What Do You See?

Our own thought processes and conclusions can be so off

Gerald Klingbeil

I am always intrigued to learn more about how our brain works with the data it receives from our senses. How do we make sense of what we see? How do we process different stimuli that may communicate contradicting messages?

Visual illusions are one of those intriguing examples that help us realize that some things are not what they seem to be.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have recently concluded that some of the processing involving visual illusions are actually resolved at low-level anatomic functions instead of requiring major processing work of our brain. They used a classic visual illusion called simultaneous brightness contrast, which shows two gray dots on a background that consists of a gradient from light gray to black. Although the two dots are identical, they appear very different based on where they are placed against the gradient background.

Scientists have studied this phenomenon for more than 100 years and wondered if the brightness estimation happened on the brain’s visual cortex or somewhere else. “All of our experiments point to the conclusion that this is a low-level phenomenon,” noted Pawan Sinha, a professor of vision and computation neuroscience in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. “The results help answer the question of what is the mechanism that underlies this very fundamental process of brightness estimation, which is a building block of many other kinds of visual analyses.”1

We see—and then we process what we are seeing. Visual illusions are fun, but our lives are impacted by real challenges and actual obstacles. How do we process these moments when our problems seem too big to look beyond them or around them?

When faced with the real danger of being captured by a large enemy force, Elisha’s servant processed what he was seeing with “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” (2 Kings 6:15).2 Elisha’s answer suggests a completely different processing: “ ‘Don’t be afraid.’ . . . ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them’ ” (verse 16).

Then he pleads with God to do something fundamental. “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see” (verse 17).

Warped perspectives and fears are often closely related. We see something, we hear something—and then we often respond to what we think we have seen or heard with fear, anger, resentment, or even aggression.

God reminds us in the story of Elisha and his servant that we need a low-level fix—we need our eyes opened to see God’s realities because our own thought processes and the conclusions we reach are often misguided and warped.

What do we see in the world that surrounds us? How do we relate to the realities of our church families? Do we see only conflict, anger, sinfulness, or hopelessness, or have we learned to view others through God’s lens, tinted with grace? “Open my eyes, Lord, so that I can see Your reality in this world and in my life.”

1 Anne Trafton, “Study Sheds Light on a Classic Visual Illusion,” MIT News, June 16, 2020, https://news.mit.edu/2020/study-visual-illusion-brightness-0617.

2 Bible texts are from the New International Version.