Losing the ability to observe. 

When humans first evolved into their present form, they found themselves in a vicious, nasty world, where eternal vigilence ment the difference between a short life and a long one. Every sense was a cannel of precious information that could save those early human lives. By comparison with this savage world of the past, the modern world, and especially the western world of the child, is very safe. Because of this safety children gradually learn that they do not need to be very vigilent, and they they do not really nead to finely discriminate between various minute changes in their environment. Thus they do not need to pay close attention to their sensory intake unless there is a large obvious change. It follows then, that because children no longer need fine discrimination to survive, most of them tend to gradually lose these incredable abilities in all their senses.     

"Every man who observes vigilantly and resolves steadfastly grows unconsciously into genius." Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton

"Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains." Thomas Carlyle


Observing is how we train ourselves to finely discriminate in each of our senses. To do it we have to pay attention, we have to focus, we have to consentrate. These abilities, if we have them, give us far greater information about the world arround us. Children have these abilities in spades. Is it not tragic then, that so many of us lose these abilities as adults? Clearly we should cling to these abilities and try to make sure our children do no lose them.

But, how can we make sure we do not lose these abilities? How can we make sure our children do not lose the desire to percieve accurately and minutely with every one of their senses? First of all we can actually spend more of our time actually using them. The more we use and pay attention to our various senses the better we we will get at finely discriminating in each of them. However, we should not go off the deep end like Gurdjieff and his followers trying to concentrate on everything we do and everything that happens to us. 

Gurdjieff and his followers noted that we tend to be unaware of what is happening to us most of the time. He believes that we are sort of sleepwalking through life. This automatic way of moving through life was referred to by Colin Wilson as letting the robot take over. Gurdjieff invented ways of keeping ourselves (as he understood it) awake and believed we should try to do this all the time. Gurdjieff's idea of paying attention to what is happening to us and what we are doing all the time is not only not necessary, but probably counter productive and dangerous. 

When we are not paying attention to the external world  we are doing two things. On the one hand we are performing some mental tasks that require we are not distracted by the external world. On the other hand we are trusting our bodies to perform certain tasks without attention in a reflexive and habitual way. This enables us conserve mental resources which we can use for important mental operations like changing habits, making decisions, solving problems and of course being being creative. Making decisions, solving problems and changing habits, require mental resources and time not distraced by the external world. When we are being creative we are allowing our minds to make new and unusual associations. We are allowing temporary chaos and blurring of idea boundaries. This also requires that we are not distracted by external input.

The trick is not to pay complete attention to the external world all the time but to be able to be able to switch to a highly attentive state when we wish to. There is a trade off. When we are lost in our own minds and our bodies are running automaticall we are often missing the unusual and interesting by in the external world. The external world is another source of creation and a very important one. 

If we truly want our children to retain these sensory, descriminatory abilities we should find ways to enable them to continue from time to time to experience and enjoy the power of those abilities. Gurdjieff's exercises even can be of help in this, if not used continuously but rather in moderation. 

"Average man, looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odor or fragrance, and talks without thinking." Leonardo da Vinci

Art and observation. 

Although we cannot and should not be fully awake all the time, when we are awake we would be greatly assisted if we could focus our concentration better. Drawing is one way to increase what we see. Picasso was given a pigeon's foot by his father and told to look at it and draw it till he could do so accurately. By concentrating on observing this one thing Picasso found an overall increase in his ability to see, so much so, that afterwards he could draw almost anything. Another way many artists have found, is to try to draw things, people in motion. This gives a different kind of detail, a kind of essence of how things float and fall when they are in motion. They only have seconds to see it, so they must see it all quickly and draw it from memory. Toulouse-Lautrec would draw the girls performing the cancan at the Moulin Rouge. Henri Matisse taught himself to draw people in motion in the streets of Paris. Of course everything is drawn from memory to some extent. The artist has to look away from the subject and look at the drawing to draw.

 Ideas and observation. 

Drawing is not the only way to go either. You can simply try to observe and then make the details conscious in your mind in verbal form. Or you can even speak aloud. In this day and age you can pretend to be on the phone and describe your surroundings to a friend. One way to stop the robot taking over and be interested in your surroundings is to go to new places and always travel a different rout never the same way. In his book "how to Get Ideas" Jack Foster described a very interesting game he used to play with a friend:

"One night we were sitting in a bar and Bob said, 'Put your head down for a minute.' I did, and then he said, 'How many cash registers are there behind the bar?' 'One', I said. 'Three' he said 'Keep your head down. Now how many people besides us are in this bar?' 'Twelve?' I said. 'Eight' he said. And that started us on a game that we played off and on for three years. We'd walk into a bar, order a beer, and spend exactly ten minutes looking around studying and memorizing every detail we could. After ten minutes we'd each put our heads down and start asking each other questions. 'How many chairs are there in here?' 'How many windows?' 'How many steps from the door to the bar?' What color are the bartender's eyes?' 'What's the ceiling like?' After a couple of months we got so good at it, it was hard to for either of us to ask a question the other couldn't answer."

