Thursday, September 13, 2012

Deja Trompé

When I was in graduate school, I lived in Old Louisville, and walked, most days, down 3rd street to campus. Whenever I crossed the big road separating the neighborhood from campus, Cardinal Avenue, at a certain spot, I would see something up in my right peripheral visual field, and think, "Starlings!"

It was never starlings. It was always the tattered insulation hanging off a bunch of power lines strung over Cardinal. I remember this because even though I learned, pretty quickly, that I wasn't seeing starlings in that instant whenever it occurred, the fastest part of me - whatever part just automatically identifies salient stuff in the vast periphery - always thought that I was.


It not that I was hallucinating starlings. A bunch of speckly black stuff fluttering against the sky kind of looks like birds, even when you know it isn't. You can't blame me. I don't blame my visual system. It's an honest mistake. The interesting thing is that I kept making it, over and over again, with apparently no control over it. An inconsequential and incessant perceptual mistake.

I've noticed similar situations over the years, but right now I can't remember the others. I should start making a list. I bring this up because recently someone cleaned out the shared kitchen on this side of the institute, and because I always turn the lights out in the same kitchen.

I think that, because I always turn out the light when I leave the little kitchen, other people have started following my example, and now, often, when I go to the kitchen to get hot water for my tea, the light is already out. This makes me happy. It's happened very gradually. Change is slow, usually.

Usually. Recently, the development office got a new temp who is apparently a complete OCD clean freak. It's great. She cleaned this kitchen and the other one. She put up little signs everywhere telling people not to be such pigs. I love her.

Anyways, now, when I go into the little kitchen to get my water, I stand at the dispenser, watching it to make sure my hand doesn't stray and I don't get scalded, and the microwave with its little sign sits down in my lower left field. Often, lately, the light is out when I get there. I leave it that way, because there's enough light trickling in from the hallway. Every time I am in this configuration, with the light out, it looks for all the world that there is light coming out of the microwave window.

This happens over and over again. It's very robust; I can stand there and look straight at the microwave and its little paper sign, and that's what I see; then I look away, and the sign becomes an emission of lamp light from within the microwave. I can turn the mistake on and off by moving my eyes back and forth.

Again, I don't blame my visual system. It's doing the best it can. I've seen so many microwaves, and when they're cooking, they usually have little lamps inside, so you can see your whatever rotating on the little turntable. If the room is dark, the image is basically of a luminous rectangle in the front door of a microwave. Not many microwaves that I have known have worn little paper signs on their doors. To their disgusting, disgusting peril.

There must be a name for this, but I can't find it. So for now I'm going to invent a term: deja trompé‎, "fooled again". Deja as in deja vu, "again seen"; trompé‎ as in trompé l'oeil, "deceives the eye". Seems like the right flavor for this sort of thing. I'll start keeping track of these, however rare they are. I'll inaugurate the list with a new entry label.