Build observation skills – Supercharge your imagination
You can use it to find out how things work, discover new things about the world and learn to appreciate different elements of the world including other people and especially other people.
Observance is the way we come up with judgments, deductions and decisions about different things.
In us it looks like this:
If we took all of our senses away we would still exist but it would be like we’re locked in a tiny dark prison cell where there is no temperature, gravity, light, pressure, texture, aroma, time or space. There would be no other people or life forms of any sort to coexist with. There would be no desire for food, no instinct to run from danger, no awareness of joy or sorrow, fear, anger, or even love. There would be no self-awareness of any kind. It would be a dark, dark timeless void of nothingness.
What does a supercomputer like our brain do in a situation in where there is no input? Scientists have discovered that it’s basically a plug and play device. Given that we have a certain element of an operating system installed in our minds when we are born, which is seen as our instincts, we would probably have a certain number of recognisable behaviours, at least as babies. Instincts like crying, waving our arms and legs about to ward off danger and make ourselves look bigger, turning our head back and forth in search for mums milk. These are just some of the instincts we are born with. These are the ones which are commonly seen as part of the Somatic nervous system.
There is also the Autonomic nervous system. It caters for the needs of our standard bodily functions such as our breathing, heart beating, sweating, reflexes, etc. It seems that these functions don’t need any sensory input to actually work in a standard, sleeping type way. But I wonder, do they? Adrenalin is injected into our system when we have the fight or flight response triggered in the Amygdala. That causes dilated pupils, increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, sweating, and probably a number of other things. This is an example of our Autonomic Nervous System responding directly to input stimuli. Another example, and this is through the Amygdala as well, is sex drive. We’re all pretty familiar with the concept of being affected by a pretty woman or a good-looking guy. The marketing industry is entirely aware of this concept otherwise we wouldn’t see so many half naked women all over advertising.
So what would our minds do without input? What would we do without observance? A total lack of observance as I’ve just lain out would be totally catastrophic and I doubt anyone could even survive that experience. But what we do to ourselves is just as bad, if not worse. I’m talking about self-inflicted sensory deprivation?
We have on our hands a global pandemic of sensory imbalance. There is so much emphasis on what we see and secondarily what we hear that there is little notice taken of any other sense. Just to be clear here, we’re not talking about only 5 senses. That was a concept given by Aristotle hundreds of years ago. Scientists have since pretty much agreed on around 18 to 22 different senses that we humans have. Sight and Sound do not need to be the only ones used.
Think about just sight for a minute. How much time out of your day is spent looking at things? Getting dressed up and groomed for the day, driving to work, past all the signs and advertising that lines the roads, looking at a computer screen, checking our devices for messages, checking them again and getting caught up in all the videos and memes on Facebook, watching TV or just browsing online, then we go to bed again. The average time spent on devices in 2015 was 2hrs and 54min per day. That’s a pretty big chunk of our waking hours, isn’t it? How much time would you consciously spend on time awareness, touch, smell, sensing gravity, sensing other people around you, or just being aware of where all your body parts are in relation to each other?
On top of this imbalance, we have a serious passivity syndrome brought about by the convenience of our culture. We no longer have to hunt and gather our food; we just go to the shops and grab what we need. We no longer have to talk to people face to face, we just text and FB message. Occasionally when we do see people it’s generally fleeting because we’ve made ourselves so busy. We’re constantly barraged by entertainment, marketing, things to buy, places to go, stuff to do, money to be made, things to laugh at and things to get angry about. It’s like being fed mush on a plastic spoon. We’re fooled into thinking that we’re independent, intelligent and wise but in actual fact, maybe we’re just following other people’s ideas.* Maybe we’re just re-telling other peoples wisdom and intelligence.
We actually don’t need anything more than this to survive, but if we’d like to do more than survive, if we’d like to thrive, if we’d really like to experience life as it’s supposed to be experienced, passivity is not enough.
When I think of the term ‘a passive person’ it brings to mind someone who doesn’t do much, someone who’s actions simply reflect other people’s actions and whom you wouldn’t expect anything original to come from. But being passive really doesn’t mean acting less, it actually means sensing less. Remember that diagram; “Sense – Deduce – Act”? Acting comes after the sensing and deducing part. Just to be clear, I’m not saying that if someone’s a very active person they must sense a whole lot more that someone less active than themselves. I’m just saying that action is a direct result of your senses. Of course there is a whole lot of computation and deduction that goes on in between sensing and acting. There is your temperament, culture, upbringing, past experiences and education that all have a say in there, but you have to give those things some quality input to work with to get quality actions out the other end.
This question is easily answered by anyone who’s ever appreciated anything ever, be it art, music, food, sunsets, other people, or anything about the universe at all. It only takes a moment to think about it and we realise that these things are all around us at every moment of every day. However, we tend not to notice. One of our natural instincts is to normalise our environment, meaning when things are different, we notice for a while, but then it just becomes part of the ordinary. We’re built for survival and so we’re built to notice change and variation. Normalising our surroundings turns them into a kind of blank slate so that when something changes in that environment, we take notice, just in case it’s a sabre tooth tiger preparing to pounce.
Because we’re not in a position where a Sabre toothed tiger is ever going to pounce on us, we have the privileged freedom to ‘un-normalise’ our environment. We don’t need that blank slate as much any more. Don’t get me wrong, there are times where we will need that instinct to be intact and in good working order but most of the time we can relax and reignite a healthy fascination of the world around us. We can take what seems to be very ordinary and find the extraordinary in it. There is extraordinary in everything, you just need to look for it.
You need to observe it.
This is how we give our minds quality input to work with; by observing, by seeing things deeply, by using all of our senses, by making time for the world to flow in.
Observance, the process of making an observation, is by far, the most important element of a healthy mind. It’s the means by which we construct our reality. When we have a mind that has no input, no sensations to light it up, practicing observance is like switching on a little light. The more things you observe, the lighter the world becomes. It’s how we get a better understanding of reality, and when we have even the most basic understanding of our reality, we no longer need to fear the unknown and we can learn to appreciate it for it’s beauty. That has to be the highest purpose of awareness, appreciation of beauty in all things.
*Of course, I’m generalising but that’s kind of the whole point. The ‘general’ population is like this. Only a select few have the courage to be different, to be vulnerable and to go out on a limb. These are the people we follow. These are our real leaders.