And I always thought I was being objective

I was at our neighborhood watch shop today and checking out a Seiko model. I noticed that the second hand was not pointing directly north, and was aligned a little to the left, by a mere fraction of a millimeter.

The shopkeeper looked puzzled and took a good look at the watch. He said: “No, it’s pointing straight up! If it is misaligned, I’ll have to send it back to the distributor but it looks ok to me.”. His father also took a quick check and affirmed there was no issue.

I took another close look again and it was just a bit off. And as an ex-photographer, I do pride myself on noticing the smallest details, especially when something minute is misaligned.

Both of us were puzzled for a while, then I took a look at my own Seiko wrapped around my wrist. To my horror, the second hand was misaligned in the same way as the shop’s Seiko!

I realized that it could be related to my lazy (left) eye, so I closed my right eye and voila, the second hand was aligned correctly on both watches. I took off my glasses and peered closely at the watches, and there was no more apparent parallax error. But when I put on the glasses again and looked at the watches at arm’s length, there, it seemed a little misaligned once again. The stereo image my mind was forming was misaligned, not the watch.

Just so you know, I’m very short-sighted in my right eye (about 400 degrees) and just mildly myopic in the other (about 150 degrees). This was because as a child, I  used to read lying down on my side and put too much strain on my right eye. Over time, the right eye became the dominant one while the left eye became the “lazy eye”.

So as I thought about it, it could have been two reasons:

1. The glass curvature in my right spectacle lens was causing light to bend more than it should. Rather unlikely but you’d never know. 

2. My brain is so used to processing information from my right eye in priority to the left over the years, that now when I see a stereo image, it is actually an image with a bias towards the data coming in from the right eye. 

It dawned upon me that this was a demonstration of the brain’s wiring that leads to our lack of objectivity and personal bias. No matter how balanced we think we are, our brains may be processing information in different channels and mixtures.

So before I tell someone that “I’m objective about this matter! I can see both sides of the story”, I’ll take a step back and think hard: “What am I seeing wrong about the picture here? Or what am I not seeing though it is right in front of me?”

Frightening isn’t it, when what you always thought was a fair and balanced worldview, turns out to be otherwise.