Thursday, July 06, 2006

Sensory Overload

I ran across an article with the title: Brain May Be Hard-Wired to Track Team Sports, which was not a very accurate representation of the article's contents.

The article points out that humans (and primates generally) can only track 3 moving items in their field of vision at once.

We assign color to team members in sports (and soldiers in war) so that we can track the entire team by color as a single entity. But the limitation is that we can only track 3 teams at once.
But humans also have an upper limit when it comes to paying attention to sets, Halberda said, and it's the same as their tolerance for tracking individual objects -- three.

That could explain why, throughout history, people have stuck to games with just two opposing teams. "Our research suggests that if a game was devised with four teams playing simultaneously, it would just be too many for any spectator, coach or player to pay attention to," Halberda said.|Healthday|(emphasis added)
I wonder if that could also help explain why dichotomies and dualities are so common in rhetoric and literature, there seems to be a real aversion by many people to breaking the world down in categories more complex than good and bad, if it were rooted in our ability to comprehend complexity visually. So many of our metaphors for knowledge are visual, we often speak of seeing as knowing, such as "I see your point," or if something is confusing we joke that it's "clear as mud".

This visual limitation's affect on comprehension makes the limitation more understandable...if still unfortunate.
Unfortunate because so many of our intractable social problems (racism, poverty, crime, sexual violence, drug abuse, sexism, homophobia...) result from a significant number of causes rather than a single cause and our inability to understand the multivariate explanation* needed to identify the causes of these problems is part of the reasons we cannot adequetely address these issues.

* multivariate explanation: explanation of culture change, e.g. the origin of the state, which, in contrast to monocausal approaches, stresses the interaction of several factors operating simultaneously.|Archeological Glossary|

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