Spring” with an extra preposition, or the
Trompe L’oeill paintings where three-dimensional images are presented on two-dimensional surfaces, also provide insight
into how the human mind works, and how
it fills in (or ignores) details.
So what do we do with this knowledge?
Witnesses are in the right place at the right
time. They may present the appearance of
excellent recollection and provide a clear
explanation. What may be lacking is comprehension.
Unlike lay witnesses, first responders,
law enforcement and expert witnesses have
specialized training on how to comprehend
and explain events. Their experiential data-
base in traumatic events is larger, they were
not personally subjected to the interrup-
tion in memory, they understand physics
and what is possible vs. impossible.
Through the use of moment-by-moment
reconstructions of events—“who did what
and when”—the outliers can be identified.
What are not open to interpretation are
the immutable laws of physics and the
physical evidence, and witness recollections must be viewed through this framework. A switch clearly found in the ON
position was never touched. A person’s
motion within a struck vehicle must behave
according to Newton’s Law. It is up to the
expert witnesses, and ultimately the triers
of fact, to make sense of all the evidence
presented to assure these laws are followed,
regardless of how the lay witness remembers the event.
Other examples include the clever experiment of having a researcher stop an individual to ask for directions on a busy sidewalk.
At some point in the providing of directions,
the two are separated momentarily by some
object. The researcher has used this interruption to switch places with a second
researcher. When reunited with the now-replaced researcher, the individual continues
giving directions. The race and even the
gender of the surreptitious researcher can
change, without the slightest hesitation
from the individual. The giving of directions
is a task involving spatial understanding and
translation into verbal communication.
Under this workload, people decrease their
perception of the world around them.
The sign that says “Paris in the the
“Slowin’ Down to Take a Look,” mural by John Pugh, Winslow, Ariz. Photo by Tpaairman. Licensed under Wikimedia Creative Commons.