Thursday, January 16, 2014

Looking Out My Window - The Transparency Illusion

Looking out through a window (or making a 'window frame' with your hands), notice what you see through it. Now, look at the window. What do you see of the window itself? What is on the window (smudges, reflections, glare, distortions, et cetera)? Also notice some of what gets blocked out from your view through the window. Now return to look out through the window again. As you look onto the scene, can you extend your awareness to include the window as well? Can you stay aware of what is not within your view? 

Looking through my window, it can seem easy to forget, and it sometimes takes some time to realize, that I am looking through a window. It may take some effort to look at a window I am looking through and to figure out how it may be influencing what I see. 

Each one of us is looking at the world through windows, literal windows, and metaphorical ones: the 'windows' of our 'senses', the 'windows' of our language, the 'windows' of the family and the culture we were born into, the 'windows' of our profession, the 'windows' of the doctrines we hold so dear, et cetera. Windows that we do not see. 

Neurocognitive linguist Sydney Lamb calls this the transparency illusion
"A window or a pair of glasses functions best when it is as invisible as possible. The person who wants to study windows must therefore make a special effort to look at the window rather than through it." (Pathways of the brain: The neurocognitive basis of Language. Benjamins, 1999, p. 12-13)
And though we may not be able to remove all of the 'windows' or 'glasses' we look through, many of us could use a radical new prescription. 

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