As someone who is fascinated by the workings of the human brain, many things intrigue me. For the longest time I wanted to be an optometrist simply because glasses fascinated me. How is it that by placing a piece of glass in front of the eye, can eye sight be restored? Yes, I’ve taken optics in highschool, I understand how light moves through a glass to create certain clear images. Still, even when my own eyes have failed me, optics has made it possible for me to enjoy the visual world. I remember a story on the news from a few years ago of a blind man. His whole life he could never see, until one random morning. He woke up, like any other day, and he could see from his left eye. Baffled, as I’m sure he was, he saw it as a sign of the Lord giving him another chance to see. He immediately left his house, went to his nearest church, and as soon as he stepped foot inside those beautiful doors, he regained sight of his right eye. I’m not entirely sure if this man is telling the truth, it seems quite unrealistic if I’m going to be honest but you know what people say, god works in mysterious ways.
If you have ever studied perception, you’ve probably heard of the sight experiments conducted on cats. Experimenters placed eye masks (you know, the ones you wear to sleep) on new-born cats. The masks were removed when the cats turned three months of age. The eyes of the cats (by eyes I mean the actual eye-ball) developed normally in gestation and proceeded to develop after the cats were born. However, the actual perceptive structures used to process visual cues did not develop. Even though the cats eyes were intact, they were blind. That seems rather odd doesn’t it? Simply by blocking the eyes from receiving visual cues, can you impose blindness. Of course it needs to be at a time in which visual processing has not yet occurred.
Are you starting to see why I wanted to study perception? The eyes and the visual processing structures (including the occipital lobe, the retinas, the optic nerves, and many more) are responsible for our perception of the world. Two people looking at the same object may see it as two slightly different shades of green. Take my brother for example. When he was in highschool, he took an art class (as it was mandatory). One of the many assignments was to draw and colour in a picture of a house. Include all details, grass, a garden, trees, the bricks of the house, windows, clouds, the sun in the sky. My brother completed the assignment to the best of his ability and turned it in. The teacher looks at the assignment rather curiously before saying to my brother, “Carlos, why is the sky purple?” As soon as my brother got home from school, we took him to the optometrist where we found out he was colour blind. We don’t entirely know how he is colour blind, but our best guess is there was a mix up with the cones on his retinas.
We can typically associate a dysfunction to a structure (in a perfect world, I suppose). My brother’s colour blindness to his under developed retinas, the cats blindness to their under developed visual processing system, my inability to use contact lenses because of my dried out corneas (yes, I’m that girl). Of course, there are circumstances in which the explanation may not be tied to a particular structure. We don’t quite understand how delusions and hallucinations are wreaking havoc in the mind of the schizophrenic. Certain medications do a good job in minimizing the hallucinations by changing the volume of certain hormones in the brain. Does it work when it’s the other way around?
The past weekend was like any other, I partied harder than I have ever partied before (and I lived my first year of university in downtown Toronto, so let that sink in a moment). The people at this party have done it all (narcotics) and they enjoy themselves doing it. I am the opposite. I don’t find pleasure in drugs, hell, I barely find pleasure in drinking anymore. I used to smoke pot when I was in highschool, but the paranoia bested me every time. I promised myself I would never do any hardcore drugs, it’s not worth addiction or nasal destruction. However, I have always wanted to try hallucinogens. I’ve heard stories and they fascinate me. By eating what people call magic mushrooms, your perception of the world changes. Now, shrooms are no LSD. If you’re expecting to walk into the kitchen and find a dragon guarding you fridge, you’re doing the wrong drug. Shrooms is more of a perception alteration drug. You don’t see things that aren’t there, you just see things differently. One of the girls at the party was having a conversation with pool cues. She claimed they were entertaining a conversation. Maybe I didn’t take enough to be on her level, but I did see things differently. The fire pit outside was turned on, glowing a beautiful orange. It didn’t stay orange. Before I knew it, the fire was a figure and it was dancing. There was no music, but it danced, and the more it danced, the more green the flame became. Eventually, I looked at my friend and said “when did you add flame colouring to the fire? I’m really digging the green.” To which he responded, “we didn’t, the fire hasn’t changed colour, it’s still orange.“