Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Eyes Have It

Recently I suddenly couldn't focus my eyes well enough to read. I did all the things one does at a time like that. I slapped the monitor, blinked, rubbed my eyes, cleaned my glasses, used some eye drops, asked the person in the next office if my monitor looked blurry to her, took a break, panicked.

I didn't suddenly go blind, you understand. I could still see almost everything, I just couldn't see little tiny squiggles on the screen or paper. I could still see colors and light and people, and cars on the highway. I just couldn't read.

Little squiggles on paper or a monitor. How important can that be, really? Little tiny line drawings on a contrasting background. My fingers push on plastic keys and little tiny line drawings appear on the monitor and flash across the world onto other monitors. And when you read them you can pretty much understand what I was thinking about when my fingers pushed the keys.

I don't think about what my fingers are doing when I type. It's like walking up stairs. If I think about it, I stumble. And I don't think about looking at each tiny squiggle individually and then translating arrangements of them into words which I then translate into ideas. But that's exactly what we do when we read. It's just that we do it so quickly, so automatically that we don't even realize we're doing it. I took it all for granted.

Until I couldn't do it.

Now that the squiggles are coming back into focus (right now print looks rather like a 3D movie without the glasses) it amazes me that anyone can read at all. Our brains and eyes do unfathomable acrobatics at unbelievable speed and we only even think about what's going on when it doesn't work perfectly.

Just pick any one of these arrangements of squiggly lines and think about it. We define them with other arrangements of squiggly lines. We can't even think about words without words. And if we had to sustain all our ideas with spoken words without using written words, we'd all lose our voices from overuse. People have been doing mighty things with words, but they have had to first be able to identify tiny little squiggles on the screen.

The process is breathtakingly beautiful.

So whatever this vision problem is, I think I'll be grateful to it for opening my eyes.

1 comment:

  1. All very nice and very true. I am blown away by how children take to this squiggly line thing so well too. I'm squiggling now and and it is weird and wonderful.

    Hey I laughed at the first paragraph when one of your first actions was to smack the monitor :D