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Learning How to See

In a world that gives the impression that "what you see is what you get," how can we train ourselves to access more information? How can we -- and our kids -- actually learn how to see when we are all inundated by imagery that, on one level, is blinding?
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Watch Pamela Meyer's talk above about the science of "lie spotting" and how it can lead to a more honest world.

Learning to see the truth is important, but truly learning to see... that's much more to the point. In her TEDTalk, Pamela Meyer demonstrates that we need training in order to identify the liar. Of course, nobody wants to fall prey to deceit. Still, her lecture raises an even more important question: do we actually know how to see? Can we detect the essential nature of people, events or reality, more generally; Or are we rather blind to the way things are. Watching this lecture, don't you find yourself wondering, "what else am I missing?"

I think people are missing a lot. By way of example, look below at the signature of Karen Kain, former prima ballerina, current Artistic Director of the Canadian National Ballet. See what you see.

Signature of Karen Kain

Certainly, context informs what we see. If you noticed that signature on a cheque, you would see a consumer making good on the promise of payment. If you saw that signature on the playbill of an artistic production, you might see a treasured autograph. On an advertisement or a petition, you would see see some kind of endorsement. Barring any additional context, though, take a moment and look carefully at nothing but the basic signature.

Graphology, or handwriting analysis, is a discipline which teaches practitioners how to really see. Graphologists study the psychological meaning of those quickly penned letters and symbols that routinely appear on the papers that clutter your desk. With this training, you look at Kain's signature and see an identity that is shaped by the majestic vision of performance and choreographed harmony. Note how those two capital letters form little stick figures, arm in arm, performers taking their final bow after a successful performance. The graphologist finds within this signature an identity premised on the value of grace, cooperation and teamwork. And being able to see the grander pattern within a simple signature is the domain of the person who can delve into what stands before us and perceive something of the inner nature. Did you see that grander pattern?

Most people have not honed their perceptual faculties and therefore don't see the bigger picture. Welcome to the limits of everyday perception, limits subtly alluded to in a quote attributed to Gertrude Stein: "I like museums. I like to look out of their windows." Perhaps we can see the world best when we activate the patient, probing eyes we use at the museum.

Some might argue, though, that we see in spite of our eyes and not because of them. Those greedy orbs dart around, hungry for fast-paced, colorful imagery. Zingrone, in his book The Media Symplex, cites research describing the effects of the explicit visual imagery we consume while relaxing in front of the television: the left brain, the intellectual mind, becomes dormant. We see but do not think. The eyes, so fascinated by all that glitters, actually blind us to reality. We don't know what we're seeing.

So Meyer is trying to open our eyes to the fact that any number of times we are not seeing well. In pointing out meaningful patterns which we can interpret, she is activating the use of the inner eye, your inner eye, actually; a perceptual faculty that you have which, when trained, can identify those patterns that reveal the intrinsic nature of things. If we open that eye, if we train it by learning how to look in a more mindful and deliberate way, we derive more information about the world and the people around us.

Meyer starts a conversation, helping us realize that there is more to be seen than what meets the naked eye. Her talk stimulates many thoughts and questions. In a world that gives the impression that "what you see is what you get," how can we train ourselves to access more information? How can we -- and our kids -- actually learn how to see when we are all inundated by imagery that, on one level, is blinding? What kinds of practices can help us learn how to see properly? Or, more to the point, how can we encourage a daily dose of real vision, a.k.a. Vitamin See?

This column is designed to introduce the clinical application of the psychology of handwriting, a European technique mostly unfamiliar in North America. Readers can bear in mind that graphology is appropriately used alongside other assessment methods, never used in isolation. This method is discussed fully in my book Clinical Graphology, recently published by Charles C Thomas Publishers.

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