The Point of Focus

Posted: August 7, 2013 in Consciousness, Culture, Idle Nonsense, Industrial Collapse, Philosophy
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Many traditional cultures regard the heart, situated at the center of the torso, as the body’s principal organ, having special processing powers directed to emotion. A heart-felt sensation is regarded as irreducible truth because emotions can’t be wrong. Indeed, the passions, as emotions are also called in their extremity, are something to be harnessed as motivation, at least until they run afoul and have to be restrained. For instance, a charismatic can inspire or inflame the passions and lead people along unwise paths.

In the modern industrial world, however, the eye and the perceptual faculty it provides has usurped the heart as the principal organ, at least in terms of cognition (ignoring the fact that the brain is the actual processor). The primacy of vision can even be seen (read: understood) in terms used to describe two major eras in Western history: The Dark Ages and The Enlightenment. Such visual metaphors stretch much further back in time, but the emergence from darkness into the light — the overarching story of modernity, religious salvation, and techno-utopianism — is clearly a central feature of Western thinking. For example, in the late 18th century, the U.S. incorporated symbology tracing back to Egyptian antiquity, namely, The Eye of Providence, into the Great Seal of the United States, which even now is displayed on currency shown at left (detail from the one dollar bill). It is noteworthy that, similar to emotional emanations of the heart, the eye is depicted with rays or beams shooting out in all directions, suggesting its other name, The All-Seeing Eye, its view being omnidirectional. That the function of the eye could be understood as both a receiver/processor and projector was apparently well-known long before modern physics revealed that the observer influences the observed by the mere act of observation.

Another version, one of many, actually, can be seen at right. Think of the eye’s function as the light on a miner’s hat, illuminating whatever the wearer brings into view. Much more than the heart, which is responsive and far less prone to intentional direction, the eye can cast its view upon whatever one elects at any moment, bringing the observed into awareness, into the mind, and into focus. (It’s no surprise then that poor eyesight — poor focus — makes for fuzzy thinking. Those who can’t see well uncorrected have diminished powers of observation.) This metaphor may be more accurate than the all-seeing eye for an important reason: a large percentage of information gathered by the eye is discarded. The eye’s narrow point of focus is a relatively small portion of the entire visual field; the rest is peripheral. If this were not so, conscious awareness would be subject to stimulus overload from just one perceptual channel. Other senses compete for attention (especially kinethesia), further limiting what can be brought into conscious awareness at any one time. This limitation is sometimes called the bandwidth of consciousness, a sort of built-in bottleneck. 

Another telling expression of the eye’s power of projection is found in the superhero genre, where good guys and bad guys alike frequently possess the ability to shoot lasers, x-rays, or power rays from their eyes. Everyone has experienced the similar if less hoary effect of a withering look (or the hairy eyeball), which may signal an underlying emotional state but is understood more commonly as an aggressive or intimidating behavior. With superpower eyebeams, eyelines drawn into illustrations connecting the viewers to objects of interest (familiar dotted lines used to track the viewer’s gaze) are thus amplified into beams of intense destructive power. The source of the power is unclear, as with most superpowers, but the fact that it is delivered by a look is an indication of the mythical power behind the eyes, which is known poetically as the window to the soul. 

It is not a difficult stretch to suggest that directionality, whether omnidirectional or pinpoint, also brings the world into being in the sense meant by New Age gurus and adherents to theories of quantum reality. At a more mundane level, each of us pursues interests that appeal to us and gain familiarity and expertise accordingly. Subjects that sustain one’s interest and focus are often later distorted through professional bias and cherry-picking support, as when a religious person turns to scripture for justification or a scientist relies solely on data to substantiate an argument or theory. This is also what’s meant by the old saw that to someone holding a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail to be pounded down. After a fashion, tools of thought can become weapons.

One could easily dismiss all this as mere perspectival diversity, where some interpret the world in one fashion while others take different approaches. However, I intuit that something deeper is going on, namely, that a sort of blindness develops when one learns how to see the world primarily or even exclusively from one perspective. Everything can’t be illuminated at once, so where one turns one’s attention and the habits of mind that develop from focused expertise can render the viewer/thinker fundamentally blind to other valid interpretations. More specifically, to the capitalist, the wholesale commodification of human activity as well as the world’s resources makes it so that the only possible view is in terms of money and/or profits. Such folks aren’t starry-eyed dreamers, they’re dollar-eyed gluttons. And to them, collateral effects such as increasing class tensions, social upheaval (and eventual regime/institutional collapse), pollution, resource degradation (e.g., overfishing or soil depletion), and climate change lie outside their scope/view, making denial easy to assert without lying outright. This doesn’t excuse conscientious blindness to reality, but if one is ever dumbfounded that others can’t see what seems glaringly obvious, this explanation might being to shed some light on why.

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Comments
  1. xraymike79 says:

    Tunnel vision via ideological blinders.

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