Crime Beat

This Square Does Not Exist… Nor Does the Tony Hillerman MS Gun

Do you see a cube? You should, even though it does not exist either.

On May 06, 2021 Albuquerque was captivated by a bevy of consternation and anxiety.

In the early morning hours Tony Hillerman Middle School was placed on lockdown as a teacher reported seeing a student pointing a firearm at another student. Upon seeing this the teacher locked the students away, reported this to police, and police responded in kind.

Without re-litigating the full sequence of events, the police ultimately found that the juvenile in question had pointed his cellphone at his classmates in a courtyard between classes, as reported by KRQE.

There was no gun.

This is the part where people would suspect this is about to become a referendum on firearms or gun culture, or perhaps a referendum on how the teacher responded, or possibly a referendum on law enforcement and how they might handle situations such as this. Honestly, this article is none of the above but rather an observation as to how these situations occur generically.

The brain is a wondrful machine, and it constantly works in overdrive. This point is illustrated in the fact that as you read this some of you may have caught the typo in the last sentence with the word “wonderful”; however, your brain filled in the missing letter and you were aware of what the word was supposed to be.

If your brain did not do this, you would be experiencing an exceptional level of cognitive impairment to a structure in your brain known as the fornix (UC Davis).

So as noted in the title of this article, the square in the image does not exist. Your brain utilizes a process called “filling in” to create the square within the image you see.

This process of filling in utilizes “certain unconscious assumptions about the statistics of the natural world—suppositions that can be revealed by visual illusions.” (Mind The Gap, Scientific American)

This is where things become a little uncomfortable.

There have been cognitive studies conducted as to why people perceive certain individuals to have a weapon over others. Studies have been done to try and ascertain levels of various cognitive bias; however, these studies are still relatively inconclusive and in cases the studies themselves have interjected bias.

So rather than make broad conclusions we should look at the information on hand.

The teacher saw a student make a gesture with an object, and in their perception concluded that this object was a firearm. That conclusion determined that students and staff were in imminent danger.

Though we are aware now that the gun did not exist, one could conclude that something led this instructor’s brain to the unconscious assumption that this juvenile was wielding a firearm.

So, we are left to ask ourselves what drives these unconscious assumptions in the individual’s perception? Are these unconscious assumptions fear based, culturally motivated, both? Are these unconscious assumptions malleable and subject to change over time, or are they relatively fixed within our unconscious thought?

And what does it mean that teachers in America visualize firearms in the hands of their students when they aren’t actually there.

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