Human reasoning is capable of strange twists. Certain Australian Aboriginal tribes believed there was no connection between sex and childbirth. “Come on”, they said. “Men are together with their wives almost every day and only a few children are born. Everyone can see that these too have nothing to do with each other.”
Let us examine the other end of life-death continuum: old age. Why, with age, do most people’s eyesight and hearing deteriorate? The usual explanation is that our senses “weaken”. The supposed causation equivalence is something like that:
SENSES GO BAD → PERCEPTION DETERIORATES
If we assume this to be the case, only external devices can remedy the situation to some extent. It’s time to go to the optometrist and get glasses, or get some hearing aid. What if, though, acting on a strange hunch, we turn the supposed relation on its head?
Just think about it: During the course of your life a great amount of information is received by your senses. (Or, in other words, you know on which side your bread is buttered.) At the later stages of your life your attention may shift to this inner mass of information, organizing it in different forms, and transmitting your knowledge to others. This can have the side effect of not being so attentive to the outside world with a clear, receptive, childlike mind, causing your sense organs to become plugged. If there is some truth to this, the equation becomes:
PERCEPTION DECREASES → SENSES GO BAD
In case you allow for the turning inward to (at least partly) cause the dumbing of your senses, a number of possibilities open up. You can start to pay more attention to the outside world. You can regain your curiosity, put aside your previous knowledge watching and listening to the world with fresh eyes and ears. You may try different techniques of paying attention to the world. And so on. You’ve stopped being a leaf blown by the wind, an impotent effect. You’ve become a cause — you have regained control.
OK, but which one is really the cause and which one is the effect? This reminds me of one of the stories told about Nasreddin Hodja. The famous teacher lived in a house surrounded by a high fence built of vertically placed boards, one of which was missing. Through this hole, every morning, sitting in his garden, he witnessed the passing of a donkey on the street. One day he slapped his forehead with sudden insight: “I get it! It’s the nose that causes the tail!”
The exciting topic of epistemology will some day come up in this newsletter, when we will hopefully realize that many things considered obvious in society are not obvious at all. If you are able to make statements about “the real reality”, I envy you. For now, let us limit ourselves to finding a reality that gives us more choice in achieving what we want. There are probably more factors involved in the issue, but now we’ll only consider these two: the state of our sense organs and the quality of our perception. Let us assume that they are not simply concurrent, there is a causal connection between them. Perhaps the reversed equation above is too radical, so let’s introduce a softer version assuming that both factors affect the other:
ATTENTION ←→ PERCEPTION
This could become a vicious cycle: The less attention we pay to the outside world, the less sharply we see and hear which makes us even more apt to stay in our inner world. Fortunately the circle can be reversed: The more attention we pay to the outside world, the more sharply we will be able to perceive which will cause us to want to participate more in external activities causing our senses to improve. The connection, put in a neutral fashion is this:
QUALITY OF ATTENTION ←→ STATE OF SENSES
Eyeglass and hearing aid manufacturers, naturally, will advertise the first cause-effect: our eyes and ears go bad and that’s it. Not because they are evil and they consciously want to screw you. In board meetings of multinational companies this kind of thing may happen, but little cogwheels educated in a system almost always honestly believe that only their knowledge can save the world. We are like that: We believe in the version that is favorable to us. Hungarians believe they were the first to settle Transsylvania, while Romanians believe that it was them. Very few people actually compare all the available data to be investigated in a neutral way, allowing for the possibility of the other party to be right.
The financial resources of the industry that evolved around eyeglasses and the inertia involved in the issue is not a small matter. The glasses way of correcting vision is supported by a whole world: manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, optometrists, fashion designers who believe this to be the only valid reality. This does have an effect on our collective consciousness. “If you don’t wear your glasses, your eyes will go bad.” How many times have you heard this sentence?
