Tonight as I sat with my dear friend Thomas and ate a burger and drank a few beers, I had one of the excellent conversations with him that really hallmark our friendship. And in the midst of it, I mentioned to him an experience I had this afternoon. Between the second floor of the Terascale Simulation Facility and the first, at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, as you go downward, if you look up, there is a small window looking at the second floor.
It’s the kind of window that, innocuously placed though it is, or maybe because of its apparent pointlessness, I feel always compelled to peer into. I looked up, as I have many dozens of times during the fifteen years I spent there, expecting to see the familiar sight of the floor above, empty or with a busy person walking by. But this time, I saw a woman passing by and instead of the blank stare of professional thought common on the second floor, she was looking down through the window at the stairs.
I was on the stairs she was looking down upon, but she was not looking at me, just kind of curious as to what is below. And I suddenly realized how limited our view of life generally is. This window is passed by many times per day, and on either side lies a world of divergent experience, but usually we stare straight ahead, intent upon our next task. The divergent experience has no utility to us that we can see. But you know, occasionally we are prompted by curiosity to look through the window, and maybe we see a stranger, and our imagination is ignited. What is the value of the previously unimagined when compared to the known security of the already understood? Each person perhaps announces a fundamental mindset when they choose to look or not look at the window.
Each person that passes by the window sees it. It’s quite large. I wonder if it is a choice whether to look through it. It reminds me of a YouTube video I saw one, where a man in a gorilla costume dances across a basketball court, and nobody notices, because at the start they are told, “count the bounces” and not “count the gorillas.” Do we choose to look because we are told that looking at some things should be avoided? What if, in looking through the window, something was seen that was not supposed to be?
If you count the information value of every pixel that passes into our eyes, and compare it to the probable information that is extracted from it into the representations we recognize as “thought,” this fraction is conservatively greater than 1.0, by which I mean that much more happens than we notice. What is it we are choosing to notice, and why?