Learning Technologies Newsletter

ISSUE 121 - September 2015 - by Phil Chambers

TIME TO READ: 5 minutes (Average Reader), less than a minute (Speed Reader) - Word Count: 1,210 To learn more about Speed Reading Contact us or read my book ‘Brilliant Speed Reading’.

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Welcome to the September issue of The Learning Technologies Newsletter. Please continue to forward it to friends and colleagues who you think would find it useful.

This month we consider how perception is influenced by context and how this can be useful. Also in this issue, our regular features of Mind Map Tip, Quote of the month and What I’m up to.


September's Quote of the Month

"Studies have shown
that 90% of error in thinking
is due to error in perception.
If you can change your perception,
you can change your emotion
and this can lead to new ideas."

~ Edward de Bono

More quotes here


Mind Map Tip of the Month

Leave a blank space in the middle of your Mind Map if you get ‘stuck’ for a central image. The brain is very good at filling in ‘gaps’. You will find that as you start drawing branches and filling in details your sub-conscious will come up with an appropriate centre.

“101 Top Tips for Better Mind Maps” is available as a Kindle e-book from Amazon and in ePub format on Apple iBooks (Search for Phil Chambers). Of course you can still buy it as a physical book here.

What's Phil Up To?

Phil Chambers

I am back from a Frankfurt presenting a Speed Reading seminar for the European Central Bank.

The UK Open Memory Championships last month went very well. Congratulations to Simon Reinhard who took the title of UK Open Champion and Marlow Knight who is the new UK National Champion. See report and photos here and full results here:




Deceptive Perceptions

Do you believe what you see? Sometimes things are not what they seem.

We don’t perceive absolutes. Everything is relative to its context. As an example, look at the two shapes labelled A and B. I hope you’ll agree they are exactly the same shade of grey.

two shapes

Now if we add some context they look different. I promise they are the same two ‘squares’. By convincing the brain that one is in shadow it adjusts your perception.


Context is not restricted to spatial arrangement it is also related to time and what happens prior to a stimulus. Let me explain this with a thought experiment. Image you have three buckets of water in front of you. Bucket one is filled with hot water, not scolding but like a really hot bath. Bucket two has water at normal ambient room temperature. Bucket three has ice water like use in the ‘ice bucket challenge’. Imagine you immerse you left hand in the hot water and your right hand in the ice water. Leave them there for five minutes then place both in the second bucket with the room temperature water. To you left hand, which has been acclimatised to hot water, this feels cool and to the other hand, acclimatised to cold water, it feels warm. Your brain can amazingly, simultaneously perceive three conflicting pieces of information coming from its senses. Your eyes tell you that both hands are in the same water but each hand is feeling a different sensation. Everything is relative.

This reminds me of Douglas Adams’ Electric Monk from one of my favourite books, ‘Dirk Gently’s Holisic Detective Agency’.

“The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device, like a dishwasher or a video recorder. Dishwashers washed tedious dishes for you, thus saving you the bother of washing them yourself, video recorders watched tedious television for you, thus saving you the bother of looking at it yourself; Electric Monks believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe.” He continues, “This Monk had first gone wrong when it was simply given too much to believe in one day. It was, by mistake, cross-connected to a video recorder that was watching eleven TV channels simultaneously, and this caused it to blow a bank of illogic circuits. The video recorder only had to watch them, of course. It didn't have to believe them as well. This is why instruction manuals are so important. So after a hectic week of believing that war was peace, that good was bad, that the moon was made of blue cheese, and that God needed a lot of money sent to a certain box number, the Monk started to believe that thirty-five percent of all tables were hermaphrodites, and then broke down. ”

Luckily your brain doesn’t break down when confronted with conflicting information it adapts. However, adaptation can sometimes be imperceptible. If change happens too slowly you don’t perceive it as happening at all. I have just had new lenses in my glasses as my eyesight has changed since my last eye test. I didn’t realise this and it took an optometrist to find out. Since the difference between my eyesight today and yesterday is undetectably minuscule, I don’t notice any difference. Add up these minute changes over 700 days and there is a real effect but it goes completely unnoticed. The relative day-to-day change is too small.

A similar thing goes on with frogs. No, they don’t wear glasses! If you cruelly drop a frog into boiling water it will immediately jump out. However, if you put him in cold water and very slowly heat it up the frog will boil to death. The frog becomes habituated to each tiny increment in temperature before it rises.

If you drive a car you have probably experienced becoming habituated to a certain state such that your relative perception is altered. Imagine driving down a completely clear autobahn for two hours at 95mph (153 Km/H). Ahead you see sign that says slow down to 30mph (48 Km/H). Without looking at the speedometer you slow to what feels like 30mph. You’ll probably be travelling at nearer 50mph. Relative to the fast speed 50mph is perceived as much slower than it really is.

So how can the fact that perception is relative help us? If you are learning to Speed Read, you can often restrict yourself because the new fast speed feels uncomfortable. One of the important principles of Speed Reading is to move a pointer along the lines of text to improve fluidity of eye tracking. If you move the pointer insanely fast for about a minute, following with your eyes but taking in very little, you become habituated to very fast motion. When you then read at a comfortable but fast speed you will actually be reading at least 20% faster than it feels like. This is a very powerful ‘trick’ to quickly boost your speed without loss of comprehension.

Try applying the Speed Reading Tip if you like but also occasionally question whether what you perceive is accurate or the result of a relativistic distortion.

That’s all for this month. Watch out for the next issue in October.

Best Wishes