Inattentional blindness is just one example of a more general feature of our visual experience known to cognitive scientists as ‘the grand illusion’. When we look at the world around us, almost everything in our visual field appears clear, vivid and rich in detail but, in experiments, our objective ability to detect change is more suggestive of an observer with a bag on his head, with just a small hole through which to see anything. This observation hole can be moved around by the observer himself or it can be manipulated automatically when interesting events occur in the environment. But at any given moment, the observer sees the world only through a small hole in a bag. The essence of the grand illusion is that you have the impression of a clear view, while in reality you are limited by what you can see through the little hole in the bag over your head.
If humanity in the 21st century is to be rescued from its tailspin descent into the abyss, we must recall the choice offered by the alien visitor from the 1951 sci-fi film classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”
“Join us and live in peace,” Klaatu said, “or pursue your present course and face obliteration.”
I think of it as science fiction’s useful paraphrasing of Rosa Luxemburg’s revolutionary ultimatum: “socialism or barbarism.”
It is impossible to believe now, but I was someone who could be pleased by simple things once. Back then, everything was new to me: all the world and all the people and all the soups. My eyes were open. They haven’t closed since.
But who could know that it was youth and inexperience that was so delicious? Who could know that a condition of your growth and experience in the world would be that soup would go from perfect to good to okay? Who knew that growing taller would actually make you smaller?
Kim Scott navigates a lot of tricky ground in this fine, ambitious novel. His characters dance on the page through a multitude of startling events: a living curlew erupts from a campfire; a skeleton which is not a skeleton totters forward and speaks. And finally we are left with these understandings: prison stultifies. Language vivifies. The dead remain, always. And where tradition has been smashed, the vulnerable suffer most, women and girls especially.
Yet these are smallish quibbles. In the end, Freed’s candor works to lift the veil off the misperception that life after 60 consists mostly of conversations about sciatica or ceaseless and slightly abject devotion to a tiny, shivery dog. Not for these ladies the lavender-redolent consolations of dozing off in old age’s quiet meadow. No, Ruth and Bess and Dania’s sojourn on their paradisal-looking island is full of tension — a tension that might beg the phrase “an exercise in suffering.” People cheat. People deliver insults. People fall down.