As I wandered Renaissance Park looking for small, interesting things to shoot, I noticed these little guys. The entire length from the base of the “flower” to the tip of the bristles is between ½ – 1 inch.
I didn’t have my glasses on, so I couldn’t see them all that clearly. Through the blur, I thought an artist had dropped her paint brushes as she made her way out of the park.
When I saw the high-resolution version of the image on my 27” screen, I was even more amazed by how much they really do resemble tiny paint brushes. I’ve never noticed these little bristles before, but I probably would recognize the flower if it were still blooming.
This is yet another example of how the brain filters out information that seems irrelevant. This filter is a great tool–we’d be completely overwhelmed if our poor brains had to process all the information within view every second of every day. But it also can prevent us from seeing what’s in front of us even when it’s really important that we see it.
Take, for example, a data point I heard when I was taking a motorcycle skills course quite a few years ago. In interviews with car drivers and motorcyclists following non-fatal collisions between the two, in the vast majority of cases, the motorcyclist reported having made eye contact with the driver shortly before realizing the driver wasn’t going to yield. The driver reported having never seen the motorcyclist.
While this may seem unbelievable, think about the number of times you’ve been looking for something and it was right in front of you the whole time, but it was a different shape or color than you remembered.
Your brain was pattern matching and the object didn’t match the pattern you were looking for. That’s what happens with motorcycles (and bicycles)–they don’t match the patterns the brain is most familiar with when looking for “objects to avoid hitting,” so the image doesn’t make it from your eyes into your brain.
When it comes to really small stuff, we probably see it, but like an impressionist painting, we mentally allow all the tiny dots to blend into a single image with varying colors.
As I’ve learned from photography, the eye goes to light spots and bright colors if they’re large enough to register on the radar. We’re more likely to notice a tiny metal object twinkling in the sun (which also taps into our predator roots that hone in on movement) than a small red flower. We’re more likely to notice a small red flower than a small yellow one.
These little paint brushes are unlikely to get noticed. They’re small. They’re tan and dark brown. They don’t reflect light. They’re low enough to the ground to hold perfectly still.
Perhaps the difficulty of seeing them is partly what makes having captured them satisfying.