Do you find you can attune your vision/attention to a specific task?

I’m not quite sure how it works, and this is hard to describe, but I find that when I’m out and about looking for interesting stuff, I can sort of ‘zone out’ and let my eyes be drawn to the things I’m seeking, without me consciously scouring for them.

Example: I started collecting sea glass and now I can’t help but find the stuff; I don’t scan back and forth across the beach, I just walk and look where I’m going, but I spot pieces with ease that are only really in my peripheral vision - it’s almost a palpable tug on the eyes. Indeed sometimes, I’ll feel my eyes seeing a piece, but will still have to look around in the target area in detail to locate it precisely.

I did the same thing today with fossils on the beach behind my workplace - I came back with a couple of interesting pieces including a flint with a very nice little bivalve (or possibly brachiopod), but again, notably, I felt my eyes snap to the area, then on closer examination, found the item.

Anyone else find they can do this? I’ve heard of people doing it with money.

It also works the other way. When looking for a specific object, sometimes the eyes will see everything, yet filter out the object being sought. This can be annoying.

In Origins Reconsidered, Richard Leakey discusses this knack in the context of searching for fossils. In particular, he wonders at the skill of Kamoya Kimeu, who discovered the famous H. erectus skeleton dubbed the ‘Turkana Boy’, while working with Leakey in East Africa.

I don’t have my copy of the book to hand, but I recall his description of Kimeu searching for human fossils effortlessly. Since, in that region, fossilised bones look pretty much identical to the small stones lying on the surface, and even the bones themselves, such as they are, are almost all non-human, the fact that Kimeu could spot, say, a hominid phalanx from many metres away, indicates some sort of specialised and unusual ability.

Interestingly, Leakey’s wife Margaret also had an acute visual sense, and would assemble jigsaw puzzles face-down to make them more interesting. She was usually tasked with putting together the fossils they found in the field - a heap of tiny fragments of a cranium, for example - because not only did she enjoy the task, she was extremely good at it.

Leakey himself didn’t claim any such skills - he was probably like me, struggling to identify a pair of glasses in a living-room. RIP, Richard.

Sometimes* I can do this for typos. Only on paper though.** I can pick up a memo and the typos seem to jump off the page at me, without me actually reading the thing. I’ve gone back and tried to find more by deliberately proofreading, but never have.

*oh, I don’t know, when the stars are propitiously arranged ?

** It’s a damn shame it doesn’t seem to work when previewing my own posts though.

I use the peripheral vision a lot. I trained myself to do it as a kid. You have to defeat your doubts, and trust what you don’t drectly see is there. The driving instructor didn’t like that he didn’t see my eyes moving al over, so he’d cover the mirror or tell me not to look left and then ask what was there. I always could tell him. I find lots of stuff when walking woods or fields most people miss.

I frequently have this problem. It is quite aggravating. Sometimes I know something is where I am looking and literally have to touch and name to myself each item before I see the right one. Very bizarre.

Slight hijack: how did you train yourself? Seems interesting.

I like to find things and am always on the look out for neat rocks, plants, and dropped stuff. I would see a flash of movement to the side and hear a bird and know that it was over to the left. I’d investigate, and by paying attention to stuff like that, I got good at catching moving items and then still objects I always look for. I know to look if I have a feeling something is to the left or right. I was always very aware of my suroundings. Sound and smell helped train me out in the woods or fields because I didn’t have playmates as a kid. I wondered the country side. Maybe had I not done this as a kid I wouldn’t have attuned to peripheral objects in my sight.

I also learned that when I had a certain feeling, it meant I’d forgotten something important, and I couldn’t leave until I remembered what. I had to return for the item after 15 minutes if I left having the feeling.