Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pay attention

Noel made us some delicious sandwiches out of leftover delicious meatloaf for lunch.  While we enjoyed them, we watched the National Geographic series Brain Games.  The episode was about attention and inattention, and featured several games and illusions designed to show the viewer how focus, multitasking, and selective inattention work.

Afterwards, Archer disappeared into the front room and came back with his own versions of the demonstrations.  "Mom, I want you to pay attention to the colors of the poker chips on the table," he declared.  "Pay close attention!"

Then he put a poker chip on the table and ran out of the room.  A second later he ran back in and put in another poker chip, and then did it again.  At this point I began laughing uncontrollably, because the sight of him running in and out was so amusing and fast-paced, and also because I thought he was trying to simulate the "flicker" tests shown in the episodes -- stop-motion sequences where elements are changed while the viewer try to keep track of the changes.  He kept on bringing the chips, one by one, eight, nine, ten, running in and out as fast as he could, while I howled with laughter.  Directed to keep my attention on the chips, I couldn't help watching him trying to keep a straight face as he acted as the star and stagehand of his own illusion.

Several iterations in, I saw that he had something in his hand other than the poker chips, and idly I looked to see if it was still there when he came back.  It wasn't.  Noel, who was watching with amusement, said, "Is that one of their Pokemon DS styluses?"  And that's when I understood which of the show's demonstrations he was trying to replicate -- the ones where because you are paying attention to something in particular, you miss an incongruous element like a person in a gorilla suit walking through the scene.

"Did you notice anything unusual, Mom?" Archer asked once he finally finished his shuttle run.  "Were you carrying a pencil?" I asked.  "It was a Tepig DS stylus," he said triumphantly.  "That was a surprising thing to appear in the poker chip event.  You weren't expecting it, so you might have missed it."

His recreation was so exuberant, so inventive, and so perfect as a handmade, spur-of-the-moment version of what he had seen that I was overcome with delight.  Yet even better -- he grasped what the show was doing with its games for the viewer, what the point of them was, and tried to illustrate that, taking on the role of host narrating the action and director manipulating the audience.  Best of all, he wanted to include all of us, and the funniest part of the activity was watching him make his "I'm trying not to smile because my role is completely serious" face as he dashed to the table and then back out of the room, time after time.

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