08 July 2021


One autumn day many years ago, I was out walking just after a heavy rain had stopped.  It was a quiet suburban street and there were no other people out and about.  Glancing down at the grassy strip next to the sidewalk, I suddenly noticed the largest slug I had ever seen.  It was an absolutely disgusting thing, about six inches long and almost an inch thick, a mottled pale tan-brown color, glistening with slime.  I was repulsed, and nothing could have induced me to actually touch it.

After staring at it for a moment, I realized I was mistaken.  It wasn't a slug, just a leaf fallen from one of the nearby trees, which had become curled up into a tube and was now glistening wet from the rain.  Even though I was still looking at the exact same object, it suddenly was not disgusting any more.

As I observed a long time ago, what we see when we look at something depends to a very great extent on what we know about it, not just on its pure visual appearance:

What use is it for the eye to see if the mind cannot?  The bee sees the flower, but does not perceive the beauty.  The illiterate sees the lines of text but draws no meaning from them.  The ignorant looks at the Parthenon but sees only the crumbling old stone structure, not the history. What are you not seeing that is all around you in plain sight?

These days I'm more and more often reminded of this.  When I run across a picture of something like a cheeseburger or a pizza, I see a slimy, greasy, fat-clotted coagulation of animal corpse chunks and curdled animal milk.  I could barely even bring myself to touch such an abomination now, but years ago I actually used to eat things like that routinely, as many people still do.  I could see, but I couldn't really see.

I know the world is full of things that most people "see" but don't seem to perceive meaningfully, like that illiterate looking at lines of print.  It always makes me wonder what else is all around me that I see all the time, yet remain blind to.


Blogger Mary said...

I think the biggest thing we don’t see while staring right at it daily, is how much nature interacts with itself, the animals, plants, trees etc. it’s a very big connection that we are part of, but few see it.

08 July, 2021 05:53  
Blogger Jack said...

One of the things about this that I've always found interesting is the degree to which the shifts in perception are voluntary and reversible. It doesn't usually seem like they are. Once you realize the slug isn't a slug, I'm not sure you could choose to continue seeing it as a slug. Like you, there are many things I used to eat regularly that I don't think I could keep down today. I'm not sure I could change that if I wanted to. In some ways, atheism seems like that. I used to believe in all sorts of religious nonsense. I don't think I could go back to that even if I really wanted to.

08 July, 2021 12:39  
Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

It's all a matter of perception. Our brains kind of do not take on everything, I guess, because we'd go cray.
I noticed that now I can recognize Silkweed, the plant Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on, because I took an interest in them and planted some in my backyard. A year ago, it was just one more weed...


08 July, 2021 13:04  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's the human condition to not see what is in front of us.

In fact, we don't sense many many things.

There are colors we cannot see. (Hummingbirds see colors we don't)
There are sounds we cannot hear. (Ask any dog.)
There are smells we don't smell. (The dog, again.)
There are tastes we don't taste.
Let's not get started about touch... plenty weirdness about that.

08 July, 2021 13:34  
Blogger Lady M said...

It is amazing how age and experience change what we see too.

08 July, 2021 15:04  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mary: There's that too -- the hidden interactions between things.

Jack: That's been my experience too. Once you learn to see something as it really is, you can't unsee it.

Sixpence: Brains are programmed that way -- they notice what's most significant (or dangerous) by various criteria. Not surprising that evolution would do that.

Anon: A broader range of sense perception would certainly help. After the Singularity that will become a real possibility.

Lady M: Experience does change how we perceive things. A lot of things seem more imbued with inner meaning now than they did when I was younger.

09 July, 2021 06:25  
Blogger yellowdoggranny said...

experience knowledge and inner peace..

09 July, 2021 07:44  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Sometimes it seems like the more knowledge we have, the less inner peace we have.....

09 July, 2021 09:22  
Blogger SickoRicko said...

When our eyes don't see all the relevant details, our brain fills in the gaps.

09 July, 2021 11:11  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

That was such a good example of how people see things differently. It's true because we all do it.

09 July, 2021 17:49  
Blogger RO said...

I absolutely love this post because it really breaks down the word 'perception'. I definitely see things differently than I did as a child. Some things I'm more tolerant of, a few I'm not, and some things I don't even notice at all. Another great topic, adn hope you're doing well this weekend. Hugs and hugs, RO

10 July, 2021 04:50  
Blogger NickM said...

You utter git Infidel! Let me explain. For a while I have bee thinking of a blog - Invisible Tigers - but you keep on stealing my material before it's hit the keyboard. For shame ;-)

I can though best your slug/leaf... About 30 years ago I was walking a dimly lit road in suburban Gatehead. It had rained heavily and I trod on something. Now I wasn't utterly Brahms und Liszt but somewhat in my cups.

So, I look down and it's a brain. I have just stood on a human brain discarded on the sidewalk in the kinda area estate agents really like - there's gotta be a back-story to that but I'm alone and it's Midnight and very vaguely, and somewhat yellowly, illuminated by the distant sodium vapour street-lights.

But, I'm Nick. I've just got onto a physics degree at Nottingam University - Sapientia Urbs Conditur! So I have a look. It isn't a brain.

It is a cauliflower. An entire (somewhat soaked and trodden-on cauliflower) left on the street for some reason.

The really odd thing is almost 30 years later I dunno how I feel about the incident. I mean a discarded cauliflower is a thing and a brain is something else - obviously. But, at some level, I can understand the brain better than the brassica.

10 July, 2021 06:10  
Blogger Richard said...

Thank you. That was interesting. It is best to gain knowledge and educate ourselves. As an example, i know many people who "hate" insects. They say things like "nope" or "burn it with fire".
That is an ignorant attitude and not helpful. If they are truly dangerous, wouldn't it be better to learn more about them? If they are strange and wonderful, wouldn't it be better to appreciate them?

10 July, 2021 20:52  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ricko: Definitely true. What we literally see is usually much less than we realize.

Mary K: Thanks. I think everyone has had a few experiences like that.

RO: Thanks. That demonstrates my point -- the more you know, the better you "see".

Nick: Heh. Obviously the only solution is to get your blog going and beat me to it.

Some people seem to have a cauliflower in place of a brain anyway.

Richard: Thanks. Obviously it's best to know as much as possible about anything dangerous. I find insects strange but far from wonderful, but of course perceptions differ.

11 July, 2021 01:30  
Blogger Daal said...

could not have said it better - perfect argument why we must all do our best to practice tolerance...

12 July, 2021 20:05  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Daal: Thanks -- well, I'll try to be more tolerant of slugs, but from a distance.

13 July, 2021 01:09  
Blogger Unknown said...

A great read... and the truth about perception, only to the point of being weary... then get your brain into gear...

20 July, 2021 13:53  

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