To me it never seemed logical that crutches would make your legs stronger, to tell the truth. Therefore I haven’t been wearing glasses for nearly forty years (even though the “experts” believe I should). And my far vision is almost the same as forty years ago (although not perfect), while people with glasses have to exchange theirs for a stronger one every few years. I’m not asking you to join the rebellion, but what happens if you give your eyes some time free of glasses when they can rest? In any case here’s an equation you may want to try:
LOOKING MORE WITH NAKED EYES → EYES STAYING MORE FLEXIBLE
Peoples living in nature are famous of their sharp eyesight, which is often retained even in old age. One of the reasons might be that people living outside, such as shepherds or sailors spend a lot of time looking out into the distance. When do our eyes, in our congested cities, in the small rooms we live in, meet the horizon? Peering into the distance relaxes the eye while also endowing you with a forgotten perspective. You can take a few seconds break from reading even now, looking out the window, allowing your eyeballs to revert back to their round shape. There are other methods of resting your eyes — cutting down on screen time is probably one of the most effective ones. Here’s another potential equation:
LOOKING MORE AT THE HORIZON → HAVING BETTER FAR VISION
Could our alleged connection also be employed to hearing? As time passes, most people’s inner dialogue becomes stronger. For some it is almost incessant. If you are busy paying attention to your inner voices it makes sense that you wouldn’t be as attentive to outside auditory input. When you quieten the inner dialogue and start paying more attention to external sounds, you might hear them better. We could set up two equations:
MORE INNER SILENCE → SHARPER HEARING
MORE EXTERNAL AUDITORY ATTENTION → MORE ACUTE HEARING
While walking in the forest you may set the focus of your ears to the distance, being attentive to faraway, very soft sounds. It is like scanning the environment with your ears. Walking this way could be quite a consciousness-altering maneauver, especially for those who are generally more conscious of visual information. Discovering all the sounds in the world, realizing how far you can extend the range of your ears can also be a pleasant surprise. If you know birds’ sounds you can also survey the bird population of an are with this method, especially in springtime.
There is also olfaction, this neglected sense that our civilization tends to shove into the realm of the unconscious. Being mammals we are actually quite good at smelling. After Covid, however, many of us found ourselves with a diminished sense of smell. What kind of exercises could be useful in regaining this capacity? If you have any ideas, assist your suffering fellow humans using this excellent button:
Modern life style, especially citiy living probably also overload our sense organs. The evening lights, the exhaust fumes of cars, the wailing of ambulances and the general noise of traffic may, in the course of decades, create a kind of a sensual fog that dampens sensory stimuli. Well, we won’t go back to the caves! — someone recently proclaimed to me. Too bad. In the winter this newsletter was written in oceanside caves during a really uplifting month. Working online makes it easier to spend your days in a healthier environment. But even going out in the forest on the weekend can give an opportunity for your sense organs to clean, sharpen, once again become fresh and receptive like those of children.
Going back to cause-effect relationships, what other supposed connection can we reverse? Let’s try the following: “It’s not that my cucumbers are not growing because of lack of rain. It’s the cucumbers not growing that are keeping away the rain.” At first sight this great piece of wisdom is only worth a chuckle. But if you generalize it a bit, you discover an interesting application. While cucumbers don’t make rain, forests do. We tend to think that certain geographical areas lack trees because of the lack of water. But actually many places are devoid of rain because we’ve killed of the trees. Planting forests can bring the rain clouds back making us real shamans.
You can also play around with some supposed cause-effect relations, turning them around. They can pertain to individuals, such as:
“I don’t do enough sports because I don’t have the energy.”
“I’m unhappy because I have diabetes (or some other illness).”
“I’m pessimistic because bad things happen.”
Or they could be about the state of affairs in society:
”We spray plants with poison because there are too many pests.”
“You have to build new highways because there are many cars.”
“Dams needed to be built because of destructive floods.”
Sometimes you have to think a little bit to see how the reverse relationship could be possible. But smart folks like you can think well. Or is it that thinking makes folks smart?