February 9, 2011

The Heater is Gray

Over Christmas I bought a space heater for my room at my parents' house in Flagstaff, which tends to be cold. I liked the heater so much I decided to get another one when I got back to my L.A. apartment, which also tends to be cold. Problem was, the one I got in Flagstaff was black, and in California (in fact online as well) I could only find silver versions of the model I liked. No big deal...but I really liked the way the black heater looked. Is it crazy to care that much about the color of your heater? Maybe.

So I bought the silver one, thinking, at least I've got the black one in Flagstaff. But here's the interesting part of the story: I just arrived here in Flagstaff, at my parents' house, and when I went upstairs to my room and looked at my heater, guess what color it was? Silver, not black. Unless there's been some sort of quantum disturbance in the the fabric of space time, the heater was silver all along.

Black was a figment of my imagination.

I should mention I tend to have a really good memory. I can remember word-for-word phrases from conversations I had years ago (this is not always a good thing, such as when I get into fights with my wife). Making gross errors of memory or perception is not something that happens to me often (I think!). And yet, every time I saw my new heater, I saw it in black. My brain decided it was black, and so it was.

This of course is how optical illusions and magic work. We see with our brains, not with our eyes. The brain regularizes the information the eyes present, conforms it to match expectation. There's nothing weird or unusual about it...until you catch it goofing up. But it's good to be reminded that not everything actually is the way we think it is—or remember it to be. There are plenty of implications in that statement when it comes to Avalanche safety. There are even more implications when it comes to living your life.

The heater is gray, it turns out. Go figure.

Andy Lewicky

ANDY LEWICKY is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer who enjoys good books, jasmine tea, long walks in the rain, and climbing and skiing the big peaks of the California Sierra. email | follow



  1. Joseph says:

    Andy…. with this article you’ve changed my life.

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