Thursday, August 06, 2015

What we see depends mainly on what we look for..

What are you expecting to see?
The ability to see is an amazing thing, and since we’ve had our Guide Dog puppy, it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot more. Perhaps it’s something that many of us take for granted? I think I do.

Our eyes have the ability to take in so much information all the time that our brains are selective in what we process – what we focus on, so to speak – and so even though we may look at the same thing as someone else, we may “see” something different.
"What we are expecting does alter what we think we see."
What we are expecting does alter what we think we see. In my line of work I am surrounded by lots of specialists: archaeologists, ecologists, structural engineers, mechanical and electrical engineers, to name but a few. One great thing about this is that each of these specialists “sees” the projects we are involved with and the sites we assess in very different ways. I went on a site walkover recently which demonstrated this really well. 

Where I just saw overgrown vegetation, the ecologist saw Himalayan Balsam (an invasive species). Where I saw a green box, the electrical engineer saw a substation and could tell me how much power he expected it to carry. We looked at the same thing, but they saw much more than me – and there's a point to be made here about how teamwork broadens our vision.

Sometimes life's a blur!
In the 1990s Magic Eye posters were, briefly, popular (you don’t see them around these days really do you?). 

At first glance, the posters were a mess of chaotic patterns, but as you focused on the image, as your eyes adjusted, all of a sudden a 3D image would appear – usually dolphins or a famous building in my experience. Not everyone seemed to be able to see these images though. 

Happily I could, and I recall that the way it seemed to work for me was if I blurred my vision for a minute, this seemed to help my brain to “find” the image. 

In hindsight I think the challenge of being able to see the image or not was part of the appeal of these types of posters – perhaps the challenge was too hard which was why their popularity was short lived!

Being able to see the right thing, to get the right information, is another important element in my working life. We often produce technical drawings for Quantity Surveyors to price from, for Contractors to build from, and for regulators to approve. These drawings communicate information in a particular way, almost coded at times, and it’s a constant bugbear of consultants that other parties (e.g. contractors) don’t seem to be able to read the information on the drawings! 

Interpreting technical information is definitely a particular skill, but I have sympathy on both sides. As the old adage goes, a picture tells a thousand words – although I would add that if it needs a thousand words to explain a technical drawing then you’re doing it wrong! There’s much to be said for production of 3D information and imagery in assisting a whole project team to understand the various different elements, and this is something we increasingly do.
"As the old adage goes, a picture tells a thousand words"
Don't judge a book by it's cover...
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “David and Goliath” he writes around the premise that things we often perceive as disadvantages may, in the right circumstances, be advantageous in different ways. 

One particular example he cites is the case of a simple IQ test with brief, basic questions, designed for almost instinctive response – measuring people’s “first glance” answers. 

What tends to happen is that people assume the questions are asking something they’re not, and get one or more of them wrong. 

Interestingly, if the examiners make the questions harder to read – by using a smaller font and a fainter colour for example, then subjects were actually more likely to get the questions right, as they were more likely to re-read the question. 

Gladwell cites this as a good example of “desirable difficulty”, when making something harder to understand works to our advantage, in this case by taking the questions more seriously rather than firing from the hip. 

As the saying goes, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (harder to do in the digital age anyway?), although I remember at school that some of my classmates were able to solve maths problems “a priori” – i.e. “at first glance” (I never was). Whilst a picture may tell a thousand words, perhaps we too easily assume the picture is of something else - depending on what we are expecting to look at.

As an aside, apparently a trick for drawing something better, maybe from a photo, is to turn the original upside down. I think this is another example of desirable difficulty, as doing this it forces us to consider what we’re seeing without pre-conception, helping us to draw it more “truly” rather than drawing what we think we’re seeing and getting it wrong..   
"Whilst a picture may tell a thousand words, perhaps we too easily assume the picture is of something else - depending on what we are expecting to look at"
How we see ourselves is a big deal. Evidence for this is in the current trend for before/after weight loss photos which seem to be on every web page! One reason people seem to take these photos is to see the dramatic difference in their body shape over time, as it’s hard to see change in our lives (whether weight loss or not) on a daily basis. All too often I think we can see ourselves in a negative light, especially when we compare ourselves to our perceptions of others.

Do you see junk or value?
Particular words I find reassuring on this whole subject are the words of Psalm 139 which expresses the thought that we are fully known and fully loved by God. Not accidental, not a mistake, not unknown. 

Personally, the knowledge that I am fully accepted and loved by God is something that has taken a while to move from intellectual knowledge in my head to something I really know in my heart. 

I expect that this is a lifelong process, however accepting this truth more deeply has helped me to accept myself more too, to be more comfortable in my own skin and in how I’m wired.

