How much do we miss without even knowing it?

A lot.

Working memory (or short-term memory, using now-dated terminology) last a matter of seconds and can hold 7±2 chunks of information before it is gone forever, unless we make special efforts to transfer that information into long-term memory. 

But what about all the information that does not even make it into short-term memory? What about all of the endless bits of information we never even see that is right in front of us? I’m talking about seeing in terms of both information intake and in terms of understanding said information. Because, if we don’t see, really see information–even if we disagree with it–we have no chance of learning and progressing.

As a result of my cultural studies work and how it informs my teaching and research, I regularly am labeled as one who thinks too much, is thinking too hard, is spoiling the fun for others. (For previous discussions of this on my blog see this, this, and this.) I am always working on a way to effectively answer this criticism reaction. My latest thought is to simply say this is an exercise in thinking, creating, and exploring the limits of such. 

And recently as I was going through books planning materials I want to use when teaching Mexican American History, I realized that I too was once guilty of reacting with “reading in too much” instead of “I don’t fully understand what the author is saying” or “I understand…but still think the author is reaching because of…”

Image from The Buried Mirror: Reflections on Spain and the New World one of the books I’ll be assigning that I was assigned as an undergraduate: 

2015-07-11 17.19.50

Sometimes, we don’t yet know enough to really see. (Similar to how I carefully explain to students that sometimes you don’t really know enough to disagree per se.) Now, when I read this, the author’s analysis makes perfect sense. I also feel a bit embarrassed that I reacted with “the author is thinking too hard.”  

I find similar things when I re-read articles I first read years ago (or sometimes even months ago). As I learn more, I actually see–both intake and understanding–more information and more ideas each time because I am always learning, and in this process, the ideas make more and more sense and connect to larger and larger edifices of thought. This especially applies to theory-heavy articles, which I like more and more, as I understand the full picture more and more. 

We would all do well to remember that we miss something like 99% of what is in front of us 99% of the time. Additionally, we all, in every way possible, literally, see, hear, and experience the world and information directly in front of us in unique ways. We constantly misunderstand each other and misunderstand texts. So while we miss a bunch, we experience everything in an individual way!

Always be open to learning and thinking.