May 21


How Blurred Perception Affects Everything

Every time I go to open my son’s bedroom door, I first take a deep breath so that I’m prepared for what I’m about to see. Usually, as soon as I open the door, I develop instant anxiety, sometimes I get a headache, and I used to get angry. What is going on with me?


Cognitive Scientist Ian McGilchrest would say that the anger and anxiety comes from my inability, in that moment, to orient myself in that situation. What do I mean by orient myself? Essentially, that means I can make sense of my surroundings, of the place I find myself, and as Gattegno would say, I am aware enough that I can act and move myself forward in the world.



When I open that door, I’m paralyzed by the mess. I can’t see anything individually, I see it all at once. It is one big thing – a giant mess. And the only thing that will move me forward on a bad day is a garbage bag, shovel, and a dumpster.

But this temper tantrum isn’t helpful for anyone. Nor is it a good medium to long term strategy for winning friends and influencing people. It tends to make your children terrified of you. Fortunately, I don’t respond that way anymore (well most of the time.)

Feuerstein called the initial cause of my melt down blurred and sweeping perception. What do we mean by perception – it’s the way we interpret and understand sensory information. It’s not just about seeing, hearing, or feeling something; it’s more about the way we organize, interpret, and consciously experience sensory information.

It helps us navigate our environment, decide how to act, and understand the world around us. Our perception is greatly affected by the stories we tell ourselves, the assumptions we make, and our intuitions about how the world works – even if we’ve never given them a lot of thought. In the words of Ken Myers – they are givens. We will come back to these given in future episodes of the notice and wonder podcast.

Ian McGilhchrist


Perception is not the same as attention, and not at all the same as thinking. But the world we choose to attend to, indeed choose whether and how to attend to, is nothing without perception.

-The Matter With Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions and the Unmaking of the World

Blurred and sweeping perception is not about the information itself. It isn’t a limitation in information gathering, like say, spatial recognition, but rather what it is that I do with the information once I have it.

The way we perceive things can be blurry, which means details are unclear, borders are imprecise, and the overall quality is poor. I may see a tree, but I don’t recall if it has leaves or needles. I may notice a car, but don’t recall its color or the model.

One thing runs into another. You may notice this when you go through a traumatic event. Details and times become blurry. It’s like you are in a fog or a haze. This blurriness can affect both wonder (the making sense phase of NWD) and discover (how we communicate that information and move forward in the world around us.


Blurred and sweeping perception is really about the inability to focus and persist in looking at an object, event, or stimulus – the better we get at persisting and focusing the more accurately we perceive it. It is a lack of attention.

I’ve long prided myself that I’m a big picture person and the details don’t matter to me. But, the devil is in the details. And missing them has caused no small amount of consternation in my life. Not just for me, but for those that have had to deal with me. My ability to deal with information used to be highly dependent on my motivation.

The speed and rhythm at which we process information also plays a role in perception clarity. When there is something I’m interested in, or I’m curious about it, I can gather a lot of information quickly. But in the case of the messy bedroom, this slower processing requires way more effort for the same or even less information.

When the perceptual process is slow and unfocused, it can lead to a blurred perception and the resulting negative emotional response follows. The anxiety is a danger signal from your brain that everything is not all right with the world. When your children get into situations where there is too much detail for them to handle, they experience the same anxiety and frustration. They may, like me, become angry.

The nature of what we perceive, such as how simple, complex, familiar, or new something is, affects how much attention and effort we invest in focusing on it. This ability to adapt and accurately discriminate between different stimuli is important.

Regrettably, this has been a hard road of learning for me as an adult. What this looks like is that I don’t have an intrinsic need for appropriate perceptual functioning. When I don’t see something clearly, I’m not bothered by it. I’m content to say the sunset was pretty and not be able to describe it to you. I once had a friend who had terrible acne – I never noticed until someone pointed it out to me. The next time I saw my friend, I looked at her face for the first time. I noticed that indeed, she really did have bad acne.  

My investment in effort, attention, focus is generally situation specific. If it is something I want to do or see the need to do, even if I don’t like it, I will make the effort investment. If it’s not I won’t. I’ll sweep over information/stimuli indiscriminately.

It's not a problem that this is my disposition. The problem was that I wasn’t properly mediated as a child. No one came between me and the information coming at me to help me make sense of it.  That means, for me, there was no such thing as domain transfer. I couldn’t take the skills that came naturally when I was interested in something and transfer them to a situation that I wasn’t interested in even if I knew it was important. Nor could I transfer those skills when it was something I wanted to do but found difficult or didn’t understand. This meant that large portions of my world were off limits simply because I couldn’t make sense of them.


This all sounds depressing, doesn’t it. But it’s not. Because, while I’ll never love dealing with details in domains I don’t have curiosity about or don’t enjoy. Now, I can deal with details even when it is something I don’t want to do or don’t like without a meltdown. I know how to ask myself the kinds of questions that help me make sense of all the stimuli coming at me without a breakdown. I know how to focus my attention and I know how to bring myself back to focus if it is lost.

The good news is that you can properly mediate yourself. It’s never too late. The good news for your children is that you can become a great mediator for them. I would suggest that this is your primary role as a teacher. The content of your curriculum is simply a tool that you use to help you in the mediation process.

How do we do this? That’s what we’ll talk about on the next episode of Notice and Wonder shorts. But, in general, we need opportunities to practice and refine our perceptual skills through guided learning experiences. You know, opportunities like cleaning bedrooms. Besides, this helps you reframe the messy room. It is no longer

a thing that the child has done wrong, but rather an opportunity for both of you to deal with your broad and sweeping perception. Or an opportunity for to learn how to mediate your child through it. It’s education. 

Charlotte Mason


Education is life. 

Opportunities like these help establish the necessary habits, attitudes, and techniques early on, ensuring their perceptual abilities can function well in various situations. We also need to learn how to ask the right kinds of questions. If you struggle as a parent or teacher, the opportunities to practice that your children need are the same ones you need. And the questions you ask your students are the same ones you’ll need to ask yourself. These are the tools in your tool kit. They become your superpower.

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Caleb Gattegno

Educator, Mathematician 

Only awareness is educable. . ."