How to see everything

One of the many curious properties of human perception is something called confirmation bias. Essentially, it means that we tend to see evidence of what we want to believe, or are looking for, and ignore evidence that contradicts it. Or as Nassim Taleb puts it: “Anyone looking for confirmation will find enough of it to deceive himself.”

But what this idea seems to imply is even more interesting. If we see only what we’re looking for, then it follows that we don’t see what we’re not looking for. Now, most of the time, the answers and solutions and innovations we seek are unknown. So, perhaps the reason it takes us so long to find them is that we cannot—by definition—know to look for them.

Also, consider this beautiful and kinda-related idea from E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful:

“Yet a man who uses an imaginary map, thinking it a true one, is likely to be worse off than someone with no map at all; for he will fail to inquire wherever he can, to observe every detail on his way, and to search continuously with all his senses and all his intelligence for indications of where he should go.”

Combine these, the idea of confirmation bias and Schumacher’s observation about operating with or without a map. What do we get? This: the best way to see everything is to look for nothing.

Think about it. If you don’t have a map, and you’re not trying to get anywhere or see anything in particular, you’re more likely to pay attention to the environment around you. Whereas if you had a map and an object in mind, you’d pass over everything you saw that didn’t relate to your objective. And because, a priori, it’s hard to know what matters and why, you’d likely ignore a tonne of potentially valuable information, and waste time, in the process.