At the risk of attempting to derive a serious lesson from a fleeting social media phenomenon, this “What color is the dress” thing is blowing my mind. Here are three things I’m thinking about today:
Even when I’m sure I’m right, I might be wrong. Technically, the dress is blue and black. It’s still hard for me to admit that, because my eyes tell me it’s white and gold. This is very humbling, and makes me slower to write off people who view something differently than I do (like 3 of my kids, who correctly saw the dress as blue and black).
Our brains do lots of subconscious stuff. David Williams, a vision scientist at the University of Rochester, explained it like this in today’s Christian Science Monitor article: "I think the brain has just made a different assumption about how the dress is being illuminated." The article further explains: “If your brain assumes the lighting on the dress is very dim, it will assume the dress itself is highly reflective, or white and gold...But if your brain assumes the opposite (that the lighting is very bright), it then makes the judgment that the dress itself must be darker, hence blue and black.” This is amazing! What else might my mind be assuming? I can see lots of implications here. For example, it opens the possibility that even if I deny being a racist, my brain may be subconsciously making generalizations based on someone’s skin color. Again, humbling. (Read the entire Christian Science Monitor article here: http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2015/0227/TheDress-What-s-the-science-behind-its-true-color).
It’s all about the context. Because the original Tumblr photo shows very little context—in other words, the dress takes up almost the entire image—we lack sufficient contextual clues (especially with regard to the lighting) to properly interpret the color. How often to I make a quick judgment about someone with very little knowledge of the person’s “context”? I see an alcoholic and assume he’s just irresponsible and reckless. I don’t stop to find out whether he was abused as a child, if he suffered a traumatic experience or injury that led to his substance abuse, etc. Knowing more context doesn’t change the fact that he’s an alcoholic, but it could make a big difference in my compassion toward him and the kind of help I might offer.
I know, it's just a dumb optical illusion...but it made me a little more humble and a little more patient with people who see the world differently... and I'm grateful for that.