In the aftermath of the Newton school shooting, people are looking for answers. They want to know how and why something like that could happen. And, of course, people are quick to grasp at any sort of explanation. Which provides plenty of fodder for those looking to score points for their politics, prejudices and pet issues.
But times like this remind me of a cheese sandwich. That may seem an odd consideration under the circumstances but there’s a relevance. In particular, why do people see the Virgin Mary in a cheese sandwich?
Take a look. You see it right? But why? Basically, its because the human mind evolved to see patterns in general and faces in particular. This usually works because there’s a lot of faces out there. But occasionally one sees a false face such as the one in this grilled cheese sandwich. If you doubt it then check out this cool video in which your brain sees a normal face even though you know the face is hollow.
Nor is the tendency to see patterns limited to faces. Dr Michael Shermer made an interesting video for TED in which he goes into greater detail on this phenomenon. He also discusses “priming” which is the concept that one is more likely to see or hear something if one’s brain has been primed to see or hear it. This is easily demonstrated with his segment on the “hidden” message in The Stairway to Heaven.
What does this have to do with the shooting in Newton? The same thing it has to do with every major news story. When there is a scarcity of data people fill in the pattern with a “false face”. And, quite often, the media primes its audience for the “hidden” message it wants them to hear.
I’ll discuss some of these messages in Part 2.