The short answer is: pay attention. But, pay attention to what? And How? Those are the harder questions.  Did you notice that there are two spots of yellow on the bark of the tree behind the flower (one above, one below), before I directed your attention to such?

This isn’t science, but in the following observation  experiment I would sometime like to do,  I am quite confident I can guess the most likely results. Lets say I find  a group of four people to get into my boat for an hour-long float through a wild section of dessert river canyon lands. Before stepping into the boat, I whisper something to each person. Person one,  I tell to count the total number of yellow flowers they see during the float time.  Person two, I tell to count total birds of prey circling high in the sky.  Person three, I tell to  count total  water ouzels doing their dipper like dance along the shoreline, and finally to person four,  I tell to count total number of bird songs heard along the way.

Furthermore, there is to be no talking during the float time, so they can practice their skills at being more observant. Before we embark, I instruct them to be open to everything and take in as much of what they can see, so as to improve their powers of observation. What will happen?

Most likely each person who was instructed to notice a certain secret thing, unbeknownst to the others, will come up with the highest count in their respective pre-selected subjects of interest.  Why? Because we see more of what we are looking for, at the expense of other things that would dilute our focus.

Some studies have suggested men and woman differ in their abilities to multi-task because of basic evolutionary reasons. The theory goes that men are more focused because they need this ability to concentrate on tracking, while women must pay attention to children while doing other things.

Scatter vision, or being able to see things more broadly, may be good for family things, but it  is not conducive to  becoming  a better observer. While the human eye has a blind spot  (known as the scotoma) located in the middle of the retina which affects our field of view,   our mental acuity cannot adequately absorb everything either.  To find your blind spot look at the O and X below, with  your face about 6 inches from the screen, so that your left pupil  lines up to the O and your right pupil lines up with the X.  Now close your right eye and stare at the X, and  move slowly away from the screen.   The O will soon disappear. Move farther away from the screen and the O will re-appear again. You have just found your blind spot. It is sometimes responsible for car wrecks, where the unsuspecting victim relates that ” I didn’t see them coming.”

       O                                                                     X

Furthermore, there have been scientific studies that show that highly educated urban folks pay no attention to unfamiliar objects placed in front of them if they focus too much on the familiar objects. Basically illustrating that what we already know “frames” our vision, which in turn, “frames” what we understand.

Have you ever discovered something along your habitual path to work, day after day,  that you had never seen before, yet was there all along?  What we see, or do not see in the world gets clouded by our thinking, or lack of thinking.  Not everything in the brain  can be at the center of focus simultaneously.  Just like our understanding about the world we live in, it comes piece by piece. This is the same reason we eat food by smaller bite size chunks. It is how our bodies can digest it all.

So plenty of things escape our attention, like the effects of rain splashing on the water, hitting everywhere and nowhere at the same time.  A multiple of explosions erupting from the surface are spaced by calm waters untouched by the same pelting. Which do you notice more?

At other times our brains play tricks with us. Try this maneuver. Place the index fingers of each hand pointing towards each  other tip to tip about a foot away from your nose. Now focus at something in the far distance on the backside of these two touching fingers and you will see a small sausage. Pull your fingers slightly apart, and you will see the sausage suspended in mid-air. It will disappear if you stretch the fingers even farther apart. It is a opitcal illusion, of course, but demonstrates how we can be fooled by many things in nature.

To be a better observer, you must first determine what the main object will be to focus on. Luckily, you will still make new discovers of other “sausages”  along the way that were not your object of attention, while gaining a deeper understanding of the object of your focus.

Bottomlime: pay attention to paying attention.

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