“The eye sees in things what it looks for and it looks for what is already in the mind,”                                                                         Scientific School of Police, Paris.

 A story about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson on a camping trip shows the importance of intentionally paying attention. As they lie down in their sleeping bags for the night…

Holmes: “Watson, look up into the sky and tell me what you see.”

Watson: “I see millions of stars.”

Holmes: “What does that tell you?”

Watson: “Astronomically it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets.  Theologically it tells me that God is great and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically it tells me that we  will have a beautiful day tomorrow.   What does it tell you?”

Holmes: “It tells me that somebody stole our tent.”

The story is funny because it seems absurd and yet we can all somehow identify with it.  It is said, “If you want to hide the treasure, put it in plain sight. Then no one will see it.”  When I  don’t pay attention to something obvious, it is because I am so interested in something else, as was Dr. Watson. He failed to notice the missing tent, but he also failed to notice that he failed to notice.

I believe I need to develop the eye of a detective, by paying attention like a sleuth, by avoiding that mental-visual trap of seeing only what I look for, only what I pay attention to. When I see some part of reality (for example the objectionable behavior of someone) I should ask myself or someone else: “What don’t I know about this person because I don’t see it?” To answer, I need to notice what I am failing to notice about this person (background of experiences, reasons for objectionable behavior, other commendable behavior etc.) that might change my opinion?  And then intentionally pay attention to what I am not paying attention to, trying to avoid that mental-visual trap.

Can you give examples of someone failing to notice what they didn’t notice? Or suggest some other possible strategies for paying attention intentionally?

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2 Responses to PAYING ATTENTION INTENTIONALLY: Seeing Like a Sleuth

  1. Betsy says:

    That’s my problem, I can’t ever think of examples until you or someone else points them out. It’s so hard to get out of your mindset. I liked the piece.

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