Friday, June 26, 2009

2463 Eyewitness Identification

Friday, June 26, 2009

Disappointment is the distance between expectations and reality.


I have always been troubled by eyewitness testimony. I know that I couldn't point at a person and say "He did it!" with any kind of confidence, unless it was a person I knew well from past association. And even then, if his life depended on my identification, I couldn't be that sure. I'd have to admit that I couldn't swear to it.

Once, in college, I clearly saw my mother, in profile, her little round nose and fluffy black hair, huge brown eyes, all 4'9" of her, walk past me down the dormitory hall, no more than six feet from me. She was wearing her favorite round black feather hat. She slid her eyes sideways and smiled at me, a common flirtatious habit of hers. Her feet were tiny in the narrow spiky-heeled sandals she favored. She walked into another girl's room.

I ran down the hall and burst into the room - and it wasn't my mother. It was the other girl's mother.

I'd have sworn in court that it was my mother. And since then, I have never trusted anyone's eyewitness identification, especially identification of a stranger. Too many people look too much like other people. Like, maybe there's a limited number of facial types, body types, hairstyles, and a limited number of combinations thereof.

My distrust has only been strengthened over the decades, especially after I've been told I absolutely did do this or that, the accuser is absolutely positive!, because they SAW me do it, saw me there. (Often. Frequently involving someone else's husband.)

The fact that I didn't, wouldn't, couldn't, doesn't matter. They know better than I do because they know what they saw. Sigh.

What brought all this up is the following optical illusion. Quoting from the Discover Magazine blog:
"[Y]ou cannot trust what you see even with your own eyes. Your eyes are not cameras faithfully taking pictures of absolute truth of all that surrounds you. They have filters, and your brain has to interpret the jangled mess it gets fed. Colors are not what they appear, shapes are not what they appear ... objects are not what they appear.

So the next time someone swears they saw Jesus, or a UFO, or a ghost, show them this picture. What you see in life is absolutely and provably not what you get."


You see a blue swirl, a pinkish orange swirl, and a green swirl, right?

Wrong. The blue and the green are exactly the same color.

Go to the above link for the proof and an explanation.

Also note that even though the illustrations look like rectangles, taller than wide, they are actually squares. Yeah, I measured.

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