Posted on

Seeing the Light

In ancient Greek, seeing was directly equated with knowing — the word for both was the same. I think we still have echoes of that. For example have the expression “seeing is believing”.

But how far does that really take us?

I suggest it doesn’t take us as far as we hope or expect.

There are lots of ways our vision is deceived. (“Who are you going to trust? Me? Or your own lying eyes?”) That can be wilful or accidental. And even if they aren’t outright tricked, they’re never given the whole story. Our eyes aren’t especially good at peripheral vision. And the cameras we rely on to tell our stories are generally far worse.

Additionally, our visual memory is notoriously bad. When cop shows get precisely detailed pictures which closely resemble the perp from a witness’ short interaction with a sketch artist, I scoff. Nearly as much as when they get a good 8×10 print of a fugitive from the reflection provided by a licence-plate bolt caught by a security cam from 150ft away, behind the– you know the drill.

Basic exercises in visual memory reveal that most people cannot accurately describe places or people that they’re only passingly familiar with.

My broader point is that seeing something tells us only a fragment of the story. It may be an attractive, compelling, evocative or arresting fragment.

But it is not the whole.

Recognising that is a step to growing as people. We can stop believing we have someone accurately summarised because of how they appear to us. And this might even lend us an investigative bent because we know that seeing the surface is insufficient.

As with many aspects of life, the path to seeing more accurately begins with acknowledging that we don’t see all that accurately.