Believe it or not, we live in a world where everyone has a superpower. I am not simply talking about shooting lasers from your eyes or turning yourself invisible when you do not wish to be seen. However, us as humans can fix the roof or even fight in the battlefield with our eyes closed. In The Mind’s Eye, Oliver Sacks gives a number of examples of people who lost their sight when they were young; as a result, most of them were able to heighten various senses such as visual imagery, hearing, or touch. On the same hand, Malcolm Gladwell also discusses how sensitively people respond to the changes of their physical conditions in his text.
In The Power of Context, Gladwell shows how easily individuals can be influenced by their environment through several psychological experiments and evaluations and further expands upon the Broken Windows theory, a criminological theory which explains how physical disorderliness cause people to commit crimes. Thus, changing environmental factors can bring out a person’s hidden instincts, negative or positive, in favor of or at the expense of one’s valued human traits. Everyone has a hidden instinct that can only be brought out by changing his or her surroundings.
In Sacks’ writing, a professor of religious education in England named John Hull who became blind at the age of forty-eight was able to shift “his center of gravity to the other senses and these senses assumed a new richness and power” (Sacks 330). Before Hull went blind, he would have never even imagined of “feeling” the world instead of seeing with his eyes. However, “he wrote of how the sound of rain, never before accorded much attention, could delineate a whole landscape for him, for its sound on the garden path was different from its sound on the lawn, or on the bushes… and thus, Hull was able to “feel a sense of intimacy with nature… beyond anything he had known when he was sighted” (Sacks 330).
The change of his vision has indeed helped Hull discover his abilities to hear and feel the world around him without seeing. Similarly in Gladwell’s text, he presents us with the Broken Windows theory by James Wilson and George Kelling which argues that “crime is the inevitable result of disorder” and that “if a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge… and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street” (Gladwell 152).
This theory again grasps the idea of how altering the physical surroundings can bring out a person’s hidden instinct, in this case an instinct to commit crimes. Everyone has the ability to commit crimes; most of us just choose not to because it is against the law. However, the Broken Windows theory define those of us who commit crimes as “far from being someone who acts for fundamental, intrinsic reasons” and that those criminals are actually people who are “acutely sensitive” to their environment and are prone to commit crimes based on their “perception of the world” around them (Gladwell 156).
In short, this theory states that the change in our environment is the ultimate tipping point that brings out our hidden ability to commit crimes. Both Hull and Broken Windows theory perfectly exemplifies how modifying one’s environment can result in bringing out one’s hidden traits. The hidden human instinct which is exposed by altering the physical environment is brought out in favor of or at the expense of one’s valued human traits. In Sacks’ essay, an Australian psychologist named Zoltan Torey shared an experience that was completely different from what Hull went through.
While Hull started to lose his visual imagery after two years of becoming completely blind and focused on his other senses to interpret the world, Torey on the other hand was able to develop “his inner eye, his powers of visual imagery, to their greatest possible extent” (Sacks 332). Because “Torey’s father was the head of a large motion-picture studio and would often give his son scripts to read”, Torey often had many chances to “visualize stories, plots, and characters to work his imaginationa skill that was to become a lifeline and source of strength in the years ahead” (Sacks 332).
Torey was able to grow his ability to use vivid imagery to see the world through his mind when he lost his vision because he was already familiar with vivid imagination from childhood experiences. In Torey’s case, his hidden instinct to see the world using visual imagery was brought out in favor of his valued trait, vivid imagination. In contrast, Gladwell’s writing portrays how human instinct was exposed at the expense of one’s valued human traits.
In the early 1970s, a social scientist named Philip Zimbardo led a prison experiment where he appointed half of the psychologically tested participants as guards and the other half as prisoners at the basement of Stanford University. The result, however, was astonishing. “The guards, some of whom had previously identified themselves as pacifists, fell quickly into the role of hard-bitten disciplinarians” (Gladwell 158). Highly contrasting to Torey’s case, the human instinct of the guards to brutally discipline the prisoners with fear was brought on the surface at the expense of their valued trait, peacefully dealing with conflicts.
The first night they woke up the prisoners at two in the morning and made them do push-ups, line up against the wall, and perform other arbitrary tasks” (Gladwell 158). Due to the change of their surroundings, the participants who played the guards in Zimbardo’s experiment acted against their normal characteristics and human values regardless of their will. As shown through Torey’s case and Zimbardo’s psychological experiment, the subconscious instinct of humans could be brought on the surface either in favor of or at the expense of one’s valued human traits.
Without a doubt, everyone has a side that is hidden deep down in their heart, covered up with his or her valued human traits. It is only when they are in a physically different environment where they lose a trait of their own when people start to reveal who they truly are. Through Oliver Sacks’ The Mind’s Eye and Malcolm Gladwell’s The Power of Context, it was evident that people’s subconscious characteristics were brought out on the surface when they were placed in a different physical environment.
Both Hull and Torey in Sacks’ text lost their sight in an accident and were able to heighten their hearing and visual imagery to the maximum extent due to the change. In Gladwell’s essay, the Broken Windows theory, which suggested that humans are vulnerable to commit crimes according to their physical environment, and Zimbardo’s psychological experiment, where the “pacifists” became the most brutal and merciless guards, both proved that the hidden characteristic of a person could be brought out by changing the physical surroundings of that person.
On this account, physical change in our environment is indeed crucial; a simple graffiti on the wall can bring a person to put a gun to someone else’s head and losing one’s sight can cause people to enhance their other senses such as hearing or visual imagery to the extent where they can hop on the roof to fix the gutters or go out in the battlefield to fight for freedom without seeing things around them with their own eyes.
So, does that mean everyone has this superpower, a subconscious characteristic that is hidden deep inside, to see the world without actually seeing with their physical eyes, but with their mind’s eye? What is your superpower?