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31 August, 2005

Seeing the sights

Curious cat, Lancaster. ©NRTIt wasn't until I took this photo that I realised that my across-the-street neighbour, with whom I've shared several staring contests, has mismatched eyes, one blue, one yellow.  Now I've noticed, via the superior lenses of a camera, it's immediately obvious to the naked eye.

That's a suitable example illustrating the effect I gain from wearing glasses.

My eyesight is pretty good, it's just that each eye focuses slightly differently (once, when extremely tired, I was able to focus on the view from a window and the glass itself, simultaneously).  The divergence is undetectable close-up, but becomes noticeable as distance increases.  It just means I lose fine details; I can still clearly see people from hundreds of metres away, but not faces from more than 40m or so.  I can comfortably drive without glasses, but it wouldn't be strictly legal (one needs to be able to read a standard UK car number plate without hesitation from 20m).

I remember the first time I realised corrective lenses would help me.
I was working on my second undergrad dissertation, on photogrammetry (mapping from aerial photos), and whilst changing lenses in the equipment, I idly held them in front of my eyes and glanced out of the window. Twelve years later I still have perfect recall of the view, from an upper floor of the Llandinam Building (Earth Sciences), UWA to the brick-built Hugh Owen Building (Arts/Library). Brick-built – that's the point. I'd seen that view dozens, maybe hundreds of times, and could see the building clearly, yet I'd never perceived the details of its construction. Having noticed them, I could see the lines of mortar without the lenses.

I suppose I'd call it a 'leap of perception'. Previously, my brain had logged the overall mass of the building and just accepted it without further analysis. The lenses hadn't shown me anything beyond the ability of my unaided eyes. It was as if they improved my ability to not just see, but to observe.
Without my glasses, I might see a tree quite clearly from 30-40m, and appreciate individual branches and even leaves, because I'm specifically looking at them – mentally focused, not just optically. However, I might be totally unaware of a crow perched amongst of them, until it moved, when I'd be able to see it clearly. Wearing glasses, my ability to notice details (pattern recognition?) would have revealed the crow immediately.

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