Wide-eyed Wonder: an artist's musings on three-dimensional vision

Some are color blind. I am stereo blind.

Archive for November 2010

Childlike wonder

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“’Curiouser and curiouser!’ Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).”

The first time I got my eyes to see something new, I literally inhaled “HUH?!” in shock and … fear! Then thought, “Oh dear! I have just rewarded my accomplishment with negative brain chemicals. Quick— think happy, Lynda!”

Susan Barry writes in her Psychology Today blog, “Eyes on the Brain”

Novel and rewarding experiences not only encourage people to work harder at their therapy but also have direct effects on brain wiring. When a person experiences something new and gratifying, neurons in the brainstem and basal forebrain are activated and liberate powerful neuromodulators onto circuits in the cerebral cortex. These neuromodulators, including dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine, trigger the changes in neuronal connections that underlie new perceptual experiences and learning.

Alice has become a role model, although I never liked her adventures as a child. To be honest, I was mostly terrified by the thought of growing too big and getting wedged in a house!

Alice in Rabbit's house

And I never wanted to be a giraffe. But Alice simply and cheerily says “Goodbye feet!” as her neck grows up and away, because she is enjoying how everything is “Curiouser and curiouser!”

Bring on the childlike wonder! Bring on the dopamine!

Now that I have worn the center-occluded glasses for a week, I take in the whole world with heightened peripheral awareness. Even without the glasses, going up the stairwell at Summit Artspace now reminds me of a Halo game, with the handrails and walls slipping by and out of view. Driving home reminded me Gran Turismo, as the road signs and guardrails flew by (but at a mere 60mph!).

It’s another novelty, this expanded reality. I have much to be thankful for. I am enjoying these Wonderland moments.


Discovering peripheral vision

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I went home from my first appointment and extensive eye exam on Tuesday with instructions to tape the center 1″ of my glasses and discover my peripheral vision system. I emailed my vision therapist the next day:

You told me to “have fun” with my occluded center vision and heightened peripheral vision. I have to tell you— I’m having a blast!

Seriously, I’ve noticed several amazing things (and it’s only half-way through the first day):

  • I automatically go up and down the stairs without reaching to feel the right wall
  • I saw myself go THROUGH a doorway! I was so thrilled I turned and went a back THROUGH the doorway about 3 more times (and then laughed at the cat staring at me and meowing from the middle of the kitchen floor.)
  • I am more aware of my the muscles working in my feet, ankles and legs, and am walking without looking at my feet, or looking a short distance on the path in front of them.
  • I feel taller … more erect … chin up more.

Fixing My Gaze finally arrived, and I am already half way through it. It turns out that the process of perceiving THROUGH has a name: optic flow. Barry writes

As I continued my vision therapy and became increasingly aware of my peripheral vision, I was able to tap into a phenomenon called optic flow. When you move forward, objects to the side of you appear to move backward. This optic flow is fastest for objects oriented at 90° to your movement, and the closer objects appear to you, the faster they appear to move … Cinematographers and video game designers have figured out how to create illusions of motion on flat screens by simulating optic flow. (p. 84)

Perhaps that’s why, every time I go through a doorway, I can almost hear the hum and “whoosh!” of a surround-sound theater space portal!

I’ve since realized I did learn to rely on peripheral vision in my mid-30s, when I was on a worship dance team (there was grace enough for a girl with two left feet to dance in church). I had to look out of the corners of my eyes because I needed to know where everyone was and what they were doing to stay in sync and to keep in my designated “window” in the choreography.

It just never occurred to me to use it always.

With my peripheral vision, I am able to use both eyes at the same time. Perhaps that’s why my body feels more balanced with the occlusion than without.

I am using these new glasses every chance I get!

center-occluded glasses

My new sno-occluded glasses (The Sno Seal is less visible than tape; and the beeswax won’t mess with the carbon lenses. I used the tape to get a straight line, and applied the wax with a very soft watercolor brush.)

Eyes Contact

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Most people make two-eyed contact, with right eyes gazing into left and left into right. Al enlighted me of this fact only last week. It’s really eyes contact.

Eileen is the only friend I know with whom I can make eye contact. Eileen “sees” out of her left eye. I “see” out of my right.

When we first talked about our monocular vision on Sunday, we immediately compared driving and baseball experiences (unfortunately, with minimal eye contact, which is typical of persons with binocular vision impairment.)

