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Sensation and Perception Case Study
The Case of…Kevin Mueller, the Cautious Pilot
Captain Kevin Mueller has been flying private and commercial aircraft for almost 30 years. His flight from Boston to Dallas on the night of November 4 was as routine as any other; Mueller and his copilot had run through their preflight routine in the darkness of the cockpit and, after a 20-minute delay, were cleared for takeoff. Halfway through the flight, Captain Mueller noticed something unusual out of the corner of his eye: a point of light that was initially very faint but growing brighter. It stood out against the backdrop of terrestrial light sources because it appeared to be much closer, and possibly moving.
Knowing that no other aircraft were operating in the area, Mueller focused his attention on the mysterious light source, concerned only with whether it might pose a threat to the safety of his passengers and crew. When at last Mueller still couldn’t make out what the mysterious object was after observing it for several minutes, he decided to take no chances. He rapidly increased altitude to put more distance between his aircraft and the object, which eventually faded from view and did not return. A later investigation could make no determination of what Mueller saw, but concluded that he acted appropriately to protect his passengers.
1. Why would Captain Mueller and his copilot sit in darkness before taking off on a night
2. Why would the mysterious object have first appeared to Mueller in his peripheral vision?
3. (a)What cues might Captain Mueller have used to determine that the mysterious object was much closer to his aircraft than any light source on the ground? (b)Why might it have been difficult to determine whether the object was actually moving?
4. Even though many of the passengers were awake and looking out their windows, only Captain Mueller and his co-pilot noticed anything amiss. Why might the passengers have failed to notice the object when it was so obvious to the pilots?
5. Several of the passengers did, however, notice when Captain Mueller changed altitude despite having no visual cues as a reference. Describe the sense that allowed these passengers to detect the aircraft’s motion.
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