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Believing Is Seeing

The Blindness of the Sighted

There is a mysterious alchemy involved in what we call normal sight, the well-functioning eye/brain duet. Every human eye has a blind spot near the center of the visual field. This is not about peripheral vision or a view from the margins. It is right at the center of experience. The eye does not know its own blind spot, mistakes it for vision. Nor does the mind’s eye and so gives meaning to what is not really there.

Every human brain fills in what is missing, blinding each of us to our own blind spot[1]. A human paradox, each of us sees where we cannot and do not. The mind is positive that it sees what is really there. The arrogance of the human mind, of the human eye is rooted firmly in physiology. Of this personal vision, a worldview is born and an entire life lived. Yet the center does not hold because it does not even exist. Right in the middle of each person’s universe is a big dark chasm into which each of us must inevitably tumble again and again unnoticed and unnoticing.

Nor is this the end to the acrobatics of the human eye. The eye presents its offerings to the brain upside down. From this occluded and inverted presentation, each brain creates a unitary vision, a single image, and turns that image on its head, a full 180 degrees, setting each of us back on firm ground. Each team of eyes and brain collaborates with light to produce a world set right, seemingly solid and safe, one in which it is possible to take a stand. For this firm ground to wind up under our feet rather than hanging above us depends upon the finest tuning, the closest relationship among all the participants in this visual project. Firm reality makes this pact with the visual trickster[2].

The eye is both guide and trickster; vision and trompe l’oeil intermarried simultaneously inform and perform their tricks, reaffirming their eternal vow. Human sight, progeny of this marriage, is born naive and must be educated, must be socialized. Every eye must not only learn how to see, but what to see and how to “make sense” of the sensory fragments it is presented. As nature nurtures and educates her young, a collection of lines becomes a staircase, another a balloon, another a flower or tree. A group of shapes emerges from surrounding shapes and one day becomes a particular house, a place forever to be recalled as home. A group of lines on a page becomes an alphabet and a word and a whole new world emerges.

Equally fascinating is the movie playing in each of our heads and on no particular screen. Each of us is the director and star of our own personal drama. The eye/brain duo also fills in the blind spots, making story and meaning. These meanings become difficult to change because we similarly believe that we really see them rather than create them. And so emerges gender and gender roles, race and other visually-based qualities, right out of the blind spot and into our self-concepts and stories.

[1] Durgin, Tripathy, and Levi 1995

[2] Kaschak, E., Sight Unseen: Gender and Race through Blind Eyes, Columbia University Press, 2015.

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