The mind has a tendency to fill in blanks, to gloss over missing links in a way that promotes closure.
If you’re looking at a picture and part of it is blocked, your mind will predict the rest of the picture. Our brains can “see” things our eyes can’t.
"So, it wno’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod aeppaer, as lnog as the frsit and lsat ltteers are in the rhgit palce," according to a popular internet meme.
You just read that without thinking about it. As long as we get the gist of something, our minds get the rest.
Conversely, our senses can be careless—we can create that blank ourselves. Consider olfactory fatigue, whereby you’re exposed to an odor for so long you just stop smelling it.
Sometimes you see the truth when it’s hidden, and sometimes you’re blind to what’s right there.
We all know there’s a huge gap between how much affordable housing is needed and how much exists. We even know how wide that gap is, measured in units and households, in an annual report from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. But what do those numbers even mean? Every year, as the numbers get worse, I get bad-news fatigue. I can’t recognize the stink anymore because the smell never leaves.
And I fill in the blanks. I know exactly what that report is going to say before it comes out. I crunch the numbers and recite a bit of accepted wisdom about how bad things are getting.
I read it without thinking about it. And that scares the hell out of me, much more than the numbers themselves. Because once that wisdom becomes accepted, it becomes part of who we are, cynically informing our behavior, filling in blanks, desensitizing us to the inhumanity of poverty.
I’d rather believe the arc of history bends toward justice. I’d rather extrapolate. The numbers say we’re losing the preservation battle, and we are. But as long as we keep our eyes fixed on the horizon, and keep moving with conviction, we can glimpse victory at the end of the war.