Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Inattentional Blindness | Thoreau

From Henry Petroski, The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance. New York: Knopf, 1989, pp. 3-4—

Henry David Thoreau seemed to think of everything when he made a list of essential supplies for a twelve-day excursion into the Maine woods. He included pins, needles, and thread among the items to be carried in an India-rubber knapsack, and he even gave the dimensions of an ample tent: "six by seven feet, and four feet high in the middle, will do." He wanted to be doubly sure to be able to start a fire and to wash up, and so he listed: "matches (some also in a small vial in the waist-coat pocket); soap, two pieces." He specified the number of old newspapers (three or four, presumably to be used for cleaning chores), the length of strong cord (twenty feet), the size of his blanket (seven feet long), and the amount of "soft hardbread" (twenty-eight pounds!)…
But there is one object that Thoreau neglected to mention, one that he most certainly carried himself. For without this object Thoreau could not have sketched either the fleeting fauna he would not shoot or the larger flora he could not uproot. Without it he could not label his blotting paper pressing leaves or his insect boxes holding beetles; without it he could not record the measurements he made; without it he could not write home on the paper he brought; without it he could not make his list. [He had forgotten to mention the pencil that enabled him to make the list.]