Ways To See : Back To Basics

"To look is to learn, if you listen carefully"

Per Arnolfini

It's a good time to take a step back, sit down, and get back  to the down-to-earth basics. Sometimes when we are explaining what Super Ordinary Life is all about, it seems that the common words we use to refer to visual perception are as overused, misused and taken for granted as the mundane sights we talk about.


So just to break it down, for our reference as much as our reader's:

We SEE things whether we like it or not. 

We LOOK at things when we want to see something with intention.

We WATCH things that move

We OBSERVE when we look even harder and really think about it too.

To NOTICE can be a happenstance occurrence - but to notice means to become aware of something which can then be observed.

There are, of course constant instances where the distinctions between the words are blurred or stand too close to call without a bit of debate. The main point is that having a brief mental note of these words actually helps take in more of our visual surroundings.


There's a nice analogy plucked from the pages of  a most observant and beloved detective that brings together our thoughts nicely:

 In “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Sherlock Holmes instructs Dr. 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.”

The exchange really shook me. Feverishly, I tried to remember how many steps there were in our own house, how many led up to our front door (I couldn’t). And for a long time afterward, I tried to count stairs and steps whenever I could, lodging the proper number in my memory in case anyone ever called upon me to report. I’d make Holmes proud (of course, I’d promptly forget each number I had so diligently tried to remember – and it wasn’t until later that I realized that by focusing so intently on memorization, I’d missed the point entirely and was actually being less, not more observant)."