Friday, March 09, 2012

At one point a few years ago scientists looked at the tiger beetle, with its peculiar way of running in fits and starts, and decided to figure out why. As seems to be so often the case the answer sat in the insect's eyes--it turned out that the tiger beetle runs so fast that its eyes can't gather enough photons to form an image of what it's chasing, so it just shuts down its eyes altogether. It has to stop while it's running just to see where it's gotten to; it's the pursuit itself that blinds the bug.

Maybe I think too much about eyes. It just seems like there are secrets there-- in tiger beetles and ogre-faced spiders and mantis shrimp--that we can't as easily find inside our own eyes. But then. In 1932 Helen Keller went to visit the top of the Empire State Building and wrote a letter to John Huston Finley describing what she saw up there, and in getting to talking about how it looked she said, "It is as easy for the mind to think in stars as in cobble-stones." It's a lot easier to look at eyes than the brains behind them, but sometimes I have these dreams about the tiny little pinpoints left on our brains each time we photochemically change our eyes, like you could peel back my forehead and read what I've seen like braille. Maybe I think too much about eyes, but it's just as easy to see stars as it is to think in them, so maybe I'm really not thinking about them enough.

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