.


Robert Graves told a similar story in The White Goddess . He claimed that T. E. Lawrence showed some Bedouins a picture of a horse, and they had the reaction you describe.
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Cold DecEmbra Brings The Sleet
Angels Wii Have Heard on High


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Ah, maybe that was the tale that was being told on the TV programme... cheers Steve

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I want you to lay down your life, Perkins. We need a futile gesture at this stage. It will raise the whole tone of the war.

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Linden
I'll Be Home for After Christmas Sales


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quote:
Originally posted by Embra:
The presenter used a realistic painting of a horse (maybe by Stubbs, but I can't remember) and said that when it was shown to a person who only had knowledge of art as a decorative medium (I think from the perspective of Islamic art), it was not recognised as a "horse": the viewer said he could not "walk round it" - a horse was only recognisable as a 3D object.

I'm not sure that's relevant. Failing to understand other cultures' representations of the world is a different kettle of conceptual fish from failing to see their manufactures completely.

I have on my wall a print of the Hereford Mappa Mundi, made about 1300
http://academic.emporia.edu/aberjame/map/h_map/h_map.htm

For anyone who isn't a medieval scholar, we need a set of instructions even to see it as a map, let alone work out what it's a map of. However, we can still see that it's some kind of thing, an illustration or drawing of some kind: it isn't invisible.

Similarly, from Australia, Aboriginal paintings are visible and often attractive, even if we haven't the slightest idea of their meaning.

--------------------
Yours, &c

Linden

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Don Enrico
Happy Xmas (Warranty Is Over)


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I agree with everything that was said (including the Douglas Adams reference [Smile] ), but have one thing to add:

If the claim in the OP were true, how would Columbus and his men have been able to see the natives? They obviously hadn't seen any Central American natives before...

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Kathy B
Angels Wii Have Heard on High


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posted to wrong thread, waffles

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