The Creatures Who Sit Around Watching While We Use Our Inner Eye
So over the years I have spent hours and hours reading and writing in my living room, and glancing out at our wide view of the north bay every now and then. My attention is frequently grabbed by something quickly moving across the blue. It's usually a bird of prey or carrion or sometimes even a hummingbird.
Now I have an office window with a much more industrial but still somewhat large view--three or four downtown office buildings, the new condos of SOMA, the port of San Francisco, Hunter's Point, a good portion of the bay, and of course, a large blue chunk of sky. And again that motion across the sky catches my attention.
The thing is this time it's usually planes, not birds. But even though I've been sitting here for weeks, there's no reason to see a bird around here or expect a bird to go so fast, and the motion is pretty unbirdlike, I keep thoughtlessly expecting to see a bird. And I am viscerally surprised when it's not a bird
. Then I feel this odd mental hiccup, a weird dream-like tug on a body memory, and almost a sense of a barely visible sense of my living room *rushing away* as if it was, somehow, sitting silently around my working mind until focusing on the real world in front of me forced me to notice it wasn't really there.
It reminded me of this post by Matt at Snarkmarket
, which is an excerpt from the bookThe Singularity is Near
describing some Berkeley research about how compact and brief optic information is as it travels from our eyes to our brain. It also made me think about all the things that visual cortex is doing when it's not actively looking around and being a wonderful camera and watcher.
I was at a conference recently filled with bloggers staring at laptops, and it's a bit eerie to see so many people whose eyes are so tightly focused on the area of the screen, and so carefully processing it for abstract informatoin. You can see them thinking. They are oblivious to their real periphery because their real focus is so densely occupied by virtual thoughts. I'm sure, of course, that I spend the vast majority of my day looking like that. And I wonder what the part of our brain that deals with peripheral vision does to amuse itself while we starve it all day. I wonder if it revels in reprocessing scenes and backgrounds from childhood and other times when we gave it a little more attention.