Thursday, July 12, 2012

      As you drove over the Slaw Rebchuk bridge from downtown Winnipeg to the North End you were greeted for years by the "Welcome To The North End: People Before Profit" sign on the roof of the Nippon Auto building at the north foot of the bridge. For years this somewhat incongrous sign on the roof of an auto body shop (whose owners must certainly be quite concerned about profit) set the tone for the neighbourhood where so much of Winnipeg's radical history came to pass. Nobody seemed to know how long it had been there. In my own memory for many years.

     Nobody knows how it came to be placed on the roof, though last November when the "People Before Profit" part was eliminated the owners of Nippon Motors claimed that this tag-on had been painted by vandals. On a dark and non-stormy night I presume. The official explanation was that the slogan was removed in the process of re-roofing the business.Some how I don't think so, but the intent was plain whether done by itself or in the process of putting on a new roof. Gotta bump that anti-capitalist slogan after all, though I would be utterly amazed to hear that the literary gem on the rooftop lost Nippon Motors a single cent of business.

      Here we are however. The slogan disappears in November. Through the next few hundred times I drive north over the bridge I fail to notice anything amiss. In other words my brain was registering the whole two phrases while only one was still on the roof. This is an amazingly persistant illusion.

     Finally one day in February my fact checker must have been on as I headed up into the North End. "What The Hell ?". The "People Before Profit" part is missing. Where the hell did it go ? Having done roofing in my youth I was fairly certain few people would be insane enough to be up on a roof in Winnipeg in February. Which leaves me with the question of when exactly was the "ideological rectification" done.

     All that being said, however, the case of Nippon Motors' roof came up again when a few weeks ago Winnipeg Free Press columnist Colleen Simard wrote a piece implying that the offending phrase was still up. This really threw me into a tailspin. Had it really been put back up? Nope. The 'socialist-speak' was as absent as ever. For all I know Simard still is seeing the illusionary "People Before Profit" every time she heads north on Salter. Just like I did for months.

     What this is called is "visual expectancy". This functions as both addition and subtraction. Details that are no longer present i a situation, image, etc. have their blanks filled in by a brain attuned to the "grand picture". This is addition. The most famous instance of subtraction is the inability of many subjects in one experiment to see a gorilla in the background of images whose foreground is a major item of interest.

     Fill it in or erase it. The brain can do both. Both abilities for illusion actually have survival value, and it is little wonder that they have been selected for over millions of years of evolution. I wonder if other animals have the same capacity for illusion. I also wonder if there are any people or anyone in an "altered state" who has to suffer the full impact of being unable to filter out the irrelevant and add the missing details. If there are I feel sorry for them.

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