What we see is what we get

Hundreds of years ago, a French chemist called Michel Chevreul observed that ‘to change a colour, it is enough to change the colour of its background’. A simple premise that we tend to forget. Reality is constructed inside our brains, it is our perceptions that determine how we experience life. What we see, depends on us. Perception is a lens through which we view events, people, objects…and of course, logos!

When I first heard about the Myntra controversy, I spent a few minutes staring at the pink and orange ‘M’, wondering what was wrong…and then it I saw it. I must admit to a sense of grudging admiration for Ms. Naaz, for it does need imagination to look at something so ordinary as a mere alphabet, and turn it into something so graphically arresting. I also felt a tinge of disappointment that I didn’t recognise it right away. But then it would be a dull world, if we all saw things exactly the way it was meant to be.

A picture of a dress went viral in 2015 because people all over the internet, could not agree on something as basic as what was the colour of the dress. We see things in our own unique ways. Vision is not simply about converting the objects around us into pictures.

The human eye is constantly making small movements (saccades) to adjust the background, and automatically subtract the jitter. It receives tiny distorted upside-down images, and from the mosaic of stimulation patterns on the retina we ‘see’ the world. Complex optic neural pathways lead to the brain, where the images are converted to a series of electrical impulses, that finally constructs a mental representation of what is around us. The visual section of the brain and its preferences are not fully understood by the cortical side. Differing perceptions is based on our individual emotional, intellectual and socio-cultural influences. Which is why perhaps our individual realities are slightly distorted from one another. And it is this slight deviance that makes the world infinitely more interesting. Imagine how boring it would be, if we all agreed.

However disagreeing is not always easy. The fuss over the Myntra logo and the company’s quick replacement of its supposedly offensive symbol remind us that we live in a world that is increasingly sensitive. What is deemed acceptable is rapidly narrowing down. As we protest against everything and anything that hurts sentiments, do we hope to move towards a more progressive, culturally aware society. Or are we really trying too hard to be politically correct, and in the process muzzling free thought, speech and creativity.

We are different from one another, also biased, selective and uncertain. Clearly the world we live, breathe and devour is not the same. Our senses interpret and find meaning in diverse ways. But it is this variation that makes us human.

By now the internet is flooded with memes and suggestions on several other well known logos. Every innocuous symbol might have an alternate interpretation. I’m never going to look at Myntra or AirBnb in the same way ever again…and in some ways I’m thankful for it.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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