Thought-Provoking Video and Discussion

Participants viewed the video The Backwards Brain Bicycle and discussed its relevance to conference topics. The video shows how difficult it is to learn to ride a customized bicycle, where turning the handlebars one way moves the front wheel in the opposite direction. The bike example was about (1) brain plasticity and how we become more rigid in our perceptions as we get older, and (2) that unlearning a bias does not necessarily mean we are unbiased, but maybe just that we changed our bias in another direction. The bike example sends a message that it is both important and possible to challenge one’s most familiar perceptions. The video suggests that such challenges may require support, but both effort and attempts to provide support can be very fruitful in the search for self-understanding.

Participants were then given the opportunity to elaborate on the challenges in confronting existing assumptions, the importance of considering issues that address both the life of the mind and life of the body, the recognition that everyone comes to a situation with biases and in some cases need to change, and how some categorize certain ways of doing things as incompetence. It was pointed out that the father and the son in the video have different past experiences with a bicycle and different levels and types of support as they learned to ride the backwards brain bicycle, making it clear that support networks do make a difference; in this example the child had more encouragement (from his father) than the father had (from his friends). The bike story brought to mind how typical simulations about disability (e.g., having people try, for the first time, maneuvering a wheelchair or accomplishing a task while blindfolded) do not simulate the experiences of typical people with disabilities who have gained skills in alternative ways to accomplish mobility and other tasks. We can’t quickly simulate the experience of another individual. Other participants pointed out that a single category of mastery (say, riding the unusual bicycle) may not signal meaningful effort or achievement for all individuals. In short, the variety and indeterminacy of effort, achievement, and self-understandings, all stressed by intersectional analysis of identity, were highlighted by the video and our discussion of it.