DRMacIver's Notebook

Knowing what to look for

Knowing what to look for

(A short post today because I have run out of brain)

From Finding Our Sea-Legs by Will Buckingham, page 69:

If I were to travel to Japan and stand before Mount Fuji, I would do so not with an attentiveness born of bare seeing, but with an attentiveness made keen by my love of Hokusai’s prints. I would see the mountain with the care and the love that comes from knowing it is precisely this mountain, and not some other, before which I stand.

This ties interestingly in to my previous post about visual hermeneutics. Because Buckingham has prior context the mountain, that causes him to interpret it in a particular way - he feels certain things about it, but also he attends to it differently. He knows things about it, and his eye is trained to look for them.

I think we often have a broken intuitive model of how vision works. Vision is not actually us statically observing what is there. It is an active, engaged, process, where our eye looks for and tracks certain details. Your visual field is mostly incredibly blurry, outside of a very narrow range, but your eyes dart around picking out detail wherever you’re paying attention to so you mostly don’t notice.

This means that interpretation isn’t just a matter of post-processing after you’ve seen an image, it determines where you focus your attention, so it literally changes what you see.