Thursday, September 28, 2006

Inattentional Blindness

The grasshopper, I mean --
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaw back and forth instead of up and down--
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her forearms and thoroughly washes her facee.
Now she snaps her wings open and floats away.

This is Mary Oliver again. If you go back to my entry two weeks ago, she says she knows how to pay attention. This excerpt proves it -- plus that she choses exactly the right words to paint that grasshopper for us.

Well above the wave-washed ribbon of sand,
among the tough dune grasses but before the hearty
shoreline trees, thorny wild roses spread low.
The salty sea winds have forced the roses to flatten
their tangles like a souring pad. Among the bramble
the plentious hips glow, the shell-hard skin is polished
by the windblown sand to a gilded crimson.

This is my attempt to pay attention to the wild roses on a Cape Cod beach -- you can see that a picture, in this case, is worth all those words.
Why have I captioned this entry "Inattentional Blindness"? I am reaading a book by Temple Grandin called Animal Translaton in which she talks about how she, as an autistic person understands animals. She says she and animals see far more acute than normal [her word, I'm not being politically incorrect] people and explains that the neocortex of autisic people does not work as effectively as in normal people. Animals have far less neocortex than humans. She says she and they perceive the world largely in pictures -- visually paying enormous attention to detail. And that normal people have a selective inability to notice most of the details of their world. She cites a book called INATTENTIONAL BLINDNESS by cognitive psychologists, Arien Mack and Irvin Rock, who explain that the human neocortex has grown huge and takes over out attentional perception, blocking out things that are either not important to us or distracting. Because of the workings of the neocortex we have the ability -- which I suspect most people have experienced -- of being completely absorbed in thoughts so that we can have driven or walked or rode from point A to B, even if it took a hour and a fair amount of intelligent manouvering in traffic, but remember nothing that we saw along the way. This happens in one form or another almost all day long. Say Mack and Rock, our brain is constsructed to be blind to much of our surroundings.
This gives me a long, long pause. I've also been reading Ani Tenzin Palmo, a Tibetan Buddhist nun -- and I've read a good bit about Buddhist meditation in the last several years. In her Reflections on a Mountain Lake, she writes about making the mind clear of thoughts so you can truly pay attention to the what is going on. The Tibetan Buddhists have developed many practices for doing this, as have the Zen Buddhists and others. So it seems the goal is a kind of regression from the inattentional blindness that humans have developed in the course of evolution. I'm not sure what that means.
One thing I have observed is that our most vivid memories and the moments when we feel most alive are those times when we are entirely absorbed in what we are doing -- whatever it is, whether intellectual or physical. Think about it, aren't your most vivid memories from such moments? Thinkof moments creating something, being absorbed in something beautiful, engaging in an exciting and meaningful conversatioin, or dancing, playing a sport ... We need to pay more attention ... maybe we've evolved a bit too far. Or maybe it's the complexity of our lives, the way so many things bombard us so that our neocortex is overworked blocking out things that may be more worth noticing than whatever that nattering thought was during the half hour we were going from A to B earlier today.

1 comment :

magikquilter said...

Simply wonderful post...I am so enjoying a little bit of Calender Pages with my breakfast coffee every day. Best of all ....I have years of posts ahead of me!