John & Anne Wiley

2011/07/25

Notice

Discovery has magic for me. Certain discoveries add an element of magic and surprise, brought simply by noticing.

A familiar view for us is the nearby mountains that endlessly entertain us with changing light and often a fluffy dash of mist or cloud. Sometimes a dome of elegantly painted sky at sunset. Often a circling hawk or a cackle of crows. On a nearer hillock is a snag that draws the eye, and frequently harbors hawk or crows, woodpeckers or smaller birds. Imagine the surprise then to discover a medium-large tree standing alone on a ridge not a mile from our daily vantage point.

2398 Fog Featured Tree

2398 Fog Featured Tree

That’s it to the left of the snag, brought into stark relief by the fog just beyond. That same scene an hour later looked as it usually does, and that same tree is all but invisible.

2400 Vanished Fog & Tree

2400 Vanished Fog & Tree

With the fog gone, the hill beyond camouflages the tree and even seems to shift the shape of the ridge it stands on. This disappearance got me thinking about what and how we notice. Our minds are wired to ignore most of the information flooding into our senses. We’ve evolved to pick out what’s relevant or different. Anything that stands out in some way. If we could build a robot with eyesight no keener and brain no simpler than ours, would it notice the tree in the second photo? Would a mindfulness guru notice it? How many things in our lives go unnoticed? How many of those are relevant or different, but we pass them by either because we lack the presence to notice or because they don’t stand out? Why do I sometimes want to notice and remember more? How does noticing such things somehow stimulate serene happiness? Would that tree stand out in the second pic if my father had planted and cared for it? How relevant will the most important thing in my life be, in the context of ten thousand years?

Anyway, here’s a larger slice of the same scene more as we normally see it, inviting us to notice the tree even less.

2400 Tree Diminished

2400 Tree Diminished

Still, having now seen it our eye is drawn to search for it daily, a familiar face in the sensory crowd.

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