Dear Friends,

Walking around the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, I gave thanks that my childhood friend Thijs Gerbrandy was showing me around.

As a museum educator, his job was - of course - to teach about the more than one million objects on display. But he was doing something much more interesting. Namely, he was teaching how to look at them at all.

Looking at the world is something most of us do all the time, without conscious effort. And it is easy to think that our habitual way of looking is the only way to do it.

Not so, writes the research team behind visible thinking

Visible thinking is a series of simple tools to develop our capacity to see differently. Just like sacred reading transforms how we can read, visible thinking gives us memorable structures that allow us to be "flooded with otherness," as poet Denise Levertov might say.

Repeating a short series of questions as you look at new artifacts in a museum, for example, helps make new and complex things accessible and enables you to go beyond a superficial, immediate reaction.
My favorite tool may be the simplest of them all: See. Think. Wonder.
  1. See. What do you notice?
  2. Think. What do you think is going on?
  3. Wonder. What does it make you wonder?
The implications of visible thinking are far beyond a new exhibit. We can use it while walking through a new neighborhood, looking around a friend's house, or watching the news. 

You can do it right now! Look at any image - something on your wall, the cover of a book - and ask yourself those three questions. See. Think. Wonder.

But be careful - I notice that even with a prompt to describe what I see, I often go straight to the second stage. For example, look at the image at the top of this email.

When asked what I see, my first response might be, 'An abstract painting of a factory setting, or at least something mechanical.' But no, that's already introducing a lot of thinking. What I actually see is grays, blues and browns in bold shapes - especially squares. I see brushwork. And now that I look a little longer, I see spatial distance in the painting. And green. And many more circles near the top. 

"Rather than simplifying ideas," write Ron Ritchhart and David Perkins, "thinking routines offer straightforward ways to sustain learners in their inquiry into complex problem spaces."

See. Think. Wonder. sharpens our curiosity so that we can stay with an object much longer than we usually would. It stretches the most precious commodity we have - our attention.

When we repeat these simple thought exercises, we develop new capacities to confront artifacts and stories with which we're totally unfamiliar. It takes the complex and makes it meaningful. (Engaging ancient Persian decorative metallic vessels became the highlight of my Rijksmuseum visit!)  

In an age of scrolling and click-bait, visible thinking strategies aren't just a fun new way to learn. They may become the first line of neurological defense

See. Think. Wonder. 
See. Think. Wonder.
See. Think. Wonder.

Have a wonderful weekend, Shabbat Shalom,

PS. This week's favorite essay comes from Yuval Noah Harari on meaning-making, virtual-reality games and the future of work.

Learn, my heart, what any tree can tell you.
How to assign its roots
to drive them right ways down into the
loosened darkness.
Not through the stone,
but round the stone.
Not into the clay,
but towards the water close at hand.
Not into the unyielding,
but into the love ready to answer
the pressure of rootlets
with a rush forcing up a ringed access
to the fork and beyond,
with an upland rise of branches
repeating the pattern of a nether thirst.

Ivan Lalic
Copyright © 2018 Casper ter Kuile, All rights reserved.

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