The Visual Experience

A few days ago, I was having dinner with my family. My brother was staring pensively into his plate of pasta, and, after some time, said inquisitively: “I wish salt could be red so I could know whether or not I’ve added enough of it.” Imagine how convenient that would be, always having visual evidence on how salty your food is. That is, unless your food is red, like a tomato. Red salt would require no thinking, no guessing, and no forgetting whether or not you remembered to season your dish. You would know just by looking.

Of course, wouldn’t it be so much easier if we could just see everything and not have to strain our brain with the arduous process of thinking or remembering? Imagine being able to tell how much damage that extra cheesy bacon hamburger would do to your body, or how spicy that hot sauce would be before you add an entire spoonful of it to your burrito and literally burn your mouth off? Or, taking it beyond the concept of food, imagine being able to figure out how smart someone is in the same way we can figure out the color of his or her shirt, or how nice someone is just by seeing one’s face. What would the world become?

Evolutionarily, our brain is hardwired to be very responsive to visual information. In fact, about 30% of our brain is either directly or indirectly involved with processing visual information, and about 60% of the electrical impulses entering the brain have to do with our vision. So many studies have been done to show how humans can remember visual information much better than spoken words, how color and movement have the ability to capture our very short attention spans more effectively than anything else, or how visual information is very good at evoking human emotion, one of the biggest driving factors in our decision-making. And this makes sense, doesn’t it? Our memories are stored as images. We cry much more often when we watch a film than when we read a book. It takes us much faster to recognize a face than remember what the owner of that face had told you. Our heavy reliance on the visual world makes us recipients rather than thinkers, which I believe is one of the main reasons why knowledge and personal character traits aren’t valued in our society as much as they should be.

Someone had once asked me: if you had to pick one, would I rather have a Harvard education or a Harvard diploma? In other words, I was being asked to pick between receiving arguably the best education in the world or a piece of paper; knowledge or just a signature to say that I have it. Society seems to care only about those things that can be displayed on a resume, hung up upon a wall, or photographed to be shared on social media. Everything we do is in some way an effort to become more visually appealing for the rest of the world. Education is all about learning new ways to prove our intelligence. The beauty and clothing industries exploit our visual dependence and force us to purchase different ways in which we can prove our worth. Our entire existence is built from the information taken in by the two eyeballs in our skulls.

And how do we know if it is even real? Whatever is out there is just represented in a series impulses carried through neurotransmitters. But the content of our minds, only we can know whether it is real or not. I am mirroring Descartes’ “I think therefore I am,” as I find truth in that statement very often. If I had been able to think all this over in a couple of minutes, I would have told my brother to just taste his pasta, because only he can decide for himself whether or not the pasta is salty enough. If he comes to the conclusion that his pasta needs more flavor, rather than the color of the salt telling his so, who is to say that he is wrong?

© Kat’s Observations – 2018

Read more about my thoughts at Kat’s Observations

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