Isthmus by Kimberly Prijatel

Louis Émile Javal is my favorite ophthalmologist. Born in Paris in 1839, he graduated in medicine from the University of Paris in 1868. Javal’s own experiences with eye-related issues seem to have motivated his studies; his were two different colors, or heterochromic, and both his sister and father suffered from strabismis, the disorder often called ‘lazy eye.’ After serving in the military, Javal ran an ophthalmology laboratory until his retinas shut down in 1900.  He spent his last seven years blind from glaucoma, but before then, he made great strides in the study of astigmatisms and of optics. Javal initiated the ‘eye-tracking’ discussion and discovered the saccade.

Saccades demonstrate perception is not as flawless as we find it; they’re quick movements that result in spots of temporary blindness. Here’s an experiment: stare at your reflection in the mirror. Look away, then watch your eyes move as you look back- it’s impossible, you won’t be able to see them.  Instead you’ll experience a ‘black-out’ of vision. It’s nothing to worry about, black-outs like these happen all the time, whenever your eyes shift.

Javal discovered saccades while observing people reading. He noted that the eyes do not read precisely or linearly, but rather shudder back and forth. These quick shifts are microsaccades and happen three per second at 20- 200 milliseconds a piece.

New Scientist magazine showed we can trick ourselves if we are unaware of what’s going on around us. A scenario was as follows: a person (X) stopped to ask a random subject (S) for directions. While X and S were talking, two men carrying a door ran into S. While X was hidden behind the door, X switched places with one of the workmen, and walked away. This left S giving directions to a taller person with different clothes and a different voice. Over half of the people continued on the conversation without noticing a change. Scientists said this is because the brain relies on movement to signal a change is happening. If we do not see a movement the brain has to rely on its attention, which only has so much capacity.

I appealed to you with logic:
P1: If two people operate on the same assumptions of what constitutes a relationship and have mutual values and ideas, it is beneficial for them to be in a relationship.
P2: “I respect you and admire you.” We operate on the same assumptions of what constitutes a relationship. We have mutual values and ideas.
C: Therefore, it is beneficial for us to be in a relationship.

Once you told me I make correct observations, but incorrect conclusions. Regardless of whether I think it’s reasonable to say that, it’s true that we have similar approaches and our conclusions often differ.

You objected:
P1: If two people operate on the same assumptions of what constitutes a relationship and have mutual values and ideas, it is beneficial for them to be in a relationship.
P2: We have, “clashing fundamental characteristics” which prevent us from operating on the same assumptions of what constitutes a relationship and prevent us from having mutual values and ideas.
C: Therefore, it is not beneficial for us to be in a relationship.

You told me you were one person with me, one at work, one with philosophy friends, another with other friends, your parents and when you’re alone. You said these identities come with differing ethical views and values. You said you’d been shifting back and forth a lot, and that it was pretty unstable.

(P1) You said ‘every man is an island.’ (P2) I didn’t agree. I said every man is not an island, and it’s difficult to believe, but (C) there are threads of understanding that span over our distance. You simply said you couldn’t see that.

New Scientist said Makio Kashino recorded the statement “Do you understand what I am trying to say?” He removed some fragments of the recording and replaced them with silence. Upon listening, the statement was unintelligible. Kashino found when he replaced the silence with random noise the statement could be understood again. The scientists attributed this to phonemic restoration, which is when the brain fills in, or restores, the missing gaps of speech and sound based on its past experiences into something coherent.

I wanted to refute you. I watched you make beer and asked you questions. I tried to follow the Cleveland Browns. I told you Flannery O’Connor was my favorite author and gave you A Good Man is Hard to Find (you didn’t read any of it, but you said you wouldn’t). I made you hummus and baklava; your mother told you I had a gift. You asked what you could do for me. I said all I wanted was for you to call more and to spend more time with me. For the record, you never improved.

When we looked through your pictures of Ireland, I sat closer to you than I needed. Calculating, I leaned on you to get a better look. I thought I’d won when you later closed the album and looked hard at me for a while. You chuckled, said “you kill me,” walked into the kitchen.

One night I put my arms around you. You were a lot wider than I thought you’d be. Your hand went clumsily on my head and stroked the strands of my hair. It would have felt nicer if your fingertips massaged down into the roots, but I was grateful you’d made a clear movement. We didn’t say anything for a long time.

P1: I said I probably should go because it’s late.
P2: You said, “You probably should, but this is nice.”
P3: It was nice. I stayed and said, “Oh, friends do this all the time”
C: You laughed.

You told me there was a song in your head and you had to play it. You navigated your laptop with one hand; I suppressed your other hand with my shoulder. It was “Rhododendrons” by Bloc Party. They said they were out counting stars, dreaming of order and fleets and Napoleon in aquamarine. “Boy,” they repeatedly asked you, “what you gonna do with your life?” They asked me nothing.

New Scientist magazine said to demonstrate your subconscious at work, ask yourself a Yes/No question while holding a string attached to a paper clip. Before you figure out the answer, swing your paper clip clockwise if the answer is yes or counter-clockwise if the answer is no. You’ll find before you establish an answer to the question, the paper clip is already swinging. This happens because the brain commands its motor circuits and prepares itself once it anticipates the answer it’s going to see.

“Should I feel used?” I asked you later. “I don’t know,” you said.

Saccadian black-outs prevent motion sickness. If we were able to see every time our eyes moved, you’d get dizzy from shifting all the time. With these major shifts, the brain has to compensate for the hole in vision, so it makes a guess at what it missed. This explains the phenomenon of the secondhand freezing on an analog clock when you look. Your brain backtracks, repeating the current image and the second is suspended 10 percent longer.

I told you again that I liked you and I swear I felt you flinch.

Microsaccades are necessary for the eye to absorb and sustain a full picture. The eye is comprised of rods and cones, and these rods and cones need light for vision. The fovea, or the central part of the retina, takes up 1% of the retina, but responds for 50% of the visual cortex.  In relation to the retina, it’s said to be the size of the moon in the sky. By continually re-adjusting, the fovea will have a greater resolution and work more efficiently.

P1: If an accurate judgment of past experience is true, then I can accurately make judgments on all past experiences.
P2: But experience is limited; I cannot accurately make judgments on all past experiences.

I loved to write about you two years ago. I told myself, “I think the thing you love is that even when he is here, he is so far away from you.” Narrating the sequence of events attempts to make a logical train of thought. I can outline what you’ve said, but I can’t replicate your inflections: I have to bring myself to separate the words I need to use from their connotations. Reasoning through the sequence proves more difficult when I’ve known you so long and you’ve looked at me so tenderly. But I can’t justify myself by blaming my blindness or a lack of knowledge. I knew that we clashed; there were things I consciously overlooked.

And sometimes I was afraid you were right, because I couldn’t read you. If I acknowledged that, I might end up with the same lonely conclusion that you did. I tried filling in gaps as best I could. I thought touch was an isthmus.

P1: It is reasonable for a person to feel hurt or manipulated when they’ve been told something contrary to truth.
P2: You told me long before August the truth was you’d give me nothing.
P3: You maintained truth of giving me nothing.
P4: If you told me you’d give me nothing and gave me nothing, you told me nothing contrary to truth.
C: Because you told me nothing contrary to truth, it is not reasonable to feel hurt or manipulated, understanding long before I ever noticed the stark brown freckle on your right foot.


Kimberly Prijatel is a senior Philosophy/English double major at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio. She has been published in Calliope Magazine and the Cedarville Review.

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