All the other senses can be trained in similar ways. Bird watching is not only a good way to train the eye but is an even better way to train the ear. Many bird watchers can identify huge numbers of birds from their calls alone. Musicians tend to listen to the world about them, bird calls, traffic noise, crickets, frogs, etc. are continually examined in terms of timbre, pitch, and rhythm. Blind people of course become more adept at listening to and identifying the sounds of the world around them. The tactile sense in blind people is also much more attended to. The orientation and balance sense also is attended closely by the blind, as is their sense of smell. To expand and practice using these senses we have only to keep our eyes closed and try and do things.

You never know when one of the senses we do not use much will be of use in our vocation or life. The sense of smell is essential for someone in the perfume business. Taste is essential for for a wine taster or a gourmet. In "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell describes two professional food tasters called Gail Vance Civille and Judy Heylmun who run a company called Sensory Spectrum. If you are wondering how your food product compares with a competitor's they are the people to see. In the same book Gladwell explains how Paul Ekman put together the Facial Action Coding System or FACS by feeling and training his facial muscles till he could produce any human emotion at will in the expression on his face. This tool has become the backbone of animation at Dreamworks and Pixar.

Science and observation. 

Observation of minute detail is essential to both art and science. While this is might seem obvious, what is not so obvious is how much observation in art and observation in science feed on one another and support one another. Perhaps Kenneth Clark encapsulated this idea best when commenting on perhaps the greatest genius of all time Leonardo da Vinci. He said: "It is often said Leonardo drew so well because he knew about things; it is truer to say that he knew about things because he drew so well." Leonardo himself said, "Study the science of art and the art of science."

Science is all about observation in fact it could be said that it is obsessed with observation. Indeed the whole idea of induction came about because of science. Francis Bacon came up with the idea that science was about making minute observations and then drawing conclusions from them. He called it induction. This sounds intuitively right until you ask what they are observing. The fact is we are taking in data most of the time but most of the information is not relevant to anything. To begin to observe we need to decide what to observe, which implies a plan, and in order to have a plan we need a conjecture or a theory. Popper points out that first we have a conjecture or theory and then we make observations to see if the conjecture or theory is correct. However no matter what you believe about induction it is necessary in science to make clear precise observations.

Some sciences are more closely aligned with pure observation such as zoologists and anthropologists like Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, Jane Goodall and Konrad Lorenz. Such people spend their lives making minute meticulous observations which may never bear much fruit. Yet without those observations those sciences could not exist. In those sciences you make endless observations of humans or animals and then sift through the huge mess to try and find some emerging pattern. Even then of course the scientist has to pick up on some pattern before he can start looking for something, before he can really start observing.  

Children and Observing. 

Children perhaps not surprisingly tend to very good at observing and do it effortlessly. Children spend long hours taking in all the exquisite details of very common everyday things. Maria Montessori noticed that children were often very concerned with and observant of events that were so small that they were essentially invisible to adults. Children she felt were showing a preference for such events and that a strong stimulus merely distracted children momentarily from these preferred stimuli. She felt that children were paying meticulous attention to tiny events and that if they were prevented from doing so at this stage, their learning would be slow and their powers of observation in later life may be badly crippled.

Practice as iterative improvement is a necessity for life long creativity. 

Observing, needs to be practiced throughout life if it is to harnessed in the service of creation and achieving some probability of becoming a genius. We tend to do it automatically from when we are born till we go to school and then we seem to stop. The thing is, at the moment such activities in the home, and especially at school, are generally though to be time wasting and thus discouraged. If, however, children continue to try to observe in fine detail they we will find this ability does not fade but rather becomes stronger until in the hands of a creative genius it can be used to truly observe something unseen before, which may be at the heart of a revolution in knowledge. This site asserts that every effort should be made to retain this invaluable facility or talent which is useful for a whole range of human activities, including learning itself, not just creative ones.

Most of the time most modern men are not observing and so much is missed because of this. Sure. it is not necessary to detect minute changes in the environmernt to keep us alive but is to enable creativity and genius to spread like plague though the world. What we see is the familiar. and so is easily interpreted, but this prevents us from looking. If we are not looking the unusual, that which cannot be easily recognized, goes undetected. 

Needs Interest Method Reality Keys How to Help Creative Genius Future What is Wrong Theories Plus
Prodigies Genius Creativity Social Creativity Thin Slicing Imaging Abstracting Recognizing Patterns
Forming Patterns Analogizing Enaction Empathizing Dimensional Modeling Playing Transforming Synthesizing