But Which Eye Is The Binocular One?
“He must learn that his extreme powers of discrimination do not make him weak and inferior – but rather strong and superior.” – Matthew Oliver Goodwin
“Regione caecorum rex est luscus.” (In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.)
– Desiderius Erasmus
Here is a tale about the ontology of perception, or as I like to call it, the laws of private physics. It takes place not in regione caecorum, but in regione luscus – that is, it takes place in the country or land of the one-eyed rather than the blind. In this land, there was once born someone who claimed to have a second eye, and through it, they could see a kind of “depth” and experience an aesthetic of personal engulfment which could not be accessed or appreciated with only a single eye.
The wise men of the land heard these claims and set out to prove, with their one eyed instruments and one eyed reasoning, whether or not this magical experience of stereoscopic vision could exist. As they suspected, their results confirmed that there was no depth nor sense of “embeddedness” which could be felt visually. Vision, they said, was incapable of representing volume.
Two Eyed Sally protested, but to no avail. It was plain to everyone that volume cannot be communicated without touching an object with your body directly. The eye does not touch objects directly, so sensing depth by vision is a hallucination and Sally is crazy.
One day another person was born who also claimed to have a second eye and could see that Sally had two eyes also but that everyone else had one eye. To this, the wise men responded in their most scientific and rational way, doing the only thing that can be done in such a circumstance…
“Burn the witches!”, they bellowed.
Many years passed, and after many witches were burned, very few people spoke about their second eye experiences anymore. When they did it was, obliquely, through stories and metaphors, or as comedy. Increasingly, the one-eyed view of the world had become more and more successful, explaining nearly everything and producing amazing devices like the split-view monocle which allowed one to have two slightly different views of the same thing, allowing people who learned to use the monocle to become much better coordinated. Two views were better than one.
At this point, one of the wisest wise men accidentally ingested a few micrograms of a semi-synthetic fungal extract, and began to hallucinate that he had a second eye. His perceptual solitude became perforated with the legendary aesthetic depths and subjective embeddedness. He reported his amazing experience, and before he knew it, people all over the world were duplicating his unintentional experiment intentionally.
Around the same time, other wise men were playing with light. For years, they had observed an unexpected interference pattern whenever light was projected through a mask with more than one slit. This reminded some of the more unconventional thinkers of the myth of binocular vision, and for a time it seemed that stereoscopy could be a legitimate phenomenon. Strangely, social events seemed to mirror this loosening of constraint and a kind of renaissance or ‘mind opening’ seemed to be blooming on every front.
The more clear-headed of the wise men however, those whose single eyed vision was particularly sharp and acute, warned of trouble. The very thought of people with double the normal amount of eyes, idling in some kind of sickening optical illusion was revolting and they set out to figure out exactly what was the fucking problem with these patterns and slits, and with the strange reports from the fungus eaters as well.
They devised ingenious experiments in which the stereoscopic patterns could be explained. By using instruments which only could see one thing at a time, the validity of the monoscopic model could be deduced. Terms like ‘wave function collapse’ and ‘decoherence’ were a soothing balm for the anxieties of the wise men.
Gradually the rash of thinkers who took stereoscopic delusions seriously were drummed out of the wise man academy, and depth of field was discredited. Instead of being studied as a strange physical phenomenon, depth perception became something else – an ‘epiphenomenon’. Epiphenomena of this kind are an ’emergent property’ which sort of ‘un-exists’ in a never-never land hidden away in neurons…or maybe calcium ions…or radiological zappity zaps.
Even if some of the sensations of stereoscopic vision felt real to some people, it would be because of the ability of these zappings to compare and extract information about each other. Such information might be useful after all, because it allows more data to be simulated at once and more data about the environment means a better chance at survival and reproduction. It could be that the people with the two eyed delusion were not witches or criminally insane after all, they are just unfortunate mutants who have a disability.
There was still some question, however, about how the light knew which slit was the right one to go through, and about whether it was the second eye which was the defective one or whether it just corrupted the first eye. Interpretations abounded about multiple universes and entangled eyeballs. All of these interpretations had in common the same thing: they concluded by re-asserting the validity of flat vision. They could all agree on one thing – that three dimensional sight was supernatural hogwash. The details of how and why were complicated and esoteric, but they are consistent and verifiable, (as long as you use instruments and experiments which are designed to filter out anything unscientific and ignore your own corrupted judgments).
“And so, little by little, a little later
These critics set to work
To make nonsense out of the sense of what we were doing.
And they succeeded.
They destroyed our hero’s faith in himself.
He didn’t have it any more.
After a few, disappointing times
In the big auditorium.
The light gone out of him.
We all stopped going.
And the man who had once seemed so tall
And who now seemed so much smaller
Left our town
Saying no, no, no
They put us back on the narrow path.
This is the way things have been in our town
For as long as anyone cares to remember.
By the way
How are things in your town?”