The Invisible Gorilla and the Invisible Me

I went to a(nother) conference last weekend (that’s why I couldn’t make SEM this year) and one presenter mentioned the invisible gorilla video again. The Invisible Gorilla is a research conducted by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons based on the video they created with the same name, and published in 2011. What the authors do is to

use a wide assortment of stories and counterintuitive scientific findings to reveal an important truth: Our minds don’t work the way we think they do. We think we see ourselves and the world as they really are, but we’re actually missing a whole lot. (The Invisible Gorilla Website)

If you have not watched the video, here it is:



Back to the conference. There were about 50 people in the room for the presentation I went and all the attendees were coming to learn/talk about multiculturalism and diversity. Surprisingly, after screening the video, more than half of the people in the room admitted that they did NOT see the gorilla. Yes, I saw it, because it seemed to me too obvious to ignore. But it’s really shocking to see so many people, especially who were supposed to be “more” open-minded and frequently talked about diversifying educational environment with respect to different cultures, showed a narrowed mind. However, even I witnessed this, I was still optimistic and thought the reality might not be as bad as what revealed in this small event/experiment.

The conference ended and I headed to the parking garage to get my car. Then this is what happened:

An Asian guy (just happened to be me) walked into an elevator, and a white lady, and then a white man. The man smiled to the lady and very politely asked which floor the lady was going to. And they started a short, nice soft chat. One floor down, the lady left. The elevator continued going down, in silence. And they arrived the floor, the Asian guy politely let the white man go first even he was closer to the door. The white man walked out, without any eye contact and no thank you, and started looking for his car. Right, from beginning to the end it’s all just like the Asian guy didn’t exist. He was invisible. By the way, the Asian guy is about 6′ 3.

It is “interesting” to see how a person can be polite gentleman and rude man with such kind of ignorance at the same time.  It’s ironic to see this invisibility of the others in Boston and in the U.S. in general, where so many people, disciplines, and educational programs have tried hard to teach/encourage people to learn perspectives from different cultures and to diversify the local culture, and so many people frequently talk about how liberal and open-minded they are. What worries me, from this case, is that it might be much harder than we thought to make people to truly believe, or just adopt, the concept that every person should be treated as a person (e.g. not with a label of  some Asian guy) and every culture should be treated as a culture (not some primary or developing groups). And the more scaring part here is that it is not people don’t understand the concept or they cannot learn, but is that there are so many people, consciously or unconsciously, still cannot even see other people and cultures exist. They are simply invisible. So, ignorance and pretending, which one is worse?

I think we still have a long way to go.


Posted in Ethnomusicology, Miscellaneous, 五花八門.

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