Walking around Sheffield with Rory Miller. Dark, empty streets. Rory about two steps behind me. This guy walking in the opposite direction goes by.

“Did you see that?”

“Errrrr, I think so.”

“What did you see?”

“…you go first?”

And no, it turned out that I hadn’t seen it. Rory had spotted that the guy had his right hand hidden up his sleeve. I’d completely missed that – that is, my eyes had seen it, but my brain hadn’t registered it. What I had seen was a guy with a disorganised face (chemical shortage?) spot me, lock on, change vector to aim towards me, glance past me, spot Rory, disengage, and change vector back to go past me, all in the blink of an eye.

Once I stopped kicking myself in the ass (HOW did I miss someone so obviously concealing a weapon? What am I, some sort of cretin? This sort of stuff is IMPORTANT!), I realised that it makes sense. I’m not used to scanning people for weapons; thankfully, that sort of problem hasn’t been a feature of my life. I am used to noticing if someone’s classified me as a prey item, cos that’s featured a lot.

So I notice the stuff that I’ve learnt to notice because I’ve needed to notice it. Gee whiz. Remember kids, you heard it here first.

Where that gets interesting is when it’s turned upside down. On countless occasions, I reacted to something or someone and the people around me thought I’d lost the plot. From my point of view, I was reacting to a loud and clear signal (voluntary or not). From their point of view, I was going off on one for no reason at all. They hadn’t seen the signal; or rather, they had seen it but not registered it.

Most of the time, for most people, the fact that then “nothing happens” is further confirmation that I was out of line. They wouldn’t/couldn’t accept the possibility that my actions (generally nothing more than me bracing for impact, speaking sharply, or just giving someone the evils – I don’t walk around waving machetes) had prevented an event from taking place.

I’ve sometimes managed to explain to some people what I saw and why it was significant to me. It’s an interesting process for me because it forces me to use my words. I know how I spot a sexual predator, but describing it is like trying to describe the colour blue. It also forces me to work out how I learnt what I’ve learnt. Sometimes this allows me to connect hitherto unconnected pieces of information into neat little quasi-theories. For instance, working out what emotions displayed in the expression of a stalker I’m reacting to can help me work out why they are stalking.

Often, it forces me to realise that all I can do is spot the kind of issues I’ve already had to deal with. A lot of my cognition is nothing more than recognition. And that’s a concern.

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