Don’t Judge a Book by its cover

Seeing is not as Simple as it Seems

Dr. Usha Nandini M, MBBS


A rose is a rose is a rose – Gertrude Stein

What came in front of your eyes when you read the above quote?



Three red roses?









A red/white/yellow/black rose?







A boy giving roses to his girl?





Gertrude Stein’s position when she thought of this?






Three roses tea packet or the advertisement?





Or, the character Rose from “The Titanic”?




It is the same word, right? But each of us see it as something that is not the same as others. The list could go on showing us the numerous possibilities that could be seen. It’s a tricky thing “ seeing “.

See the trick? No? Wait…

We see things not just because certain objects reflect light and our retina captures the rays. It is a highly evolved complex pathway, a stage by stage sequential analysis of the image with increasing sophistication with existence of feedback mechanism resulting in seeing objects identity, location/ movement.

Going back to the example, there wasn’t even a rose to start with. Just a few words and your brain saw the images. Now do you see how tricky it is?

Seeing or Vision, recognition, perception etc. are inter-related concepts. Confusing? Let me give you a few pictures…

There’s more to the eyes than these eyes

What did you see in these pictures? I bet you saw at least one in this way…

They were just sets of eyes right? How did you see it as the whole face or the person? It’s what is called as recognition. Certain features or signatures of an object/face serve as a template. The new object/face is compared with the inbuilt template creating a ‘relationship’. The brain computes and identifies the new object/face and also invokes ‘meaning’. And this is how we recognize. The images on the retina are converted in to neural impulses which does not recreate the original images but as symbolic encodings. These symbolic descriptions represent the scenes & objects that had been in the image that are partly created in the retina but mostly in the brain eventually to recognize objects.

An actively formed opinion of the world or the images seen rather than a passive reaction to sensory input from it involving the parts of judgment & interpretation is called perception.

See how tricky seeing is? And you were gonna believe whatever your eyes showed you? Beware of the appearances, it can be deceptive. Never Judge a Book by its cover.


  1. The Tell – Tale brain by S. Ramachandran
  2. An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks
  3. Scientific American – MIND
  4. Dr. Viswanatha Rao’s Lecture “ To see, not to see”

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