The gap between looking and seeing


You are probably conversant with the statement: everybody looks but not everyone sees. But why is this so, you may ask? The reason is because seeing is both a science as well as an art.

Come with me, let me tell you more.

From physiological biology, we understand that, humans see with the brain and not with the eyes, that’s why someone may have his eyeball in place and yet he’s not able to see. The way vision works is thatwhenever we look at an object or a thing, the light reflected from it gets into our eye. This light sets all the different parts of the eye into motion and they begin to bounce off that visual information from one part to the other before it finally gets to the brain which then creates the image that we perceive or see. Even though it seems like all these happens in a blink and almost effortlessly, someone with visual processing issues or some form of impairment will tell you how much of a challenge this is.

That’s the first level. Let’s go deeper!

Seeing is also an art because it requires us to dig beyond the obvious and all the peripheral characteristics of a thing, down to its hidden details and sometimes even its externalities. To see, it must happen in your mind first before it happens on the outward. Seeing requires education and exposure – the kind that creates a mind that can resonate with new information. This kind of mind is able to offer the breadth and neural bandwidth that can capture the minutest possible insight.

Seeing takes effort, it takes focus and intention and curiosity. You may skim through a book to merely look at it, but you study a book to see it — to see not only what’s there but also what’s not there.

When two persons are handed a similar document, depending on the breadth and depth of their intellectual frame, the both of them will likely make different interpretations of it. One reads vocabulary and spellings, the other reads meaning and insight….one looks at the historical data and gleans what has happened, the other engages with the same data and sees what can happen. The first at his best asks why and the other not only asks why but also why not. If I give you an X-ray result, you may look at it very intensely and pass it off as a thin of film paper with just a body image….and even appreciate the texture/look and feel of the paper. But a medical doctor sees life or death in it. And it probably took him 6 years of study to be able to see that.

Sometimes the sight that comes from looking can be a distraction to the insight that opens up to us when we choose to see, if we are not careful.

Seeing is a lot of work — it’s a posture, an attitude and a disposition to think deeply about what you are looking at. Deep enough to draw relevant insights from it. And again, it takes education i.e the building of the mental frame that creates the necessary neural connections, and most importantly it takes curiosity, i.e the openness to not assume you already know what’s in a text but to hope for something entirely new.

You too can see if you choose to!

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