Long ago, I read an article that said that our eyes only “see” the top half of the waves of light that enter them. I’m not sure if that’s still true or not as science is constantly evolving, but I do know that our eyes see only a tiny fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum. The full spectrum that we know of, runs from radio waves to gamma rays, and the light that we can see is a tiny sliver of the spectrum.
I have long been fascinated with this idea about light, how little we see. I read long ago about very long baseline interferometry, a technique used to “see” very distant galaxies and powerful radio sources. With two telescopes on opposite sides of the earth, fixed on a distant object, we are able to resolve far better pictures of that object than with one telescope.
In a sense, we use interferometry with a pair of eyes. We call it parallax. We use parallax to fix the position of objects around us with two eyes. The short distance between our eyes limits the use of parallax to about 10 feet. There again, is a limit to our sight. Yet we put so much faith in what we see.
In our culture, we have taken notice of the limitations of our sight, and the power of our intuition. I have two examples to share, both of which you might have seen. The first is from the first Star Wars movie, where Luke Skywalker is in training with Obi Wan Kenobi, on the Millennium Falcon. Luke is training with his light saber against a robot that tests his agility. He is not doing well, so Obi Wan asks him to wear a face shield that he cannot see through, and he performs better. “Use The Force, Luke!”
Then there is a scene from the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. He is hot on a puzzle to get the Holy Grail, and it is in sight, within his reach. But he must cross a deep chasm, with no apparent bridge. He is following the clues, and closes his eyes to take a step, only to find that the bridge was there, but it could not be seen, for it blended in with the surroundings. It was only when he gave up on his vision, and trusted the clues that he found the bridge holding him up as he walked across.
I am fascinated with these examples because I’m blind in one eye. Oh, I see something there, but it’s like a camera without a lens. I was born during the German Measles epidemic of 1964, and the virus impaired the development of one eye and one ear. So I see everything as if through a portal. Rather than being “in the world” I feel as if I’m watching the world through a hole.
So I have as a result, a rather well developed intuition. I use it to “see” with my gut. I try to see other people with my heart, not my eyes. I try to gauge my safety with my body, not my eyes. Since my hearing is impaired, I am constantly listening for context to know what words I might miss ahead of time. When I’m interacting with others, there is a ton of processing going on that they don’t see, because I can’t see. I can only surmise and hope that the conversation goes well.
I know that this may seem like a terrible analogy, but long ago, someone told me that “if a man loses his legs, suddenly walking seems a lot less important.” What I mean by this, is that my disabilities have affected my priorities. I don’t see very well, so appearances aren’t that important to me. What is important to me is how people treat me. I don’t hear very well, so what is important is not the sound of your voice, what is important is what you have to say to me.
When I interact with others, I am straining to use every part of my body to sense them. My eyes, my ears, my nose, my gut. I “see” your heart with everything else but my eyes. I see patterns in behavior that lend themselves to trust. I look for consistency, authenticity, and reliability.
Long ago, I learned to wiggle my ears from my great grandfather. Wiggling your ears is great entertainment for little kids. Not so great if you need to wear glasses to play table tennis. Last night, I played ping pong with my wife. We don’t really play for points we just play to watch the ball fly and to swat the ball. But my ears kept moving, pushing my glasses down my nose.
So I took them off. My wife’s face was blurry. The ball was fuzzy. But I kid you not, I was still returning the ball just like before only better. No longer was I concerned with pushing my glasses back up my nose. No longer was I worried about hooking them on my ears over and over. I’m sure I could get a strap, but that’s beside the point.
I was hitting better, harder, more accurately than before. I was liberated. I felt liberated. I wasn’t seeing how I hit the ball, just like I don’t see my feet when I walk. Ever try to think about walking when you’re walking? That messes with your gait, right? I do the same thing when playing ping pong. I just do it, I don’t think about it, for when I do, I cannot respond fast enough.
Sometimes, thinking is not required before action. Table tennis is one of those times. As I played, I was fascinated that I could hit a blurry little ball so well. I was playing by intuition and skill. I became more confident with each rally. I became more enthusiastic with each successful return, even when I could only see a blurry face on the other side of the table.
I have been living with intuition my whole life, mostly not really knowing where it comes from or what it does. I have been living with faith. Faith is distinct from belief. Belief holds something to be true regardless of the evidence. Faith keeps the mind open, reserving judgment. Waiting to “see” what happens next.
It is when we have faith, a reservation of judgment, that we can truly see what is going on around us.