From the Braver Institute
“You know what you should write a column about?” The voice on the other end of the phone boomed. The sound of the receiver being placed back in its cradle with a satisfying “Click” was my reply to the question (okay, I know you are thinking that no one even uses telephones with receivers and cradles anymore, but hey, I’m writing the column here). Hanging up the phone is my standard response to any question that begins with any variation of “Do you know what you should...?”
Since I had just hung up on my good friend, Nelson the Viking, I knew my efforts to cut myself off from him answering his own question would be in vain. He is known for his tenacity, and utter disregard for protocol when he is trying to make his point. He will be mad at me for saying that, but he also is known for a great deal of denial, and I suspect that he will start writing his rebuttal letter to the editor now (look for it some time next year, his typing skills are worse than mine).
Naturally, my phone rang again a moment later.
“My call must have been dropped” said Nelson.
“No. I hung up on you” said I.
“Well, you know how when you are looking for something, and you can’t find it, and you check the same place over and over, and it isn’t there, and then you look one more time, and then it is there?”
“Yeah” I said.
“Well, you should write about that.”
What had started him thinking about this phenomenon was that he had put an important document in some place that he would not forget. Of course this is what he does with all of his important documents, and as a result he cannot remember where any specific one is, but he knows that if he keeps looking, the one he is searching for will turn up, even if it is in a place he has already looked.
I must admit that this very thing happened to me just the other day. I had compiled a book of all of the owners manuals for almost all of the old high-tech (at the time) gadgetry I have managed to acquire. I knew that the book was in my office, but I could not find it. I looked in every possible place that it could be—twice—yet it was nowhere to be found. Looking one more time on the shelf above my desk (the place I last recall it being) I could see that there was no possible place for it to hide, but I decided to take everything off of the shelf anyway. I removed the box for my laptop computer, two shipping boxes, and then...the book I was looking for. It was right in front of my eyes, not hidden in the least.
I have decided that there are two possible reasons for not seeing that which is right under our noses. The first is that in our mind we have the image of what it is we are looking for, and when it is right in front of us our mind is mixing the signals it is receiving, and interpreting this object that is clearly in plain view, as just the image of the object that we already had in our head, thus putting a mental cloak of sorts on the object (which sounds way too scientific to be true).
The second (and more logical reason) is that what we had been looking for had been spending time in some alternate reality, and it had not gotten the message that it was being looked for. When the message finally did arrive, it managed to sneak back into place while we weren’t looking. On occasion it will wait until someone else is looking too, and it will appear just in time for the other person to find it. That way the missing object gets its chance to embarrass us a little as well.
There is one other entirely possible reason for these things happening, now that I think about it. Years ago there was a girl who worked at a place where I made deliveries. She had been looking for something at home that she could not find. Of course it eventually did get around to reappearing in a place she had already looked. This convinced her that her house was haunted. Even though I do not believe in ghosts, it makes more sense to me than plain old not seeing it does.
The fact of the matter is (and I am sure we can all agree on this) that there is no way that we, as human beings, could ever simply overlook something. What a ridiculous idea. We never make mistakes.