Saturday, July 19, 2014

Blowin' in the Wind: Inattentional Blindness...

Blowin’ in the Wind is a regular feature on my blog consisting of an assortment of nature writings – hymns, songs, excerpts, prayers, Bible readings, poems or other things – pieces I may not have written but that inspire me. I trust they will do the same for you.

Last week I put up that photo of the nearly invisible whitetail fawn at rest in the grass we came across while leading a nature hike, and the story surrounding its discovery. In my essay, I also briefly alluded to the spiritual issue of failing to see the things that God desires us to see, or hear the things God desires us to hear.

I always appreciate it when either friends or people unknown to me comment, lets me know that somebody is reading these things and enjoying them! Sometimes comments come direct to the blogsite, more often to my Facebook reminder post, and most often via a personal email or face-to-face encounter. Quite quickly after posting last week, I heard via email from a good friend, Monty, a pastor here in Colorado, who happened to be preaching the next day on the same subject. I thought it might creatively expand last week’s spiritual subject. Here is what he said (permission was granted!):

Enjoyed your Naturally... just now.  Reminded me of the many times someone forwards something like that drawing that either looks like an old hag or a beautiful woman, depending on how you look at it... I’m speaking Sunday on the Parable of the Sower and focusing on Jesus' very specific urgings to "Listen!" Here is my intro, after which I segue into ‘inattentional’ deafness:

"Last week I read a blurb about a research group that was studying something they called “inattentional blindness.” They say inattentional blindness occurs when “people fail to become aware of objects unrelated to their current task.” In other words, when we are busy doing one thing we will likely not see or notice what is going
on around us.                                                                                             

"The researchers clipped money on a tree branch overhanging a path about head height and then observed the reaction of the passersby. Here is what happened. 396 people were observed walking down the path. Most failed to see the money, but 94% of those who missed it were distracted by their cell phones... Some of these did not even see the branch until it whopped them in the face.

"The researchers concluded that “becoming aware of an object generally requires focused attention.” I think that means you need to be looking for something in order to see it… When people look at a tree they expect to see leaves so they see leaves… not money. So when they are not intentional, or are ‘inattentional,’ they cannot see the money for the leaves. If they had been told there was money hanging on a tree branch when they began their walk down the path, they would have been looking for it. But because they were not looking for money they did not see it. Inattentional blindness…

"We generally see what we are focused on seeing or expecting to see, but inattentional blindness is exacerbated when we our attention is focused on something totally unrelated to what we are doing.

"Earlier this week I looked across Agate Lake, the same lake I looked across last year. The same stand of dead trees I saw last year stood in a gap between the greenery along the opposite shoreline. But this time, in the morning sunlight I could see what looked to be an old white house with four windows… in the five years we have gathered there in that same spot no one had noticed the house hidden behind the stand of dead trees. Suddenly we could all see it because now we were looking for it. Otherwise we had been inattentionally blind to it.

"I wonder if there is also such a thing as inattentional deafness…"

Thanks, Monty. Couldn’t agree more. Even stumble along in that blindness myself sometimes, so I wish I could have been there to hear the rest of the sermon!

~~RGM, July 16 2014


  1. I appreciate what you're saying, Rick and Monty, but I also think we needn't be TOO hard on ourselves when we fail to notice things around us. Our brains are designed to filter the stimuli that surround us in any given moment and to assign them to meaningful categories; otherwise we would be overwhelmed by a barrage of random sensory input. So it's normal -- and dare I say, even a blessing -- to notice only a portion of what's going on around us and to overlook things that defy familiar categories.

    I love the fact that our individual filters are unique, enabling each of us to sense the world a little differently and to enrich each other with those variations. My husband ALWAYS sees the deer in the underbrush before I do, but I alert him to relational cues that he routinely does not notice. He will point toward a house as we drive past, expecting me to exclaim over the beauty of the rose bush by the front door; but I don't notice the bush and instead laugh at the adorable puppy that's romping in the yard. We both say, "How could you miss it?" ... but in reality no one can take in everything. In this, as in so much of life, we are truly "better together."

  2. Thanks for the note, Sue... Yes, I agree, better together. At least most of the time! It was those same multiple eyes that noticed the fawn in the grass in the first place. I might have missed it had I been alone. Of course, there are some tragic times when the whole of a group of people see wrongly, or all 'miss the forest for the trees.' God spare us! Trust you're well...

  3. I am delighted to have found your blog, Rick. After reading your latest entry I went on to read the prior one as well and had a chuckle when it struck me that seeing the link to your blog (in your recent email) was like coming across a fawn...down in the foliage of your email signature. I wasn't looking for it but it caught my eye finally. Thanks for your thoughts and insights. So glad to have found your web site and I look forward to perusing the archive!

  4. Ha! Never thought of my blog address on our email as a fawn in the grass! Thanks, Larry, and welcome. Hey to Deb! I pray it'll be a blessing to you, Rick