Monday, April 21, 2008

Keep your mind open

When I was shopping over the week-end, I did a double-take when I handed the clerk a $5 bill. The new U.S. $5 bills have a large purple number five in one corner, which startled me when I saw it. I thought it looked like play money.

I commented on this to the cashier. "Do you think it could be counterfeit?"

The clerk looked at me in surprise. "No. We've been seeing these for weeks."

That made me wonder. Had I been seeing them for weeks, too? Maybe I'd been using these bills for a while and just hadn't noticed.

How often do we grow complacent with our surroundings? Part of being a scientist includes really seeing the world.

Take a moment today to really examine something in your daily life. It could be the telephone, a dog toy, the house key, your hairbrush. How would you describe the item to someone who'd never encountered it before? Is it soft, prickly, fuzzy, squishy? Does it make noise? Is it colorful or bland? Can you eat or chew it? Does it smell?

Observing your surroundings -- and acknowledging your biases -- is crucial. You can't experiment with your world if you aren't paying attention to it.

One of my favorite quotes sums this up nicely:

"Eyes that look are common. Eyes that see are rare." J. Oswald Sanders

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