On seeing, looking, observing, and sensing.



For years most of my courses in both high school and college have started with “Profy’s Principles” —  a few pearls of wisdom, in fact I usually say “this is all I have to offer, drop the course now.”  One principle involves perspective, point of view.  My belief that all information, reality, truth is filtered through our individual lens.  Each lens is formed through our life’s experiences — time, age, ethnicity, religion, education, parents beliefs, travels, books we’ve read . . . the list goes on.  Although there is objective truth and reality we can never be 100% sure we caught it.  We may be close but. . . our vision is subjective.

There are a number of ways this concept influences me daily.  First let me turn to the words of a trusted friend (some might say fictional friend, but it all according to your perspective).

In “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Holmes (yes, Sherlock) instructs Watson on the difference between seeing and observing:

“When I hear you give your reasons,” I remarked, “the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning, I am baffled until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.”

“Quite so,” he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an armchair. “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”


“How often?”

“Well, some hundreds of times.”

“Then how many are there?”

“How many? I don’t know.”

“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”

Some times our lens (our experiences) act as blinders we see but we don’t observe.  We see what we expect.  We don’t look deep enough.  We don’t ask questions that don’t flow from our world view.   As Watson learns we must not only see but we must observe.

I recently read a a book that opened up my eyes  to another aspect of perspective.  It’s called, “On Looking: eleven walks with expert eyes,” by Alexander Horowitz.   Horowitz realizes that when walking what she sees is limited by her perspective.  So she embarks on eleven walks and tries to see the world through the eyes of her companions — her  dog, a young child, a blind person, a geologist, an entomologist, a graphic designer . . . you get the idea.  And no surprise each guide sees a different world.  Each guide sees the world through their lens.  Lesson:  walk with different people,  try walking in another’s shoes, or just miss out on so much you might see.

My third concept related to seeing, looking, observing and sensing comes from a book I read back in the 1980s.  It was recently part of my reread significant books program (more on that later).  “Ceremonial Time: fifteen thousand years on one square mile,” by John Hanson Mitchell.  He explores on small patch of land called “Scratch Patch” outside of Concord MA.  He reads everything he can about the  place.  He walks and walks the area.  He reflects on what has happened and what may happen on this small piece of land.  The longer Mitchell reads, explores and reaches, the  more things become connected (connectedness in another Profy Principal).  Ceremonial time (maybe a Native American concept) is when past, present and future come together in our sense of place, in our understanding of reality.  It is not an easy state to achieve but it moves us to another level of understanding.  A fuller perspective.

As I begin my new journey, I want to go beyond seeing, I want to observe (thanks Sherlock)’; I want to try and walk in others shoes and see the world from their perspective; and I hope to occasionally achieve  ceremonial time bringing together past, present and future.

Join me.