What is the first step of learning?
What is the first step of solving any problem?
What is the first step of discovering anything?
What is the first step of invention and innovation?
What is the first step of designing?
What is the first step of training our minds?
This tells us why we need to observe. We need it for anything we do in life, if we want to do it well enough.
There seems to be no doubt about the fact that ‘Observation‘ is a basic skill we need to use skillfully in anything we do. It helps us to learn, create, sustain survive, become wiser and enlightened.
But there are two more questions that need to be answered:
1) What do we observe?
2) How do we observe?
The answer to ‘What to observe?’ is not very intuitive. It is easy and difficult at the same time.
Nothing exists independently. All phenomena that goes on around us are interdependent on so many other things.
Such interdependence creates patterns and relationships between different objects that determine the emergent behavior of any system.
What makes things more difficult is the element of uncertainty. We are simply not sure whether a particular relationship would emerge at a particular time under a particular condition. It then becomes a matter of probability. Under certain conditions and time it is highly possible that a pattern might exist or emerge. Hence it is also possible that it does not emerge at all. And it is also possible that the phenomenon might emerge simultaneously at different places (like vibration or wave or light or wear or heat or behavior patterns). This is a simplified understanding of System Emergence, which is a property of any system.
So, what we actually observe is the possibility or probability of various possible but inherent relationships between different elements emerging at different times under a various conditions. Such relationships are seen in form of patterns. Hence observation is the basic skill for pattern recognition.
We can then express the nature of such relationships in form of equations, laws and principles like scientists, engineers and doctors do. Or express them in poems, stories, art like poets, writers and artists do.
What makes observations very difficult is that such relationships are always invisible. We have to apply our senses (or extend them through instrumentation) and our mind to see such invisible probabilistic relationships.
The other difficult question is ‘how to observe?’
It is now somewhat obvious that we must observe in such a manner that we might see the possible relationships in form of emerging patterns clearly. It is also apparent that there must be at least two elements in the system between which a number of possible relationships can develop. So, to observe the relationship, which is our objective, we must not only see the elements simultaneously but also make the invisible relationship between them very evident and obvious.
To explain the technique the metaphor of an eclipse proves to be very useful. (refer: image)
In the umbra region we are too close to one of the elements. It is pitch dark and we can’t see anything at all — denied of the faintest view. Obviously, this is a mistake to observe anything from this region. Surprisingly, we do commit this mistake too often in real life. We simply creep up too close to the object of our interest or we observe a failure too closely and fail to get any idea of what to do next. We simply don’t see anything.
When we move to the penumbra region observation improves slightly but is still not very effective. Though we get to see parts of both elements we clearly don’t see the relationship that emerges from the interaction of the two elements. So, we see the elements but not the relationship, which incidentally is the objective of our observation.
Things become quite different when we start observing from the antumbra region. It is here that we not only get to see both the elements of interest but also the relationship that exists at that point of time under certain specific conditions. We understand the phenomenon of an eclipse. We also understand that an eclipse is one of the possible relationships, appearing in various states that exists between the sun, moon and the earth. The pattern varies over time. And it is not happening every day of the year.
So the important conclusions that we may draw from our discussion on observation are the following:
1. Why we observe? — To learn, understand, gain insights, become wiser, be illuminated and enlightened.
2. What do we observe? — We observe probabilistic relationships between different elements that appear in form of varying patterns at different points of time under different conditions.
3. How do we observe? — We observe in such a way that the elements of a system and their possible relationship at a particular point of time and condition becomes evident. The
Antumbra space provides us the best possible view.
This discussion also brings up the next important question: What to do after an observation is made?
Ref 3:Image of the eclipse taken from Wikepedia (eclipse)
The use of Antumbra as a metaphor was suggested by Mr. Vlad Kunko during one of our playful discussions in the Design Thinking forum on Linkedin. Grateful.