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Perception Filters Or Why there is a Perception Roll In D&D

Your party comes into a room. “I’d like to know if I see anything.”

Why does this mechanic even exist in D&D and how is it based on the real world?

We can look at things and not see them. We can hear things and not hear them.

Have you ever gone to the store looking for something. You walk up and down every aisles and can’t find it.

Finally you give in and ask someone that works at the store. They walk you right back to where you were and point out the thing you wanted where you were just looking.

You saw something, but you didn’t. More accurately your eyes registered something, but you mind didn’t see it.

This is because our minds delete stuff all the time. There is so much coming into our senses that we can’t deal with it. So our minds filters it.

There is this episode of Star Trek the Next Generation where we get to see through Geordie LaForge’s Visor. It is a weird jumble of overlapping visual input and the captain can’t make heads or tail of it. He asked Geordie how he can see anything and he asks.

“In a noisy room how can you pick out one voice?”

While we don’t notice it, this is happening to us all the time. It has to. These filters are what makes things understandable and keeps us from being overwhelmed.

Can you image being a a crowded room with lots of people talking and you hearing and trying to interpret every conversation? It would drive you nuts. You’d run from the room and become a hermit.

But some times it work against us.

You see these filters are based on our previous experiences, our culture and what we think is even possible.

Let’s go back to our looking for something at the store. Have you ever had the “I-didn’t- see-it” experience and find out the company had changed the box. It wasn’t the color you were used to.

At that point you realize you weren’t looking for the actual thing, but some attribute of the thing. You were looking for it expecting it to look like it did in the past.

Or you are expecting it to be where it was before, but they had moved it.

Those are example of why we might not see something when looking at it. But it applies to more than just the visual.

Another set of examples comes from our culture. Our brain will filter out things based on how we believe they should be based on our cultural background.

For instance, a few decades ago if you walked into a room full of people in pants, you might not even notice there were women there. Because women in mid-20th century America didn’t wear pants.

Then there is the idea we can’t perceive things we don’t think are possible. If someone who has not concept that humans can fly sees a plane in the sky, they will naturally think it is a bird.

I remember a riddle they used to tell in the mid-70s when I was a boy. “A father and son were in a car wreck. The father died, and they rushed the injured boy to the hospital. The Surgeon came in, looked at the boy and said, “I can’t operated on the boy, he’s my son.”

How could this be if the father was killed?

I remember people actually guessing there were ghosts involved.

The obvious answer was the doctor was his mother. But 50 years ago the idea of a female surgeon was outside many people’s worldview.

All of this is interesting from a cultural, sociological point of view, but how can you apply it to your life? What’s the distinction here?

We often have filters about our own lives that literally make it impossible for us to see some opportunities.

For instance, you might have grown up poor and don’t believe it is possible for you to ever get rich. So you don’t see business opportunities.

If you’ve never encountered something before, you won’t recognize it. You don’t have anywhere in your mind to connect it to.

Or maybe, and this is sometimes worse, you have one or two ways something is possible, and you get so focused on them you can’t see other alternatives.

For instance, some one who grew up poor might think they could become rich by being a famous musician or athlete, but don’t see how they could become a doctor or lawyer. They have no example of someone starting where they are and becoming a doctor.

Your worldview just filters out those paths because they are impossible.

This is why it is vitally important to expand our experiences. To associate with people not like us. People with other experiences and knowledge. When we express our limits to them, they can see and share other possibilities.

Plus if you purposefully put yourself in different experiences, you will begin to expand your ability to see your limits. It doesn’t take too many instances of some seeing something you were looking at but not seeing to start realizing you need to question your limits.

Question of the Day: What filters are keeping you from seeing opportunities?

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