There is no more difficult art to acquire than the art of observation, and for some it is quite as difficult to record an observation in brief and plain language (William Osler)
The “art of observation” – interesting phrase. It’s not just a matter of looking then? Or of gazing whilst your mind is elsewhere? I think we often forget that observation is both an active and a creative process. It’s not the same as measuring. But it always involves some level of “abstraction” ie we focus on certain elements or characteristics. We simply can’t “take in” all the sensory stimuli and information which is streaming our way at any particular moment. We sift, we categorise, we discard, we focus.
Telling someone else what we observe often reveals these processes which alter what there is to be observed. Recording too little, hides too much. Recording too much, overwhelms with detail and we run the risk of not being able to see the wood for the trees.
A want of the habit of observing conditions and an inveterate habit of taking averages are each of them often equally misleading (Florence Nightingale)
Florence Nightingale adds another two aspects to the issue of observation – two common faults she said – one of failing to “observe conditions” which I take to be either a failure to observe the context, or a failure to observe the phenomena of the illness. And secondly, the “inveterate habit of taking averages”. When it comes to the individual, averages are of little use. They can blind the observer to the unique present situation.