Can We 'Learn To See?': Study Shows Perception Of Invisible Stimuli Improves With Training
ScienceDaily (Oct. 21, 2009) — Although we assume we can see everything in our field of vision, the brain actually picks and chooses the stimuli that come into our consciousness. A new study in the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology's Journal of Vision reveals that our brains can be trained to consciously see stimuli that would normally be invisible. [Click Here to read full story]
Many years ago (many, many, in fact), I attended a meditation retreat in the hills near Clear Lake north of the SFO Bay Area. There was a young guy on this retreat, in his early 20s, who was able to see aura around people’s bodies. He did not need to do anything, this ability was just natural.
Now in those days, when I was younger, I had a pretty good ability to see things at night – much better than almost anyone else I had met. So I kind of envied his aura seeing ability. But he thought nothing of it – he told me that it really doesn’t mean much, he is just able to see them.
So, a few decades later, I still can’t see auras, and might night vision has declined as my need to wear glasses has increased (since I started using computers). But now comes this story on ScienceDaily about how German researchers have shown that the eye can detect objects even though the brain does not recognize the object as being seen. This has a couple of fascinating possibilities:
(1) Our eyes may be detecting objects and fields of view just beyond the visible spectrum, in the infra-red and ultraviolet range, or in a dark field with no visible light, that we are totally unaware of, but which may still impress our brain, behavior and experience.
(2) We may be able to learn to see these objects of fields of information if we are trained or practiced in doing so. (This is the direction that the German researchers are moving – to help people with blind spots.)
As cool as that sounds, I no longer have my old meditation patience that I think it would probably take to master such skills.
However, I do see implications of this phenomenon – of learning to see what we otherwise would not – in my interests in the tourism and travel experience. These implications are:
(1) People travel to see parts of the world, parts of the human existence, parts of the planetary geography that we otherwise would not be able to see. We drive to travel because our monkey curiosity wants to fill in the blind spots of terra incognita.
(2) We use guidebooks, online video guides, and local human guides to help us to see what we would not see if we were to visit a place without any interpretation. This is what semiotics refers to a the “sign” or “signifier” – it is the name and meaning that we humans assign to sites and sights that, in turn, gives us deep, existential experiences of those sites and sights.
(3) We also reject the guides and the guidebooks in an effort to gain a pure and direct experience of places – especially of the spontaneous and unplanned surprises that new places have the potential to offer us. And related to this, are new identities and roles that arise in ourselves, that we may never knew were their, but which the liminal experience of traveling away from home, can sometimes show us.
(4) Some of us learn about broader issues of travel and tourism, especially sustainability issues, to make us more aware of our impacts and to better understand how tourism shapes places and people (both the hosts and the guests).
All of these are exercises in geographic visioning – of stretching our normal vision (and understanding) of the world, its places, its environments and ourselves – and to see and understand them in ways that we may never have considered were possible. (Although, tourism advertisers also know this and flash images of possibilities that are often tempting, if fundamentally shallow.)
So, here we are. At one level we are curious monkeys wanting to see what is hidden behind the peek-a-boo of distant places. At another level we are stretching our cognitive skill, stretching our brains, perhaps to lead us to a more aware planet that is hopefully able to manage, if not solve, the global issues that we all share today.