IIlusory penguins

From my regular correspondent Ellen Kaisse yesterday:

I was walking around the grounds of a nearby high school and saw these black and white creatures off in the distance.

(#1) [AMZ:] Are those penguins, advancing upon us?

I knew they had to be football training sleds (see picture below of the closest thing I could find on the web), but they sure looked like penguins. I immediately thought of you. [AMZ: notorious penguin fan that I am]

(#2) [AMZ:] Football training sleds; you charge into them (I have actually done this)

I think if you enlarge the picture [in #1], it will keep looking like penguins, at least up to a certain magnification.

There’s a little lesson in perception here. If, for whatever reason, you are primed to search out certain things in your visual field, you are likely to “see” your target in some of the wrong places, in visuals that merely resemble the thing that so engages your attention. Penguins are one of my totem animals; I live surrounded by images of penguins and simulacra of penguins, and friends keep giving me more; so I’m attuned to penguins in a way that few other people are, and am inclined to unconsciously seek them out. Through long association with me, Ellen Kaisse has picked up some of this inclination. (My daughter and grandchild and various other friends who have been supplying me with penguiniana over the years have similarly gotten attuned to the flightless birds.)

I have written elsewhere on this blog about my perceptual sensitivity to the letter Z, ’cause I’m a Z guy. That occasionally leads me to misidentify symbols that merely resemble Z, or to fix on certain forms of the capital letter S as if they were Zs. For me, Zs lurk everywhere. (I notice spoken /z/ in much the same way, especially in word-initial position.)


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