SEPT 17 — One particularly memorable class I had in university was when a professor talked about marble stones and the metamorphic processes that create them, ending with an short account of when he was in Mecca.
As he laid eyes on the marble flooring near the Kaabah, his mind immediately analysed its properties and before he realised it he had a good idea of its parent rock’s geological qualities and history.
At the time, I was awestruck by the professor’s geological expertise and how it provides an additional lens through which he perceives the world, picking out details that another person could never guess at. Years later I find myself almost understanding what that might feel like — albeit with words and language instead of rocks.
Previously I wrote about sub-editors and how the nature of the work imparts lifelong habits, even after moving on to other jobs. While that is somewhat different from my professor’s knowledge and experience flavouring his perception of his surroundings, I feel both boils down to the same basic thing: our work defines a significant part of who we are. The knowledge and skills that we learn, acquire and master, once hardwired into our brain, inevitably influence how we interact with our world.
Inevitably, these bits and pieces that we keep adding to our great archive as we go through life will shape us as individuals. As we learn new things and discover, the way we perceive things around us evolves to reflect what we know and understand.
When I was in my teens transitioning from comic books to more text-heavy volumes by Raymond E. Feist and Terry Brooks, my perception of the books was rather simple. Both writers tell different stories, and that was all I saw. At the back of my mind I was vaguely aware of another aspect differentiating the authors that I could not seem to vocalise, like a forgotten word at the tip of your tongue that just won’t come out.
It was only when I learned to write professionally and grew aware of the concept of “writing style” that I realised — like a light switched on in a pitch-black room — that the authors structure their sentences differently, finally seeing the nuances that mark their respective voices.
From that point on I began paying attention to how different writers arrange their words, how different it is from how I would write it and what makes their personality shine through the dry ink on paper. Learning that one concept as a writer added an extra lens through which I read, and whenever I read I look through it without conscious effort.
I imagine it is the same with everyone, whatever you do for a living. What we know colours our perspective and, eventually, after accumulating enough knowledge or skill in something, that colouring stays permanently.
Our brain processes what we see and hear and touch based on what it knows, and the more we know in one field of expertise, the more it will be inclined to access that area of its archives first to give definition to what we perceive. It is the reason why an architect will look at a house and immediately ponder its design, whereas a realtor might see the same house and weigh its location and value.
Sometimes it makes me wonder: are those around me seeing things I do not? Perhaps they do. And perhaps I see little things that they miss, too. The thought of something I see clearly still holding mysteries that are in plain view to someone else fascinates me as much as it humbles me.
My professor sees the world through the eyes of a geologist. Whose eyes might you be looking through?
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.