measure your adaptive ignorance

Recently the ever-inspiring Brain Pickings had an article about the way we selectively filter our reality. Anne Dillard, the author of On Looking, says:

Attention is an intentional, unapologetic discriminator. It asks what is relevant right now, and gears us up to notice only that.

Now of course, this is very useful. It’s what lets me write this blog post to you, in spite of the sound of the fan, the traffic outside, the smell of our recent trip to the grocery store and the ache of my neglected tooth (ow!). Strangely, I am aided in my attempt towards focus by the sounds of the “Lily Allen” radio station on Pandora, the music setting a steady pace with inobtrusive but clever and enjoyable lyrics that somehow don’t take away from my ability to write.

I don’t understand it, I only know that just as this helps me write, if I were video editing I would do better to play pop music. If I were writing fiction, I’d be having Hans Zimmer soundtracks playing; my imaginary worlds pop under the influence of words, for some reason.

Best Army Photos 2I’m sure if you stop and think about it you can find a whole lot of ways that you either focus your attention or have it focused for you. My friends K & A just had their first child, and I’m absolutely sure that their ears are attenuated now to the sound of her tiny cry, no matter where in the house they may be. What will be amazing is the way, as tiny Gwendolyn gets older, they will not only be able to pick her cry out of the cries of an entire horde of children, but they will be able to interpret that cry. “Excited” will sound different than “In distress, but she can handle it” which will be different than “Gwen needs Daddy/Mommy NOW!

That is an absolutely miraculous form of cultivating your own selective filters, and prove to me that it’s definitely a biologically evolved survival trait. But like many biological survival traits…it’s possible that there are times that it gets in the way.

Some Look, Some See

That’s the point of On Looking. The author took a walk around her block, trying to see everything with a Sherlockian-level of observation. Then she proceeded to take the same walk with ten other people – ranging from adult science experts to her own young child. Every one of them saw an entirely different world than what she did. She used the term “adaptive ignorance” to describe the way she selectively shut out various things either because her conscious mind thought them unimportant or simply because she didn’t have the developed perception to notice them in the first place.

I haven’t read the book yet, but it is on the list. And it makes me want to take the time to ask people who may be looking the same direction as me what they see. I’m never going to get rid of my own filters, nor do I especially want to – see above, they can serve a useful purpose. But that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from other people’s filters as well, and through them enjoy even more of the richness of the world.

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