Eileen avoids the highway. If she absolutely has to, she will only use the right lane. I, on the other hand, feel most secure on the highway in the left lane, next to the concrete barrier. The reason for our choices is obvious: we drive where we can see the most.

I was the kid that chose right field. Nothing happens to your left on right field, except a foul. The rare ball that blew by the infield was handled by the center fielder who knew I wasn’t the most talented person with a glove. The remaining and even more rare high fly— hit well into right field— I could usually catch with intense concentration, provided there was enough time to judge the ball’s trajectory. What went up the parabola would come down the other leg either to my right or left, and hopefully in front of me and not behind! So I tended to hang to the back of right field as much as possible.

I could hit almost as well as the average neighborhood kid, again using intense concentration to judge the trajectory of the ball with the help of visual cues: where the ball was relative to the pitcher mostly, until the last split second when I would look for those seams.

Eileen said she couldn’t hit a ball … at all. Catching wasn’t mentioned. Perhaps all her baseball experiences were intensely competitive. I was fortunate to grow up with kids that played to have fun.

I plan to seek her out next Sunday and make eye contact; my good right eye connecting with her good left. It will be a novel experience for both of us!

I freaked a few friends out by making alternating eyes contact. One friend tracked my eye-switching with both his eyes darting right and left in order to keep up with each working eye of mine. That he could track the subtle difference in the appearance of my eyes and connect with each working eye was pretty amazing.

Eye contact is amazing. Eyes contact is a goal.

Written by Lynda Rimke

November 22, 2010 at 11:22 am

Posted in monocular vision

The Frame Game

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I seem to have accomplished something new, and I am quite pleased. Whether it is significant, I’m not sure.

Yesterday and today, after playing eye ping pong for almost a week, I was able to make an image from my left eye appear in my right lens. First, it was a doorstop I was looking at while sitting somewhere slightly bored. Then it was the full moon. And later I tried it with a neon sign (but am not sure I succeeded even though I thrilled thinking I was) and finally, eureka! I found a lamp reflection that changed from eye to eye. I could know for a fact the left lamp image “showed up” in the right lens area!

The picture of my glasses at top show red dots where I saw the lamp reflection when looking out of each eye, independent of the other. The green dot is where the left lamp reflection appeared when I began to encourage my right eye to team with my left. (I dotted with watercolor while looking out the lenses each way; which was a challenge as the tip of the brush got very blurry!)

Here is my crazy attempt at drawing what I saw out of each lens, as accurately as I could, measuring everything. The red color is the lamp reflection in each lens when I looked out of the left eye and the right eye alone:

The green color is the lamp reflection when I looked out of my left eye and attempted to also use my right eye:

The rest of the picture is my best guess of where the couch, doorway, etc. were as everything but the lamp reflection was pretty “jiggery” (a lyndaword).

Monday, November 22

I have repeated this “feat” several times, and am wondering if the whole “scene” is just from my left eye. If I cover my right eye, I see the same scene through my hand!

More answers coming tomorrow when I am examined and talk with a developmental optometrist who practices vision therapy.

Friday, November 26th

Forgot to ask the vision therapist, but now I’m thinking the scene is simply my left-eyed view of the world with an overlay of the part of the frame my turned-in right eye sees.

No wonder I get addled!

Written by Lynda Rimke

November 21, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Counting the cost

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Wednesday, November 17th 2010

I spent all day yesterday setting up a blog to explain my vision impairment, and then spent an hour by the fire this morning thinking about vision therapy and trying to make objects float in the darkness … and then at 9am I decide to find my glasses!

There is irony here …

By the fire, I realized that Susan Barry may have BEGUN to see 3D after only 3 weeks, but her therapy to get to NORMAL 3D vision took much longer.

At $111 per session with possibly two sessions per week for two years, I am looking at $23,000 … a Golf GTI would be a whole lot more fun in the short run (and there’s Volkswagon America financing)!

The irony is I haven’t wanted to buy new glasses. In a past life, I could not justify $300-500 every year or two (my vision seems to keep changing). So I am wearing my 2005 progressive lenses because my 2007 lenses (only a quarter diopter stronger in the right eye) were anti-glare coated and the coating quickly became fuzzily scratched. (Later note: this pair is now my center-occluded pair.)

