Anteaters and Aardvarks: a thought on perception

by talkbackty on Apr 1, 2012

Part 1 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. To see all entries, click here.

A few weeks ago I went to the San Francisco Zoo. I walked around for a few hours and took pictures for Gridlock Magazine, a rather enjoyable use of my Saturday. Then I saw a Giant Anteater. Here's a picture for the uninitiated.

For my entire life I thought I knew exactly what an anteater was, an animal with a long snout and tongue to dig in the ground and eat ants. The only problem was that I was picturing an aardvark.
I guess intellectually I knew that anteaters had more hair and that they are usually brown & black in color, but whenever I thought of an anteater I pictured an aardvark with a slightly longer, more triangular snout. Then seeing a Giant Anteater, as tall as a Great Dane and seven feet long, I was perplexed. I silently had one of those moments when all you think is, "Ooooohhhhhhhh."

The strangest thing is how sure my brain was that it knew exactly what an anteater looked like. There was absolutely no questioning of my aardvark-inspired, anteater look-a-like. The image and thoughts I have about anteaters is, admittedly, minuscule. However, before my trip to the zoo basically all those thoughts were based on some figment of my imagination I created while watching PBS's Arthur.
How many other things have I constructed to the point of comfort in my mind? Thoughts, images, memories that I do not even realize are inherently wrong. I assume that most are small things, like anteaters and aardvarks, but what if the big things are wrong as well? Political affiliations, historical events, the color of my shirt.

The only thing to do when realizing one's infallibility is to seek knowledge while remaining humble. A new day reminds us only of how little we know- and how much we can learn. Hopefully, I can remember that as I continue to move through this world of anteaters, aardvarks and everything else.