Contact theSOPAbout theSOPSupport theSOPWritersEditorsManaging Editors
theSOP logo
Published:January 26th, 2006 03:11 EST
Sight Unseen

Sight Unseen

By Sean Stubblefield

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If a thing of beauty goes unnoticed and unappreciated, is it truly beautiful?

It is a natural, inevitable, and sometimes unfortunate, side effect of our nature that things tend to fall to the edge of our attention and awareness; things commonly shift and blend into the background, losing focus. Much of the details of our surroundings often get subliminally and casually filtered and tuned out, moving from or bypassing the conscious into the subconscious. They become effectively invisible to us. It is necessary that this is so, because our mind cannot consciously process the immense amount of information we are exposed to… our mind would overload and be too distracted, so we have a build in mechanism that buffers incoming data to what we consider the immediately relevant to us. We develop a kind of tunnel vision or blinders, becoming oblivious to much around us while concentrating more on things that seem to be more immediately affecting us, or momentarily occupying our attention. Perhaps this is also a remnant survival instinct, focusing only on what is most immediately on our minds, what is directly in front of or particularly involving us right now (in preparation for fight or flight responses). Unfortunately, this also means that some information— sometimes even vital or useful information, is accidentally overlooked or ignored, merely because we don’t think to look for or at it. 

This is why, although we all know to look both ways before crossing the street, our attention may currently be on other matters as we step off the curb, so we don’t notice or consider the approaching car. As a camera lens zooms in and out or racks focus, we have to actively expand our awareness to accommodate more details on the periphery.

Like a picture hanging in our home, no matter how obvious or prominent, after a while we become so accustomed— so inured-- to it being there that we don’t regularly pay much attention to it, assuming its presence. Someone could turn it upside down, and days might pass before we notice. There are some people who tritely recite the caveat that when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me. But I am not one of those people. As we expect the sun to rise every morning, I think there are many things we can and should reasonably and logically assume. It makes no sense to reinvent the wheel by re- familiarizing ourselves with something every time we encounter it, as if each time is the first, or to go through life paranoid. Although, in hindsight it can prove to be better, in some cases, not to assume, rather than take something for granted.

In the process of habitually filtering out the seemingly parenthetical details of our environment, we typically dismiss and disregard the beautiful, amazing, and extraordinary… as being usual, common, ordinary. Most people don’t think to look at where they are, where they are going. We frequently miss so much— so much beauty, merely from not paying attention, not caring to do more than simply look… to actually see. And in seeing— appreciate and admire the beauty of the extraordinary.

An aesthetic and architectural marvel of a building, which impressed you initially or for a while, may eventually go unnoticed or seem less impressive as the novelty wears off and it becomes part of the ordinary experience of your life, no longer seen as special or distinct. Perhaps you didn’t see it or never bothered to acknowledge the beauty of that building at all, because it just didn’t occur to you, didn’t enter your attention. Or maybe such things don’t interest you and you are incapable of appreciating beauty in such form, seeing nothing but a building and missing the art of it. The building— the artistry incorporated into the aesthetics of the building-- becomes essentially nonexistent if not appreciated.

The beauty of a magnificent beach you’ve gotten used to may gradually seem to lose its magnificence, if you’re not careful, if you stop paying attention, if you forget to be mindful of its beauty. The sculpture or dress or movie which so enamored you last year that you just had to buy it, could appear less interesting to you now, in its sense of familiarity, its impression of commonness, its feeling of being routine. But did it really change, or have you only forgotten to recognize or notice the beauty of it anymore? When the extraordinary becomes ordinary in our mind, it’s almost as if that beauty has died. It is dead to us who do not or cannot see it. And when we can no longer appreciate beauty, if we are unwilling to, we have surely died inside.

When we speak of beauty, many of us think of attractive women or men, or something like their fashions and cosmetics. When we speak of art, what often comes to mind is something you might find in a museum or gallery. However, there is beauty and art all around us, if we look, if we know where— and how-- to look. No, if we know how to see, for those with eyes to see, as Jesus said.

Maybe it’s something as complex as a concept like friendship, or as simple as patterns and colors in floor tiles. Remember to make time to stop and smell the roses along the way. A rose, by any other name, would smell just as sweet. Look closer.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder… so BEHOLD!