Seeing Visibility

February 7, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

Given that light has many strange properties, both on our natural scale as rays and on the elementary scale as photons, there is every reason to doubt that light qualifies as something which is unambiguously physical. On the other hand, since we cannot imagine a completely new color wheel, it would seem to say that the experience of seeing light is “real”, and not, a label for certain kinds of information that is fabricated in the brain. People who become blind at an early age, for example, experience stimulation to their visual cortex as tactile stimulation rather than seeing lights or spots.The condition of blindsight shows that parts of our brain can receive optical information without our having experienced that information personally as visual sensation.

In a way, white light can be considered to be what it looks like when transparency is concentrated. White light is when the quality of visibility is so saturated that it exceeds the range of discernment . A bright light illuminates a room not with whiteness but with clarity. To shed light on something is to flood the visual field with an immediacy of aesthetic acquaintance that suggests veridical qualities of the environment being illuminated. This is why we have metaphors such as ‘seeing the light’. Because it is about being connected with the presence of what is true and sensible, rather than being passively bombarded with particles. It can be said that our experience of seeing is not a direct detection of what is true, since there are so many ways to reveal optical illusion.

By calling it an illusion, we are framing the phenomena in a way as to implicate human fallibility rather than physics. Somehow we are wrong about what our eyes report, yet it is not clear that our assumption about what our eyes are reporting is scientifically valid. In fact, if it were not for these optical illusions, science would have very little to go on in determining the nature of vision as separate from physical truth, so it is actually the gaps between our expectations and the truth which reveal more truth, both about the nature of visual awareness, optics, electromagnetism, and quantum mechanics. Optical illusions are an encyclopedia of the nature of perceptual illusion, physical reality, and the relation between the two.

The folk science explanation for light perception generally begins with the idea that we can see light hitting our retina. That may be true, but not scientifically. The part that light plays in our visual system ends with the isomerization of rhodopsin in the retina. If what we see as “light” is in the visual cortex, then obviously what the visual cortex receives is not photons from the outside world, and it is not a direct analog that shows up as a small screen of images in an MRI. To even guess at some of the content of our visual field requires a blind statistical reconstruction. There is no plain-text transmission of images in our brain to simply hack into and view.

The effect that light has on the retina is merely to trigger the geometric extension of Vitamin A molecules and stop the flow of glutamate to the bipolar cells. That is well behind the first ganglion that would lead to the optic nerve and visual cortex. I propose instead that photons are not entities that are independent of their transmitters and receivers, and that light is therefore not physical but rather inter-physical, aka, phenomenal, aka sensory. Photons are measures of the sensitivity of our mode of detection. It is neither ray, beam, particle, or wave, but rather a rhythmic phenomenalization of matter – a feeling that matter has about what is going on around it. By making inferences beyond our sensible grasp, I think that Quantum Theory has given noun and verb-like properties to what are ultimately adjectives. Bosons and fermions may not be like that at all, but rather they are opportunities for matter to re-acquaint itself. The elementary measurable features of the cosmos may not be particles or strings, but qualities which characterize the capacity of matter to measure and interact with itself. Physics is a mirror. For every action and equal and opposite reaction, because equal and opposite reaction is a perfect reflection of our mode of scientific inquiry. We are investing our coins of empiricism in nature, extracting the empirical value, and recording the profit in our scientific ledger, like good, serious 18th century gentlemen.

It seems to me that only a medium which is intrinsically filled with the sense of color, form, and intensity across the many physical scales could reliably and veridically bridge the gap between public material realism private experience.The notion of a seeing light as a Rube Goldberg patchwork of conveyance into separate effects on every level*, all transported through a one dimensional collision detection schema is not consistent with reality. There are too many examples of people who have seen things in dreams and visions, too many qualities of visual experience which cannot be decomposed sensibly to pixels or lines for the photon explanation to be satisfactory. The qualia of color alone, whose idiopathic shifts and wheel-like symmetry have no place in the smooth continuum of the electromagnetic spectrum.

I suggest that light is only one specific form of a more universal medium, and that this medium is already known to us informally by the word ‘sense’. Sense as in sensation, sensitivity, sensor, but also as in making sense, sixth sense, and ‘in the sense of’. The unity of all sense can be more precisely expressed as ‘primordial identity pansensitivity’, ‘nested sensory-motive participation’, or even something like ‘self-tesselating aesthetic re-aquaintence’, depending on how technical and pretentious we want to get. From this Absolute firmament, and I think only from this firmament, can we get the full range of private experience, public physics, symbolic information, and the capacity to compare and contrast them. Only when physics is seen as identical with sense can physics be completed.

On the elementary level, with a nested sense primitive, we get relativistic locality (so eigenmetrics rather than eigenstates). Sense is modulating its own self-transparency and reflectivity to generate eigenmetric milieus – levels of scale that foster certain kinds of aesthetic themes and activities. The micro-world with its mathematical-molecular-insectoid clarity is different from the soft, lush features of zoological-arboreal-botanical existence. On some level perhaps, sense is nearly undiluted, and so the entire history of the cosmos is as a single now – a white whole singularity in which the now cannot even be completed and the here cannot hold even the hint of a ‘there’. On that level, there is non-locality.

*optical, molecular, cellular, ocular, neurological, psychological, sociological, zoological..

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