"The Grand Illusion": Assigning Blame In Failure To See - Marc Green


“The Grand Illusion”: Assigning Blame In Failure To See – Marc Green, Phd

Most people have never thought about how they see and have probably never thought that seeing even requires explanation. It just happens. At most, they have a vague intuitive notion that vision scientists call the “Homunculus theory.” The eyes are like cameras that project an image on to an inner screen where a little man, the Homunculus, views it. There are many reasons why this scheme is wrong, most obviously that it begs the question of how the Homunculus sees the image. (Is there a second Homunculus inside the first, and third inside second, on and on into infinite regress?) Moreover, most people suffer from “naïve realism”, the false notion that seeing is a passive process where the eyes transmit a complete and objective reality directly to our consciousness. Naïve realism is naïve because seeing is active, selective and highly subjective.

Here is the full site:Perception & Human Factors

" > We shall understand accidents when we understand human nature "

  • Kay (Accidents: Some Facts and Theories, 1971.)



I like to say that seeing (all perception, really) is a story that we tell ourselves; and it has the virtues and defects of a story. It’s always seamless and consistent and compelling – but it gives no indication of where the data are unreliable or just plain missing – as in the case of our central blind spot in each eye. Mine would easily cover a garbage can lid at 100 feet. It’s easy to prove it’s there, and to determine its size, by a little trickery with a sheet of paper with two marks on it a few inches apart. But nobody has ever seen it, or will ever so long as we’re running with the present software.

If I were younger I think perception is a field I could devote my life to.


Is awareness of the selectivism and subjectivism the best we can do to see better? Is what we see influenced by culture and training? If so, is this an argument for having a diversity in watchkeepers’ backgrounds and open communication on a team, so that we can benefit from the wider point of view?


Yes. This is an argument for thorough training in a procedural approach. For example, military watch keepers learn to move their eyes in a grid pattern, to avoid exploitation of the eye’s tendency to follow lines and seek out known patterns.

For marine watch keepers, the most important part of the solution is to always correlate different sources of information. See a white light? Don’t just grab the most likely explanation (say, a stern light). Check the chart for land masses and buoys on that bearing. Check Navtex for uncharted buoys. Check radar to see if you can plot an echo. Hit it with a searchlight. Call the mate to the bridge. Etc.

Of course, this process is largely subconscious. A long life at sea has taught you to read the situation so intuitively that you “just see what’s going on”, but it remains a highly interpretative and creative process. In fact, I think there’s a pretty blurred line between identifying a seen object, recollection and higher level interpretation of navigational information.

Interesting things happen when you get tricked by the familiarity of subconscious procedure. There’s one time in particular when I went up the wrong inlet, and managed to make the lights fit the chart way beyond the point it made any kind of sense. Like a child seeing horses in the clouds, I was. Scary…

Of course, there are less traumatic examples of confirmation bias. Like the time I tracked an 80 kt target on a collision course, understanding very little until I heard a low flying aircraft.


Riding a motorcycle, empty street nobody around. A car will pull up and stop, look straight at you, seems like you’re making eye contact with the driver, then they pull out as if you’re not there.

Inattentional blindness: Why drivers may fail to see motorcycles in plain sight

LBFTS Look but fail to see.

January 5, 2018, Human Factors and Ergonomics Society

According to human factors/ergonomics researchers Kristen Pammer, Stephanie Sabadas, and Stephanie Lentern, LBFTS crashes are particularly troublesome because, despite clear conditions and the lack of other hazards or distractions, drivers will look in the direction of the oncoming motorcycle - and in some cases appear to look directly at the motorcycle - but still pull out into its path.

Pammer, a professor of psychology and associate dean of science at Australian National University, notes, “When we are driving, there is a huge amount of sensory information that our brain must deal with. We can’t attend to everything, because this would consume enormous cognitive resources and take too much time. So our brain has to decide what information is most important. The frequency of LBFTS crashes suggests to us a connection with how the brain filters out information.”

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-01-inattentional-drivers-motorcycles-plain-sight.html#jCp


The person in the car doesn’t look at you, they look through you. That is the way I always described it (and pretty much why I stopped riding).


People see what they expect to see, I read the other day, pilots landing a plane in a simulator, if the simulator software puts a aircraft on the runway that the pilot is trying to land on the pilot will not see that plane.

The pilot is focused on the landing, the brain evidently “decides” that the aircraft on the runway would distract from the task at hand. So the pilot never sees it.

About 50% of the people who take this selective attention test fail.




I think this is the key.

Particularity at night, you look at the radar to verify what your seeing. For experienced watchstanders it comes from having made many small inconsequential errors in the past.

It becomes pure habit.


We are now in the video game era. Too many “watch officers” just play the video game and assume it will stick to the rules of the game.

Looking out the window with a practiced eye and actually anylizing what one sees has become old fashioned. Now a glance out the window just prompts the question: “Well, what does the plotter say”?