Recently I was trying to find a way of establishing two equally valid but fundamentally different ways of looking at something – or quite specifically the same thing, namely, an idea.

The idea under discussion was the notion of technology planning, and how we go about building (or more particularly realising) the idea. Notwithstanding the essence of that discussion, which we can leave for another time, I stumbled across the famous Duck-Rabbit drawing by American psychologist Joseph Jastrow. Originally drawn in 1899, it is an ambiguous drawing of either a duck or a rabbit – depending on what the viewer sees.

The analogical value of the drawing is largely self-evident, and has been discussed by many people, most notably the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Simply put, the drawing demonstrates that we can see quite different things when we look at exactly the same thing. Moreover, if we fail to adequately explicate what we individually see, the differences in initial perception will produce follow-on differences eg. in understanding.

Furthermore, although we may be able to see both, we cannot see both simultaneously. Consequently, our seeing is constrained (temporally) to either/or, and therefore sequential – we can swap back and forth between perceptions, but never at the same time can we see two different things.

Practically, this means that unless we are consciously aware of which perception we are “working with”, we probably tend to accept one to the exclusion of the other, and proceed accordingly. Consequently, the inherent ambiguity of the object (psychologically speaking) is lost, and the possibility of it being “other than” is also lost.

This drawing illustrates that differential perception implicitly establishes the inherent ambiguity of objects, and predicates different understanding.

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Posted: March 17, 2017


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