Looking without seeing.


Ok, this happens with distressing regularity, I am looking for some object and can walk right by the article numbers of times and not see it, or perhaps just not recognize the item. The object is in plain sight, not hidden under layers of stuff.

Don’t really quite know where to take this, Is it just a personal foible?

Thank You


It’s a habit. A habit of an undisciplined approach to solving your problems.

If you’re looking for something, then *look *for it. That means walking around slowly, looking directly at each thing and asking “Is this my missing whatever?” If not, move your gaze to the next thing. When you get to a table, look at each thing in turn in an organized fashion: left to right, top to bottom. And ask the whole question for each one. For each room search methodically from one side to the other. Don’t think things like “I know it’s not there; I never went there.” Instead go over *there *and actually look at everything one at a time.

What you’re really doing now is dashing around the house waving your face around while repeating to yourself “I don’t have time for this! I need to be going!” Either that or you’re trying to retrace your steps and remember when/where you last had the thing. Either way that approach is planning to fail. Why?

Because no part of your conscious process is actually looking at individual items and comparing them to the thing you want. Instead your mind is far from where you really are; you’re not in the here and now, you’re mentally elsewhere. It sounds faster your way. But as you’ve noticed, it simply doesn’t work.

Focus people; focus!

We don’t see the world as it is. Our perception contains a whole load of fudges and shortcuts - even when it’s not going wrong, weird stuff can happen like this.

(and when it does go wrong, it can do so quite spectacularly - such as inability to see moving objects, or the opposite - inability to see things unless they are moving, etc. There’s a great book on the subject called ‘the man who mistook his wife for a hat’)

In a (sorta) combination of the previous two posts, I find that sometimes my item blindness is because I am positive that the thing I am looking for is red with green stripes in a square container so I repeatedly don’t see the round package that is predominantly yellow with no stripes.


Man you so nailed it, makes me think that you were able to train yourself to be, more in the moment perhaps or more focused.

It’s always the hardest to see ourselvs, others feed back can be very painful, but if you can open yourself to the recption of criticism, perhaps change can happen.

Thank you


Have your eyes checked for Retinitis Pigmentosa. I did the same thing for years, before my diagnosis explained it.

In RP, one progressively loses areas of field of vision, and the brain compensates by filling in the spaces from memory, giving the false impression that there is nothing, in a place where there is actually something.

After my child went to bed, I’d pick up his toys. My wife would ask why I left a red block sitting there in the middle of the room. I didn’t see it.

Lately, during my searches for something, I have to ask myself, what was it again that I am looking for?

Short term memory circling the drain…

As a counterpoint to the phenomenon described here, you can actually train your perception so that you tend to notice certain things more. I do this when I go picking wild strawberries -it takes me a little while to ‘get my eye in’, after which, I can find them far more easily than at first.

Over longer periods of time, reinforcement can lead to quite interesting effects - I trained myself to notice dropped coins to the extent that I would feel an almost palpable ‘tug’ on my vision, before I had consciously noticed seeing the objects.

Occam’s razor would strongly suggest that that’s not the case.

As Sherlock Holmes said, “You see, but do not observe.”

If your suggestion were correct, Retinitis Pigmentosa would be the most common disease on the planet.

Something like this? I guess they weren’t actually looking for that thing, but still.

If I didn’t already know you were a pilot, I would now. One of the first things they drill into you in training is effective scanning of your surroundings. Just glancing in all directions is useless. You have to look at things, and make it a point to process each one individually.

I think LSLGuy nailed it.

I am the finder of lost things for my Wife. But instead of walking around searching, I take a more of a crime scene approach. Where were you last, what were you wearing, that kind of thing.

I once found my Wifes cell phone in a snowbank AFTER I plowed by figuring out that the last place it was used was in her car. It was not on, so we could not ring it.

We had searched the house.

I figured the most likely place for it to be if it had fallen off her lap when she got out of her car AND after the snow plowing I had done. Hand dug for about 10 minutes and found it.

I have walked by an item and not see b/c it had a new label and don’t
recognize the item . I have a lot been looking right at an item and not see it b/c it lost in a sea of a lot other items.


Wow, I somewhat suprised by the volume of replies, thank you all.

What usually happens is that I am in some sort of precieved rush and realize that I don’t have X and find myself running around frantically looking for X. Feeling hurried is almost never condusive to good results.

I have a saying that I don’t follow nearly as much as I might. I doubt that it’s originl, but don’t recall hearing it or reading it.

“Hurry and haste just make worry and waste.”


The eye scans, the camera records. It’s unsurprising that you can’t find a familiar object embedded in familiar clutter.

Here’s another tip. Buy a bunch of those smallish LED flashlights and leave them around the house. The extra light can really help, even if the area is fairly well lit to begin with. Also, the beam forces you to actually “Read” your belongings methodically rather than just glimpse over them.

No, it would be tied for most common, with hundreds of other diseases that it is prudent to consider when certain symptoms present.

A terse pithy comment from a fictional character centuries ago is not a medical diagnosis proving the absence of disease…

(emphasis mine)

I never “lose” anything. That is, if something is not where I expected it to be at that moment, I will inevitably find it by, er, retracing my steps (either mentally or physically) or looking in high-probability areas (jackets, pant pockets), and this search rarely takes over a minute.

I guess my question is… are there other, better, methods to finding something that is lost than looking first in the high probability locations, i.e., “retracing your steps”? How is hitting the high probability locations “planning to fail”?

That’s interesting. I’ve noticed over the last couple of years that when I’m stopped at a four-way intersection, I will look at all four entrances and not see anything, but there have been a few times where there actually is a car to my right. I was attributing it to me being neglectful and undisciplined. But maybe it isn’t. I’m going to have to look into this.

Bolding mine.

No, you weren’t looking at it. You had your face pointed at it. You perceived a generic scene of clutter. Not a collection of individual items each of which you individually recognized and thought about what they were.

Had you looked at the scene and said to yourself “I see a table. On the table I see one, two, three magazines, a candle, a fork, one, two, three car keys, and a cellphone. AHA!! *There’s *my cellphone.” you’d have succeeded.

Something else that happens as we get older is our speed of perception slows down. A quick glance that would have seen a car when you were thirty needs to be longer when you’re 60. That same quick glance by an older person will see nothing.

A survey in Australia found that a disproportionate number of pedestrians are struck by experienced drivers, not by beginners. A driver in his first few years tends to look at the entire traffic environment before proceeding. Experience causes one to make a more cursory glance, and filter for other cars, but ignoring things that are not cars.