“What we see depends mainly on what we look for.”
“My experience is what I agree to attend to.
Only those items which I notice shape my mind.”
‘You see, but you do not observe.
The distinction is clear.’
Sherlock Holmes <A Scandal in Bohemia
Well. Selective attention. Filter bubbles. Adaptive ignorance. Search images. All of these phrases are relevant to viewing life with eyes wide open. Really seeing what you see. Because there is seeing … and … well … there is seeing. With so many distractions <objects & views & sensory things> and people <gestures & emotions & behavior>, do we really see them? And, frankly, can we see them all?
Too often we don’t.
In our rush to get from point a to point b, getting kids out the door for whatever they need to get out the door for and, well, you fill in the excuse for how we look at a lot of shit going on in our lives, the unfortunate truth is that we rarely ever see what is going on. And we certainly do not see everything we could, and possibly should, see.
Once again. Around us as well as in the people in front of us.
Yeah … yeah … yeah. We pay lip service to this. We say we care and pay attention and are observant, but we aren’t. To be fair. It isn’t easy to really see what’s going on around you with everything else you are thinking about and focusing on. And, no, this isn’t about distractions or technology or any of that crap. This is simply about the fact that Life can be a natural blur and the fact that we, as people, in general, suck at seeing what it is really going on around us — the world as well as the actual individual we may be interacting with.
In fact. We have science on our side as an excuse <for our suckedness on this issue>.
“Attention is an intentional, unapologetic discriminator. It asks what is relevant right now, and gears us up to notice only that.”
cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz
This thought really does impact how we spend our lives because it means we get geared up to notice only that which is relevant to us. And, frankly, we kind of suck at that too <discerning what is most relevant to us>. We tend to float past each other, and past life itself, cut off from the world by not only smartphones but a belief that what is going on around us is not the most relevant thing.
There is seeing and … well … seeing and there is a vast difference between the two. Frederick Franck in “Zen Seeing/Zen Drawing” argues:
“The glaring contrast between seeing and looking-at the world around us is immense; it is fateful. Everything in our society seems to conspire against our inborn human gift of seeing. We have become addicted to merely looking-at things and beings. The more we regress from seeing to looking at the world — through the ever-more-perfected machinery of viewfinders, TV tubes, VCRs, microscopes, spectroscopes — the less we see. The less we see, the more numbed we become to the joy and the pain of being alive, and the further estranged we become from ourselves and all others.
Well. That is a discouraging thought. He is basically suggesting that once we get on the slippery slope of ‘not seeing’ we very quickly enter, and stay, in this miserable abyss of ‘non-observation’.
He may be right. But I would rather believe he is not. Seeing, really seeing, is a discriminating decision made by you. Not the world around you. You.
I say this because ‘seeing’ is simply about openness: open eyes, open mind, open heart … open to unapologetic attention.
This is about not really looking for something in particular just being ready and receptive to whatever happens around you and in front of you. And by not seeking anything in particular <because that inhibits true seeing> you end up, as someone wrote somewhere ‘… by your own eyes you will see, and there will be a conclusion.’
In other words … you don’t see based on your own ideas, but rather you see based on what you actually see.
I am not suggesting this is easy. I am simply suggesting that you can do it if you elect to.
If it helps, we have evolution to blame on why I can say what I am saying to you:
…. evolution’s problem-solving left us modern humans with two kinds of attention: vigilance, which allows us to have a quick and life-saving fight-or-flight response to an immediate threat, be it a leaping lion or a deranged boss, and selective attention, which unconsciously curates the few stimuli to attend to amidst the flurry bombarding us, enabling us to block out everything except what we’re interested in ingesting. (Selective attention, of course, can mutate to dangerous degrees, producing such cultural atrocities as the filter bubble.)
Ah. The ‘filter bubble.’
the filter bubble
… by definition, it’s populated by the things that most compel you to click. But it’s also a real problem: the set of things we’re likely to click on (sex, gossip, things that are highly personally relevant) isn’t the same as the set of things we need to know.
Evolution and Life experience has created this filter bubble for each of us. And, by the way, each of our filter bubbles are different <because our Life experiences have been different in creating it>. But. This filter bubble idea also suggests that you can manage, if not actually change your filter bubble.
Yup. You can change the way you see things.
“To learn to see- to accustom the eye to calmness, to patience, and to allow things to come up to it; to defer judgment, and to acquire the habit of approaching and grasping an individual case from all sides. This is the first preparatory schooling of intellectuality. One must not respond immediately to a stimulus; one must acquire a command of the obstructing and isolating instincts.”
I love that one thought … ‘allow things to come to it.’ Allow what you see to come to your eye … and ultinalety your mind.
Seeing is in the mind … not in the eyes. Mentally we need to stop focusing on a specific destination but rather watch during the journey.
“You reminded me of another traveler I knew who always wanted to get there, wherever there happened to be, and as a result missed what was all around him at the time.”
Sir Richard Burton author and traveler
Now. More research. Just to make everyone feel better … beyond evolution … there is a real reason we do this. It is called ‘adaptive ignorance.’
This is no excuse and the truth is ‘adaptive ignorance’ gets driven by an out of whack barometer of what is important to the individual, but at least there is a psychological reason:
This adaptive ignorance, she argues, is there for a reason — we celebrate it as “concentration” and welcome its way of easing our cognitive overload by allowing us to conserve our precious mental resources only for the stimuli of immediate and vital importance, and to dismiss or entirely miss all else. (“Attention is an intentional, unapologetic discriminator,” Horowitz tells us. “It asks what is relevant right now, and gears us up to notice only that.”) But while this might make us more efficient in our goal-oriented day-to-day, it also makes us inhabit a largely unlived — and unremembered — life, day in and day out.
Not only does Life make seeing difficult … our minds do. Our minds adapt more and more <which ultimately constrains seeing> by a couple of things:
– productivity <just getting shit done or out of the way or solved>
– the ways we learn to see the world.
All this adaptation <or I imagine we can call it ‘coping’> creates something researchers call ‘search images.’ These are things all of us employ when we need to narrow our attention in a goal-oriented task. Unfortunately, this is only helpful or even possible if we know what to look for. And that, my friends, is ultimately the point about seeing … and really seeing.
“… more is missed by not looking than not knowing.”
We don’t see because we don’t look.
What a shame.
Because by not looking, really looking, we miss seeing some really valuable <important> things. In the end. I’ve provided a whole bunch of excuses for why we don’t really see things — real researched psychological reasons to hold on to if you want. But I would suggest now that you know the psychological reasons you are now aware enough to, well, actually see what you should see, not what you want to see.