So how motivated am I to go through with this? That is the $23K question. People who are color blind just live with it. I am space blind … but for the price of a Golf Mark V GTI.

Thursday, November 18

In a Psychology Today article I researched today, Barry stated she went to therapy once a week for a year. That’s one fourth the cost!

Written by Lynda Rimke

November 17, 2010 at 10:01 am

How would you feel if you could see with both eyes?

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Tuesday, November 16th, 2010


I am determined to leave “flatland” and enter the three-dimensional world God has created for me.

I spent a great part of yesterday reading stories of others who have sought and gained binocular vison. I spent the evening looking at the world through my left eye for the first time.

I have viewed the world with my right eye since I was a small child. I will start this journey by making my left eye stronger … strong enough to team with my dominant right eye.

How much I have been missing! We drove out to the farm, Patrick driving as usual. I fired up my left eye and stared holes into the car in front of us. I had used my left eye before while driving, and my focus has always been fixed pretty much straight ahead. The second I look in any other direction, my right eye kicks in and my left shuts down.

But at the farm, I made the effort to look around with my left eye and tame my right to simply track without dominating. It was impossible, then jerky at first— but within minutes my right eye was tracking and I was looking at the whole wide world with my left eye!

I rode home with Patrick by my side. I had never seen him fully before! The bridge of my nose would always block him from view, and my switched-off left eye would only contribute a blurry awareness of him.

Of course, as I was seeing Patrick for the first time, I noticed I was missing the scenery to my right. Until my eyes team, it will be win-lose. Nevertheless, I am discovering a lost world!

I spent the rest of the evening exploring my left-side world. I was able to do everything, including surf the internet.

What a joy to kiss Patrick and see his whole face!

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

Monday, November 15th

Today I contacted a local vision therapist via email. She emailed back “I’m happy to see you to see if vision therapy would even be a possibility.”

I am not terribly encouraged and emailed back “Thanks … for being honest and not getting my hopes up … perhaps not much has changed in the last 30 years.”

I found the NPR broadcast in half a minute, but saved it until my husband could listen with me.

Susan Barry was born cross-eyed, but did not have surgery until after age two. As an adult neurology professor, she explained her monocular vision to another neurology professor at a party one evening:

She … told Sacks that she didn’t think she was missing very much, not seeing in stereo. And that’s when Sacks leaned in really close and said, ‘Do you think you can imagine what it’s like to see the world with two eyes?'”

Susan then sought out a vision therapist, and after only practicing the exercises for three weeks, began to see things float in front of other things. The story ends with her walking IN the snowflakes … not in front of them.

To see the space between the snowflakes as I walk among them … oh my! What a goal!

Oliver Sacks tested her later, and she was and remains binocular. (He wrote about her story in the New Yorker, but you have to have a subscription to see the article on their website, or jump through hoops to purchase just the article.)

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

Sunday, November 14th 2010

Al persisted “How would you feel if you could see with both eyes?”

Without thinking I replied “I’d feel like I’d died and gone to heaven!”

When I came to the David Kassan workshop this weekend, and inadvertently started to talk to the other portrait artists about seeing flat, I had no clue that anyone had ever broken free at such a late age.

Al, who was the model, overheard a rather loud discussion I got into with another artist in the audience who grilled me about my 2-dimensional monocular vision. He couldn’t believe that I function normally with everything looking like it was on a movie screen.

“Yes, I have peripheral vision. No, I can’t see depth like you do. I see depth the way a camera sees depth.”

“So you don’t have depth perception, but you can still see 3-D.”

“No, I see flat.”

“But how can you draw? … How can you drive?”

The artist couldn’t believe me, but on break, Al beat a path to me and urged me to check out a National Public Radio story about a 50-year-old woman who had exercised her eyes in order to see three dimensional space for the first time in her life.

“You’ve got to do this!” he reminded me twice more during the day.

I left the workshop determined to find out what new technology may have developed in the vision therapy field over the last 30 years.

It was in the early 80s when I was told I was too far gone to guarantee the exercises would even work. The most the therapist could guarantee is that I would make myself see double. There was no promise of breaking through the double vision phase to see stereoscopically.

At age 20 I had decided I would be using my work-around system of seeing the world for the rest of my life … I had decided I wasn’t really visually impaired enough to invest in a solution … until today.

Written by Lynda Rimke

November 16, 2010 at 9:42 pm

Posted in monocular vision