Gianluca Gimini, an Italian artist, had a childhood memory. His classmate was asked to draw a bicycle in front of the entire class. He couldn’t, and the class laughed at him. Bicycles are ubiquitous devices. Its simple mechanisms are plain to see. Anyone could draw a stick diagram from memory. Right?
Rebecca Lawson, a cognitive psychologist from the University of Liverpool wanted to test just that. She gave a bunch of people a simple frame with a seat and a handlebar, and asked them to complete the rest of the bicycles. The vast majority couldn’t draw a schematic that would actually function. The resulting diagrams are interesting.
When Lawson repeated the same experiment while letting participants look at a real cycle, they made far fewer errors. Her experiment points to a tendency of our brain to think that we know more about the outside world than we really do. Our brains tend to use the world as “outside memory”, to save us from storing huge amounts of information. But at the same time, it gives us illusions of competence, which led to Gimini’s classmate’s public humiliation.
Lawson’s bicycle experiment, among many others, reveals our tendency to be overconfident creatures. As a rule of the thumb, we know less about things than we think we do.
If this applies to drawing bicycles, what else can this be true of? What about smartphones? With the world’s information literally at our fingertips, do we end up feeling even smarter than we should? It turns out that we do.
PS: Gimini asked a few people to draw bicycles and rendered their visions in 3D, considering the artist that he is.