Is it a rabbit or a duck? On the power of your assumptions.
September 14, 2020
I love to learn.
I’m often curious about what it means to be successful, and I enjoy researching and reading about many philosophical figures, doctrines, and religions that explore the way human beings think and find meaning in their lives.
At 23, I started to fully embrace the importance of my mental health, and working at Wood’s Homes two years later complimented this embrace.
I’ll often listen to staff at Eastside Family Centre discuss methodologies of therapy and psychology. As I learned more about psychology and the importance of tending to my mental health, I noticed huge similarities in the philosophical figures, doctrines, and religions I had learned and continue to learn about that explore the principles of consciousness and perspective.
I had a lot of questions about success and I wanted answers. Oftentimes, one answer from a reference that resonates with you will fill in the blank spaces in another.
This reference for me was Ludwig Wittgenstein’s rabbit-duck illusion.
The rabbit-duck illusion was originally popularized by Wittgenstein to investigate and discuss the concept of perspective, as the ambiguous image can be seen as either a duck or a rabbit.
Wittgenstein explores how this figure can be seen and understood in two different ways. Often, one can see something in a straightforward way — seeing that it is a rabbit, perhaps. But, at other times, one notices a particular aspect — seeing it as something else, perhaps a duck (Soren).
When one looks at the rabbit-duck illusion and sees a rabbit, one is not interpreting the picture as a rabbit, but rather assuming what one sees.
One just sees the picture as a rabbit. But what occurs when one sees it first as a duck, then as a rabbit? In his literature entitled Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein states that he isn't sure. However, he is certain that it could not be the case that the external world stays the same while an 'internal' cognitive change takes place (Norman).
In The Power of Awareness, when describing the ‘power of assumption,’ Neville Goddard states that, “A man’s consciousness is all that he thinks and desires… all the he believes is true and consents to.” This is why “a change of consciousness is necessary before you can change your outer world.”
Rabbit or duck? Good or bad?
For clarity, let’s apply the rabbit-duck illusion to an assumption you may hold about a particular circumstance that has happened in your life. Or a person.
To preface this example, a rabbit and duck are both ambiguous figures with absolutely no meaning, aside from the meaning you’ve placed on them. Personally, I have no preference over one or the other, but for this example, let us suppose that the duck represents good and the rabbit represents bad.
There are people in your life that you persistently assume as bad - it‘s just a rabbit. But it’s simply an assumption that you’ve perpetuated because it was all that you were ever conscious of.
When you step away from the illusion and look at it again, you are now conscious of the fact that the person can be a duck! You may go back and forth in seeing the figure as either a rabbit or a duck, and the best part about being conscious of it is that you can always choose, and no longer be in automation, dictated by the figure, or in this case, that person.
In viewing a person as a rabbit – in assuming that they are bad – the thoughts that you perpetuate of that person is that they may be unkind, dismissive and rude. However, in being conscious of your ability to choose – you can intentionally choose to see that person as good – a person who is kind, respectful and polite.
Neville Goddard states that, “The ideal you hope to achieve is always ready for an incarnation, but unless you offer it human parentage, it is incapable of birth.” Likewise, a person is a rabbit-duck illusion, always ready to be assumed as a duck.
You can choose.
As human beings, I think that we often view many facets of our lives as either a rabbit or a duck.
In learning about how we think, we dissolve the rabbit-duck illusion. We learn that there is no good or bad. All circumstances in our lives can be perceived as an illusion. An illusion that simply is.
Those who assume their lives filled with rabbits will continue to only be conscious of rabbits. Those who assume their lives filled with ducks will continue to only be conscious of ducks.
Those who are aware that life is just an “illusion” can consciously transform (or rather assume) rabbits as ducks.
Not unlike the ambiguous rabbit-duck figure, you can assume that all facets of your life are in fact, meaningless. And in being aware – in being conscious of the fact that it’s meaningless – you will always have the power to choose how you perceive all of the circumstances in your life.
Lastly, you may acknowledge that the figure does not change.
This acknowledgment brings a surge of comfort to me anytime I am going through something in my life that I perceive as unfavourable.
When I react to a circumstance thinking that it’s bad, I am simply perceiving the circumstance as a rabbit, and therefore I can allow myself the purposeful sad, angry or lonely emotions - without judgment. In my personal assessment, we don’t only judge the circumstances of our lives, we also judge how we react to them. The ambiguous figure is always there and ready to be assumed as neutral and meaningless.
The power of assumption.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Hamlet: “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
This analogy is intended to better explain the power of your own assumptions, but at the centre of the lesson is that you are naturally capable of perceiving your life as neutral and meaningless. That there is no “good” and “bad.”
The rabbit-duck is ambiguous - it has no meaning. It just exists.
When I apply the rabbit-duck illusion to an experience, I take solace in the fact that these experiences only exist to serve me. And I can always choose to perceive the unfavourable circumstances as neutral - no matter what.
As for what it means to be successful, I’ve learned that those who boldly claim success perceive all circumstances in their lives as neutral. They don’t categorize themselves or the facets in their lives as either good or bad. Who they are and everything simply is.
And in doing so, they remain present, aware and in control of their thoughts, emotions and actions. For if you can’t control your mind, then everything and everyone else will (Dispenza).
Goddard, Neville. The Power of Awareness. pp. 361–362.
Norman, Malcolm. Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir. pp. 58–59.
Soren, Overgaard. Wittgenstein and Other Minds: Rethinking Subjectivity and Intersubjectivity with Wittgenstein, Levinas, and Husserl. Routledge. pp. 18–20.