There was a BBC news story recently about a man who bought a seemingly worthless wooden maul from a car boot sale for £3. The thing is, he had a hunch that it was something much more valuable, and sure enough it turned out to be a 4500 year old Egyptian tool worth over £4000! I love news stories like this, and we love buying things from car boot sales which we can “upcycle” into something else – a moral of this story is that there is often value in things written off as junk. Likewise, God is in the restoration business and usually sees value in us where we see only junk.

So what do you see around you this week? How do you see yourself? What do you need to take a deeper look at? What situations do you need to turn upside down, to see from a different perspective? What work situations, family situations, finance situations do you need to take a second look at?

Helen Keller was born sighted, but as a baby contracted an illness which left her deaf and blind. Amazingly her parents sought out help and found someone who was able to teach Helen to communicate through touch. Despite the significant disadvantage of not being able to see or hear, Helen went on to become the first deaf-blind person to gain a degree, and subsequently became an author and lecturer. Helen famously once said: “The only thing worse than being blind is having no vision”. Challenging stuff!
"This week, as well as appreciating the gift of sight, why not also look for and take the next step towards your vision, whatever that may be."
As I’ve been learning from having our Guide Dog puppy, sight is not something to be taken for granted. This week, as well as appreciating the gift of sight, why not also look for and take the next step towards your vision, whatever that may be.


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Babyfriend said...

I love this post, so very insightful.
I have learnt over the years to not trust my first view of things because of the many times I have jumped to a certain conclusion, wasted precious hours or even days, stressing and worrying only to find there was actually no reason to suffer if I had just taken the time to think things through and look at what was really happening.
Whatever happens, however I want to instantly act, I make myself wait. I don't answer the email or text, I don't call back. I stop and think about the situation, and make myself wait until my brain can see passed my eyes and first thoughts.
I work with new babies and their parents and one of the hardest things to teach them is to see what is really happening instead of what they are expecting to see.
'The baby is crying because it is hungry'...Is it really hungry ? you just fed it an hour ago so what else could it be ? Could it be tired, overtired, in pain with wind that you didn't get out from the last feed, overstimulated from too many visitors etc.
Some of this comes from the fact that they don't really understand how a new baby functions so, again, I teach them to try and see clearly. Observe objectively, don't jump to conclusions, don't try to pigeon-hole, don't project yourself and your reactions on to your baby, leave your ego out of, wait and see what is actually in front of you.
Writing this just now, I think it was actually me trying to teach this to parents was actually what triggered me to be able to apply this to my own ever day life...Thanks for the insight :-)
Love this post and follow your blog so thanks :-)
Sarah x

Luke Strickland said...

That's so encouraging Sarah, and it sounds like you do a fab job working with new parents! Appreciate you checking in! Luke

Michelle said...

I think the same can be said about memory. In my personal experience, what my brother remembers isn't exactly the same with what I remember. Memory can be tricky, just as what we see can be tricky. It reminds of an article I read recently about how our perception of things and of the world around us can lead us to wonder if our reality is really just in our heads or is it real? Very insightful! I love articles that make me think! Thanks for sharing on #anythinggoes.

Random Musings said...

Fab post - I love the Helen Keller quote, that really sums it up. I used to love them magic eye pictures, I totally forgot about them till I read this :)
Thanks for linking up to #AnythingGoes

Kirsten Toyne said...

This is very true. What we perceive is very personal. How we think and feel about situations depends very much on our belief systems and how we feel about ourselves. I love your call to see things differently. It coincides with my challenge this week for my blog readers to name their strengths and acknowledge their own skills and abilities. It is great to stop and consider those things we don't either appreciate or see fully.

Luke Strickland said...

You're right Michelle - we often joke about "selective memory" in our family!
Debbie - I don't know if the magic eye pictures even exist anymore?
Kirsten - sounds like I need to check out your post this week!

Appreciate you all dropping by!

Lady Nym said...

My parents had a 'Magic Eye' book. I used to love looking through it and trying to 'see' the images; I'll need to find out if they still have it! I'm really struggling with Tyger and his ASD at the moment. I think I need to try and see it differently. Instead of seeing highly intelligent child deliberately misbehaving and being violent I need to see he's a very insecure and anxious little boy who understands language but not emotion or social situations and he deals with that anxiety by lashing out. Thanks for sharing.


Luke Strickland said...

It can be so hard when you're deep in a situation to find a way to see a different perspective - thanks for being open, and I hope you find that magic eye book!

Martyn Kitney said...

Great post! Love this. I try to always see beyond but it's not always clear. I do think that a picture can paint a thousand words but also to reread and resee something is important. I love tapestry pictures. The front tells you a story and you can see the story unfold. But sometimes it's only when you look behind you get to see the detailed mess that made up that picture in the first place. Thanks for linking up with us on the #bigfatlinky hope to see you there this week

Luke Strickland said...

Thanks Martyn! The tapestry metaphor is a good one!