Trevor's Reviews > Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn

Now You See It by Cathy N. Davidson
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Nov 17, 2011

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bookshelves: behavioural-economics, education, psychology, social-theory

Although it probably doesn’t really seem like it at first glance, this book is really about cognitive dissonance. It is about the many ways that we find to ignore the fact that we are mostly blind and mostly only see what we want to see. I absolutely know this is true of me, for instance – and that it is perhaps getting truer as I get older. I can read these books, but I’m not sure they help me see my own blind spots. Although these books do make me feel like an expert in everyone else’s blind spots.

I suppose one of my blind spots is that I increasingly expect most people to be selfish, nasty and utterly lacking in compassion. The Australian Coalition talk of ‘families’ while cutting nurses from our hospitals, American Republicans are photographed with beaming smiles and money sticking out of every orifice and British Conservatives assure us we can have growth through austerity, despite all evidence to the contrary. But as long as these cuts and thrusts and back-of-the-hand gangster slaps are directed at others, their supporters can talk or ‘compassionate conservatism’ or ‘Big Society’ or ‘ditch the bitch’ without ever a blush.

We see what we want to see. And if there is a lesson to the moon dancing bear it is probably that we are happy to keep on seeing what we want to see. In fact, we become a little annoyed at our having counted the basketball passes all the way up to seventeen and then not receive proper recognition for our efforts…

We are as defined by our blind spots and the half-truths (and worse) we tell of ourselves, by our shadows that always remain infinitely dark, as we are defined by the dazzling, rose-tinted light we shine on our good deeds and our fine sounding opinions. The light is the shadow; the shadow, the light.

To be honest, I thought this book was simply too chatty to be of much use. I found my mind wandering and myself wondering why quite so much fluff was needed. It was almost as if the author thought that we would find her message so terribly challenging (essentially, that we are deluded and need to find ways to trip ourselves up, so as to be able look again, to perhaps be able to see) that she needed to wrap this message in endless balls of cottonwool.

There are good bits – mainly her attack on The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains – her assertion that rather than multitasking being bad for us, it is in fact our standard human response, due to the fact that our brains are not good at doing boring. This leads to her attack on Fordism and Taylorism for exactly the same reason.

The problem I see with all of this – besides the fact that it is really a bit like The Lonely Crowd, Revised edition: A Study of the Changing American Character, that is, a manifesto for a very small portion of humanity, maybe only the top 5% of the top half billion people on the planet – is that the idea of the future of work being for the symbolic manipulators probably isn’t quite as universally true as is often maintained.

Her notion of the future of work as being people working from home in a sequence of short-term, project-centred activities sounds wonderful – although I struggle to see how these people are going to be adequately reimbursed for their labour and thereby be able to afford to buy a house or food or those sorts of crazy things – but then, who needs the necessities of life when there are so many luxuries and all so close to hand. This makes her complaints about 80 hour working weeks and our need to rethink our priorities all ring a little hollow.

Look, her heart is in the right place – it is just that I didn’t think she quite saw some of the moon dancing bears our world is so full of at the moment. A bit like wondering why guys holding guns at Tea Party demonstrations don’t get pepper sprayed and bashed by police. Just maybe it is because even if these morons were carrying bazookas they would still never be a threat to the system – whereas young people aggressively sitting on the ground, linking arms, humming Radiohead’s No Surprises and sleeping out in parks clearly are. There was a time when those in power thought it necessary to buy off the people of the first world – they clearly don’t feel that is necessary any longer. But we all go on dutifully counting the basketball passes.

I’m not sure if I would recommend this book. There are some very interesting and even important ideas here, but they are buried in so much guff and fluff and padding that if you do plan on reading it I can only recommend you bring a shovel.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Helen (Helena/Nell) I like the cover design... Meanwhile, you got me to order that typography book because I thought I ought already to have read it. Bloody hell! What sort of an expensive influence are you already??


Trevor I know, I cost people an absolute fortune. But as part of the 99%, we have to remember that our role is to consume so as to keep the machine crushing and grinding its way towards oblivion.

The cover is based on this experiment:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ahg6qc...

Which she takes as being one of our main problems in the world. She is mostly saying that overcoming our blindnesses is the main point of education. Hard not to agree, I guess. I hadn't quite realised this one would be quite so much on education - I had started it to get away from education stuff for a while. But books and ideas come looking for me, whether I want them to or not.


Helen (Helena/Nell) Ah, I've seen the moonwalking bear thing before, but I had forgotten about it and also lost the link. Glad to get back to that again.

I am not sure about overcoming blindness exactly, though obviously I haven't read the book. It's doing what we are directed to do. Seeing what we are told to see. THAT is quite concerning.


Trevor Yes, which is much of her point. If anything the book is just a little too chatty - which, I know, is an odd criticism coming from me.


message 5: by Whitaker (last edited Nov 23, 2011 07:51PM) (new)

Whitaker "We are as defined by our blind spots and the half-truths (and worse) we tell of ourselves, by our shadows that always remain infinitely dark, as we are defined by the dazzling, rose-tinted light we shine on our good deeds and our fine sounding opinions. The light is the shadow; the shadow, the light."

Lovely language, that. Truly lovely.

And this: "A bit like wondering why guys holding guns at Tea Party demonstrations don’t get pepper sprayed and bashed by police."

Clunk! That was the sound of the other shoe dropping. You know, I hadn't made the connection until you pointed it out. Equally lovely.


Trevor I had the same experience today when I saw this:




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