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11/07/2003 Archived Entry: "The self-editing brain"

THE BRAIN'S CAPACITY FOR SELF-DELUSION IS AWESOME. I'm thinking today not of the big brain delusions like "God ordered me to slay all of the [insert unpopular minority group] to the last woman and child!" or "Government is my friend." Just the little everyday, go along to get along illusions.

I was fitted earlier this week with contact lenses. The type of prescription is new to me (though I guess it's been around a while) and it's very, very weird. Called "mono-correction," it involves putting a distance-vision lens in one eye and a close-up vision lens in the other. So out of one eye I can see into infinity, but can't make out the lines in my own hand. Out of the other eye, I can read a book or a computer screen, but everything beyond two feet gradually blurs into fuzz.

If you've ever had one lens fall out of your glasses and tried to function that way for a while, you'll know the feeling -- disorienting, slightly dizzying, and damned annoying. You can see what you need to, but you also see a big, vague blob smack in the middle of everything you look at. You feel as if you're going to walk in circles or slam into a wall if you don't watch yourself.

Nevertheless everybody at the eye doctor's office assured me that if I'd just tough it out, somewhere between 20 minutes and six weeks after getting the lenses, the chances were very good that my brain would change its mind and I'd see perfectly.

Hard to believe. I'm still staggering around feeling crosseyed, mostly. But about 24 hours after getting the lenses, and again this morning, the world did indeed clear briefly. For an hour, even two hours, there was no big fuzzy blob. I could see flawlessly. Then good, common sense reasserted itself and the brain said, "Damnit, Claire, there is too a big, blurry blob there. Lissen to me; I'm tellin' you the truth!" And lo and behold, the blob was there again.

They tell me that's the way it works, coming and going until the brain just ... gets it. Or gives up and quits fighting.

It reminds me of the "Somebody Else's Problem" field Douglas Adams wrote about so hysterically in the Hitchhiker's Guide series. It's there, but it's not there. You see it if you look at it side-wise, but it's invisible straight on. I wonder if all this is related to the "field" that lets old husbands view old wives as the young beauties they first met. Or the field that enables parents to imagine their homely infants are the most perfect creatures ever born. Or the field that lets us edit winos out of our pleasurable downtown experiences. Or the field that enables millions not even to perceive people on the political fringe, or the one that lets presidents believe only their conniving advisors when the rest of the world is trying to shout the truth.

Well, that might be reading a bit much into a pair of contact lenses. But the brain is indeed a tricksy critter, and if it can tell you you've got 20/20 vision when what you've really got is some crosseyed hybrid in which each eye is "doing its own thing" and neither eye is willing to work with the other, there's really no telling what else it might be doing while we're not paying attention.

Posted by Claire @ 02:35 PM CST

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